The Secret to Ritz-Carlton’s Customer Service Sauce

When Apple Genius Bar’s hiring managers evaluate candidates, they keep one guiding principle in mind: “Will this person provide a Ritz-Carlton level of service?”

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel brand is synonymous worldwide with standout customer service. So it makes sense Apple would model their support team after the luxury hotel brand. But what makes their service so special?

Recently, I sat down with Ritz-Carlton Vice President Diana Oreck to see if she could crack the code to their service success. She heads up the companies Leadership Center – an executive training center where they teach the Ritz-Carlton Legendary Service Model.

Here is what she had to say:

What sort of questions can you ask someone to find out if they’re caring and can anticipate customer wants and needs?

Well what you want to make sure you do is not ask yes or no questions. You’re not going to say, “OK Ashley, are you a caring person?” Because obviously, you’re just going to say yes, right? So what we do is we ask you in the interview, “Ashley give us a specific example of how you’ve cared for someone in the last month.” “Give me a specific example of anticipatory service that you have extended.”

Ritz-Carlton puts a lot of emphasis on successful new hire orientation. Why is this important for customer service training?

A lot of companies have a notion that employee orientation really needs to be a data dump of the company, and statistics and who’s doing what. It really isn’t. What we are looking for at orientation is passion. We want to make sure that that new person feels they made the right decision in joining us. It’s all about them and it’s all about culture. We feel that orientation needs to be significant emotional experience. Because think about it – you are making a very big decision in your life to either start a job or change a job. So our two days of orientation, they are solely revolving around our culture, which we call the gold standards. And the reason we do that is we know that the culture creates passion advocates of our employees. Raving advocates of our brand and we don’t think that it’s realistic to ask that your customer be passionate, raving fans if your employees aren’t first.

Is this also something that helps with customer service employee satisfaction and retention?

Yes, it’s about engagement. I will give you an example. The lodging industry as a whole tends to run a 60-70 percent turnover in a year. Here at Ritz Carlton we run in the low 20s. It’s a huge difference.

What metrics or qualitative data does Ritz-Carlton use to measure customer service training success (How do you know it’s working)? How do you collect this data?

Oh yes, we poll our guests once a month. The Gallup organization sends out 38 percent of guests that stayed the month before. It’s done randomly with the hope we will get 8-10 percent return. We live and die by that guest engagement number. This is the sum of responses to about 30 questions, including How likely is that guest to recommend Ritz Carlton? Were they delighted and satisfied with their stay? If there was a problem, did we take care of their problem? We know that if that guest engagement number goes up, we know that our training programs have been successful.

What are the biggest mistakes companies make when training customer service staff?

There not being specific enough. They’ll say things like “Give great service.” Well that’s nice, but people need a road map. Never assume anything, make sure you have your service standards written down and allow people to observe you in action. Don’t assume that their mother or father, or previous employer taught them what really great service looks like. Have a written service strategy.

What other successful customer service strategies have companies adopted by studying Ritz-Carlton?

It’s all about empowerment. The thing that our guests are most wowed about is that every single employee has $2,000 a day per guest to delight, or make it right. But we never use the money because that money is just symbolic. We are saying to our employees we trust you. We select the best talent. Just help the guest. We do a lot of training around empowerment. So I would say this – you need to empower employees. You also need to make sure that you are inspiring employees to bring their passion to work everyday and to volunteer their best. And you do that by reinforcing their purpose, not their function. Not the how to do your work, but the why of the work you do.

Ashley Furness is a CRM analyst for research firm Software Advice.

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  • http://www.neteffects.com.au/helpdesk help desk

    This actually a very good interview, I certainly did a lot.  If we want our customer service to improve, we must teach our employees to empower themselves and their customers buy equipping and providing themselves the right training in handling customer and certain situations.

  • Constance Woodson

    Universal recipe to achieving Ritz -Carlton styled customer service! In my opinoin, as Client Relations SME, I agreed entirely with this blog. Kudos to Ritz-Carlton for getting it right!

  • Randy Thompson

    Love the $2K per day concept. Think how often a service provider could turn disaster into wow if they felt like they could make the decision and take action?!