image: Mark HerpelThe Ritz-Carlton truly is one of the gold standards for the customer service industry.  But how have they become the very embodiment of world class customer service?  It’s actually quite simple: they understand their employees and their employees understand Ritz-Carlton’s vision and values.

Hiring the best

Providing outstanding service requires outstanding employees, and finding those employees requires a specific interview style.  Rather than asking prospective employees simple questions or ones that can be answered with a yes or no, the Ritz-Carlton strives to dig deeper, asking open-ended questions that will illuminate whether or not a candidate holds similar values.  For example, instead of asking, “Are you committed to putting the customer first?”, the interviewer will ask, “Tell me about a time when you’ve put the customer first”.

Training in detail

Once great employees have been hired, it’s easy to assume that they can operate at the highest standards with simply the instruction to “provide great customer service” without elaboration.  The Ritz-Carlton knows otherwise.  They provide employees with a written service strategy, detailing ways in which great service can be provided, and provide examples for inspiration.

Empowerment and ownership

We’ve discussed the importance of empowering employees to take ownership of customers’ experiences and providing creative and caring solutions to their problems, but the Ritz-Carlton has a unique, specific way of conveying this to their employees (and, in turn, to their guests).  Every employee of Ritz-Carlton has $2,000 a day, per guest, to wow them or solve their problems.  This “budget” is mostly symbolic, according to Diana Oreck, the vice president of Ritz-Carlton’s executive training facility.  Employees do not need to utilize the money, but it creates the mindset in the employees that they can and should go to great lengths to delight their guests.  It also reminds them that they are valued and trusted members of the Ritz-Carlton team and brand.

Values and rewards

In addition to clearly stating their values and philosophy for their employees via their Gold Standards (see our article on developing your own core values), the Ritz-Carlton reinforces those values on a daily basis by using their first class card.  Deceptively simple, these are cards that literally say “First class” and are provided to call employees to hand out at will to any other employee they believe is providing first class service.  Involving every single employee in recognizing and rewarding the company’s values reinforces them in a way most top-down reward systems can only hope to.  It also fosters an environment of camaraderie amongst the employees, reminding them that they are all a part of the team.  (You can implement a similar reward and incentive program with  to encourage your own employees to go above and beyond with your customers)

Try to mimic the Ritz-Carlton’s road map for creating an exceptional service environment and you, too, will be well on your way to wowing your customers with every interaction and keeping your employees happy and fulfilled.