Psychologist Joseph Michelli’s The New Gold Standard (2008) describes how luxury hotel chain Ritz-Carlton has programmed its organization to foster customer-centric behavior in employees at all levels.
Ritz-Carlton’s clearly-defined and well-implemented cultural principles, called “Gold Standards,” enable the company’s employees to deliver the exceptional service that its refined customers have come to expect. Ritz-Carlton’s brand recognition is so deep-rooted that such phrases as “ritzy” and “putting on the ritz” have become part of the lexicon.
Ritz-Carlton propagates its customer-centricity goals by making a compact trifold “Credo Card” part of each employee’s uniform. These cards describe the “ultimate guest experience,” and they are shared with guests eagerly. Michelli writes, “Ultimately the value of the Credo or any other core cultural roadmap is the opportunity it affords those inside the business to realize how the ideal customer and staff experience looks and feels.”
Service Principle #10 of Gold Standards states, “When a guest has a problem or needs something special, you should break away from your regular duties to address and resolve the issue.” Irrespective of rank and title, every employee can spend as much as $2,000 per day per guest without a supervisor’s approval to solve a guest’s problem. This distinctive policy not only permits the employees to fulfill their guests’spoken and implied needs but also empowers employees to use their best judgment to create memorable and personal experiences for guests.
While some might think that this type of empowerment is both ill advised and financially irresponsible, leadership at Ritz-Carlton has determined the trust they place in employees is well founded. Rather than being extravagant with the resources entrusted to them, the employees tend to be very cautious … the advantage of the $2,000 staff empowerment is that the employees don’t have to delay a service response by taking it up to the next level in the organization, and they can take the initiative to enhance guest experiences.
Empowerment through Trust
Guided by co-founder Horst Schulze’s oft-cited business principle, “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen,” Ritz-Carlton selects, trains, and cultivates a dedicated workforce of outstanding professionals who are just as deserving of respect as Ritz-Carlton’s upscale guests.
Ritz-Carlton’s customer-centric principles and culture inform its hiring and training processes and preside over the rewards and promotion systems. Managers use every opportunity to go over the company’s values and remind everybody to polish up on caring for guests. For example, at the start of each shift, everyone—from laundry staff to executives—participates in a 15-minute “lineup” to talk about the nitty-gritty of the Gold Standards.
Michelli observes, “When it comes to the Gold Standards, Ritz-Carlton leaders and frontline staff alike can appear, from an outsider’s perspective, to be teetering toward the fanatical.” No wonder, then, that Ritz-Carlton has become a paradigm for the highest level of sustainable customer experience. In the year 2000, the company launched the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center to offer courses and to consult for anyone interested in its cult of customer service. In 2001, when Steve Jobs and Ron Johnson were preparing to launch Apple Stores, they sent executives to Ritz-Carlton’s leadership program to learn about offering the best customer experience. Apple’s notion of anticipatory customer service and the concept of Genius Bars originated from Ritz-Carlton.
During the “lineup” meetings, Ritz-Carlton managers and leaders also reinforce the customer-service principles by sharing “Wow!” stories of delighting guests. The internal communication department collects such stories each week and publishes them in the in-house newsletters. “Positive storytelling. The ability to capture, share, and inspire through tangible examples of what it means to live the Credo and core corporate values.”
The New Gold Standard includes many anecdotes from hotel guests, employees, managers, and executives to explain how Ritz-Carlton has “going above and beyond the call of duty” embodied in its culture.
- A breakfast waiter scurried to a neighborhood grocery store to buy a guest’s preferred grape jelly when the dining room did not have it on hand.
- At the Ritz-Carlton Dubai, a manager and a staff carpenter built a temporary access ramp made of wood boards to allow a guest and his wheelchair-bound wife to access the sandy beach, dine by the ocean, and watch the sun go down.
- When a guest called the Ritz-Carlton Naples to notify that she had run out of gas, a doorman filled up a few five-gallon gasoline containers and drove 40 miles to help out the stranded woman and her children.
- During Hurricane Katrina, employees of the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans pushed laundry carts loaded with luggage and guests through flooded streets to get them to safe locations.
Lest the reader dismisses these as cherry-picked examples of “overdoing it” in Michelli’s laudatory narrative, these cases in point are demonstrative of the Ritz-Carlton DNA. The employees feel thoroughly invested in and trusted by their employers. And Ritz-Carlton recognizes that customer loyalty is dependent upon the frontline employees who administer such sophisticated service daily.
Idea for Impact: Foster a foundation of customer-centricity
Speed-read Joseph Michelli’s The New Gold Standard. It offers ample insights into establishing your own gold standards for achieving excellence in customer service.
- Create a customer-centric culture that identifies, nurtures, and reinforces service-excellence as a primary guiding principle. “Leadership often involves fostering the environment in which everyday creativity emerges in response to the needs of specific customer groups.”
- Foster a culture where employees take up personal accountability for resolving customers’ problems.
- Train employees to anticipate and fulfill the unmet—even unstated—needs of customers.
- Reiterate that providing a ‘wow!’ experience should be each employee’s goal during every interaction with a customer.