If you’ve ever had the opportunity to stay at a Ritz-Carlton hotel, I don’t have to tell you it is one of the all-time best customer service experiences you can ever have.

Ritz-Carlton is the only service company to have won the prestigious Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award twice-in 1992 and again in 1999 (one year after being acquired by Marriott). The chain placed first in guest satisfaction among luxury hotels in the most recent J.D. Power & Associates hotel survey.

The great thing about the kind of extraordinary customer service that Ritz-Carlton delivers is that their “secrets” can be easily duplicated by any company in any industry.

However, implementation of these “secrets” requires undying commitment to the following six steps throughout your entire organization:
1. Make Customer Service an Elite Club. Ritz-Carlton has devised a rigorous interview process to identify the emphatic, positive team players who become top performers. Executives say the interview is effective not only in picking great talent but also in conveying the message that working at Ritz-Carlton is a privilege.

2. Once You Have the Right People, Indoctrinate Them. Ritz-Carlton spends about $5,000 to train each new hire. First is a two-day introduction to company values, including the “credo” and the 20 Ritz-Carlton “basics” (Basic 13 is “Never lose a guest”). Next, a 21 day course focused on job responsibilities, such as a bellman’s 28 steps to greeting a guest. Each employee carries a plastic card imprinted with the credo and the basics, as well as the “employee promise” and the three steps of service. Step 1: “A warm and sincere greeting. Use the guest’s name, if and when possible.”

3. Treat Staffers the Way They Should Treat Customers. The company celebrates not just employee birthdays but also employment anniversaries. They allow their staff to make decisions. Regardless of position, every staff member can spend as much as $2,000 without management approval to resolve a guest’s problem. Employees say the exemption lets them make a personal impact on a guest’s experience, resulting in higher job satisfaction. Naturally turnover at Ritz-Carlton is almost half of what their competition’s is.

4. Offer “Memorable Service. What others call complaints, Ritz-Carlton calls opportunities. Lip service at most companies, this is truly embraced at Ritz-Carlton. Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center and information and learning liaison Linda Conway says a stay during which a problem is resolved quickly and satisfactorily remains in a guest’s mind longer than one in which there is no problem at all.

5. Talk About Values and Stoke Enthusiasm. Every day at the chain’s 57 hotels, all 25,000 employees participate in a 15-minute “lineup” to talk about one of the basics. The ritual makes Ritz-Carlton one of the few large companies that set aside time for a daily discussion of core values.

6. Eschew Technology, Except Where It Improves Service. Other hotels may be experimenting with automated check-in kiosks, but not Ritz-Carlton. “We will not replace human service with machines,” says Vivian Deuschl, the company’s VP for public relations. Still, porters and doormen wear headsets, so when they spot your name on luggage tags, they can radio the information to the front desk. An in-house database called the Customer Loyalty Anticipation Satisfaction system stores guest preferences.

While you may work for or own a small company that cannot afford to invest the kind of money that Ritz-Carlton does to develop and train their staff, the commitment to a culture of “excellence at every level and every step of the way” that permeates the Ritz-Carlton organization, is something that every company can do. It won’t be easy; but of course if it was, everyone would do it.

Copyright 2005 Warren Greshes

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