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The Ritz-Carlton Customer Service Standards

If you’ve been hanging around me for very long, you know that I like to read. A lot. As a rule of thumb, even though I read nearly every new business book that comes out, I read them quickly and scan for common principles that I might be able to apply to my businesses or to help my employees, business partners or coaching clients.

I much prefer to read classic books that have stood the test of time. So, it was with great pleasure that I recently picked up Horst Schulze’s new book and best-seller, Excellence Wins.

Schulze took the hotel and service industry by storm when, many years ago, he instituted a policy that empowered every employee to spend up to $2,000 to make a guest happy. He trusted his employees and loved gathering stories that proved he was right.

If you’ve ever been to The Ritz Carlton Leadership Development Center, one of the stories you’ve probably heard is the one about an employee who once flew from Atlanta to Hawaii because a guest forgot his laptop in his room. He was presenting at a very important conference in Hawaii the next afternoon. The Ritz employee didn’t trust FedEx or UPS to get the laptop to him on time, so she booked a flight from Atlanta to Hawaii and delivered it in person. She didn’t even exploit the opportunity to take a few days off in Hawaii. Instead, she got on the next flight to Atlanta and returned the same day.

The culture Schulze created rewarded this employee for her actions. When she returned home, a letter of commendation from the CEO was waiting for her, in addition to high fives from her colleagues in Atlanta.

Schulze believes “very few people come to work to be negative or to do a lousy job. People come to contribute to a purpose. When we invite them to join us, to take on positions that befit them, their talents can blossom. We haven’t just grabbed them off a shelf… we have gotten to know them as human beings and carefully matched their unique interest with a set of tasks that energizes them. As a result, they become employees of excellence for a long time, which benefits not only them personally but the organization as well.”

This kind of principled leadership is extremely strong at other successful firms like Disney and Starbucks, where employees are attached to a higher sense of purpose. For the best employees, it’s never just a job. It’s never just about the money.

In Schulze’s book, be sure to read and review with your team the power of a genuine response and how to prevent complaints from turning into complications on pages 78-81.

Also, mandatory reading for you and your employees: pages 33-41 on the universal things all customers, clients, patients or donors want from your organization:

First, they want a product or service or other output with no defects.

This doesn’t just include product or service defects but also process and system defects. It’s one thing to deliver a perfect result in orthodontic treatment, for example, with exceptional occlusion and esthetics, but your practice will fail in the long run if you can’t deliver the outcome with exceptional process and systems.

How many broken brackets were there? How often did you run late? Was the patient able to schedule the desirect appointment times without friction? Did the retainers fit and how easy was it for the patient to return if something didn’t feel right?

Second, the people you serve want timeliness.

They don’t want to put their day on hold to wait for you. Think about the last restaurant you went to where the food was fine or maybe even great, but it took 45 minutes for it to come out to the table. Are you going back? Will you enthusiastically tell friends and family to visit? Probably not.

How often are your patients placed on hold when they call your office? What percent of patients are seated and dismissed within 3 minutes of scheduled arrival and departure times? Do you track these statistics? Your patients track them, consciously or subconsciously and your results say everything about how seriously you take timeliness.

In a recent review with Jimmy Marketing, the brilliant marketing firm that records and tracks every single new patient phone call in my multiple practices, we listened to a call where a new patient was placed on hold. She said to herself aloud, “What kind of customer service is this? I’ll give them 30 more seconds,” and 17 seconds later, she hung up.

She was right. We failed her and she took her business elsewhere. That day, the phones team and office managers met and discussed immediately how to make sure this never happens again.

Third, customers want the person with whom they are dealing to be nice to them.

They don’t just want an excellent result or great product, but they also want to sense a caring attitude in the people with whom they choose to do business. This area can actually make up for shortcomings in the first two things that customers want from you. Think about a meal that wasn’t that great but the server was over-the-top amazing or the chef came out to the table to say hello and thank you for dining with them tonight.

Patients don’t just want their teeth straightened. They want to be heard and understood. Parents want to know they are doing the right thing for their child and they want to feel good about their decisions.

Finally, customers want to be able to customize their experience with your business and they want it to be personalized.

The Ritz Carlton did this by allowing guests to check out when they pleased. They paid attention to customer complaints, particularly at their Laguna Niguel property, one of my favorite Ritz Carlton properties. Too many guests were upset at the 12pm checkout policy, so the management changed checkout to 3pm so guests could enjoy the beach and leave when they pleased. Sure, this required the hotel to fix the logistics of staffing for housekeeping and to turn over the rooms much faster, but it was worth it when the complaints about checkout went to zero.

The Ritz Carlton is perhaps one of the best firms about personalization. When they notice that you don’t like a certain food or pillow or room temperature setting, the employees are trained to note this in your electronic guest profile and fix it so that you don’t experience something you don’t like again.

In one customer service story, a Ritz Carlton housekeeper noticed that a guest had picked all the nuts out of the chocolate chip cookies that were left in the room at evening turndown service. The next night, after noting the preference in the guest’s record, the cookies were changed to plain chocolate chip without nuts.

How often does your team greet patients by name? Do you make personalized notes on each patient so you can offer a television program or movie they like to watch during longer procedures or do you know that there are multiple family members in treatment and do you accommodate a busy mom who prefers to bring the entire family at the same time?

Years ago, a dad would frequently comment how impressed he was that we took the time to remember that his favorite football team was the Oregon Ducks. “You know everything about my kids and you still remember my favorite football team too. You guys are unreal.” Even after explaining that we keep notes so we can make people as comfortable as possible and talk about things the patient and their parents like to talk about, he was still impressed.

People like to feel special. Most medical and dental offices, however, put very little effort into customizing the experience for their patients. If you know a mom or dad likes their coffee a certain way or loves a twist of lime with their Diet Coke, why not have one waiting for them as they sit down in the reception room at their next visit?

The same goes for your referring colleagues and employees. Get to know them as people and align them with a higher sense of purpose. This is how strong cultures are built and how successful firms stand the test of time. The Ritz Carlton is brilliant at executing these powerful strategies and you’ll learn even more in Schulze’s new book, which is now mandatory reading for my team leaders and employees.

  • If you have an interest in joining me and your team leaders for a training with The Ritz Carlton Leadership Center on June 17-19, 2019 in Washington, D.C., please notify my office promptly at 800-891-7520 or via the contact form at 

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