Tag Archives: training

Ashley Furness: The Secret to Ritz-Carlton’s Customer Service Mojo

Prior to my present position as resort manager for Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club, I served as the charter general manager for The Henry – Autograph Collection (Autograph Collection is Marriott International’s exclusive portfolio of independent hotels) when it was reflagged after 21 years as the Ritz-Carlton Dearborn, MI (Ritz-Carlton is  a wholly owned subsidiary of Marriott International). Almost all the associates were former Ritz-Carlton “Ladies and Gentlemen”. Last year The Henry was recognized as one of Marriott International’s Hotels of the Year. I am convinced that while they are now The Henry associates they still would bleed Ritz-Carlton blue.  And if you’ve every stayed in a Ritz-Carlton hotel you know there is something extraordinary about the refined delivery of customer service by its associates. So when fellow customer service blogger Ashley Furness offered to share an interview she conducted with Diana Oreck, vice president of the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Training Center, I quickly accepted. You can find out more about Ms. Oreck and Ashley at the end of the post. But for now, here is Ashley’s inside look at how Ritz-Carlton educates its associates to deliver its world-class brand of exceptional customer service.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is known worldwide for it’s “legendary service.” So much so, Apple uses the luxury hospitality brand as a model for its owner customer support traditions. For both, it’s all about anticipating the customers’s expressed and unexpressed needs.

These practices have not only increased word of mouth and brand loyalty. Ritz-Carlton also boasts among the best employee retention rates around. To create raving fans, they start with inciting brand enthusiasm from their team.

Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Ritz-Carlton leadership training center Vice President Diana Oreck. I asked her about customer service training, retention, performance measurement and more. Here’s what she had to share about Ritz’ super service sauce:

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 gets the feeling 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 else do you do to promote retention?

We’ve got a vast list. Rewards and recognition is huge. Ranging from first class card, which is the most popular form of recognition at Ritz Carlton. Talk about less is more, it’s just a card that says “first class” and we give it to each other to thank each other. It can be peer to peer, peer to manager, employee to president, president to employee. And then we have things like birthdays, we give gift certificates. You can become five-star of the quarter. We don’t do employee of the month, because we find it’s much for meaningful if it’s the quarter. We are also one of the only hotel companies that still provide meals for their staff. We have gorgeous picnics in the summer and the holiday party and it goes on and on.

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.

About Diana Oreck
Diana Oreck is Vice President, Leadership Center and leads The Ritz-Carlton’s two-time Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award-winning corporate university.  She brings more than 30 years of experience in hospitality to her role and was named as a 2011/2012 Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women. Under her leadership The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company was named the best global Training Company in the world in 2007 as ranked by Training Magazine.

About the Author

Ashley Furness is a CRM analyst for Software Advice. has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc.Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. Currently, her research focuses on various topics related to CRM software, sales, customer service and marketing strategy. Follow her on Twitter @AshleyFurness.

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Filed under Customer Loyalty, Customer Service, Training

Just Because You Don’t Think It’s a Big Deal, It’s a Big Deal

“Just because you don’t think it’s a big deal doesn’t mean your customer doesn’t think it’s a big deal. When your customer says it’s a big deal, it’s a big deal. And even when your customer says “It’s no big deal,” it’s still a big deal. Or why would they bring it up?” – Kristin Anderson, Performance Research Associates

Last night I was shopping in the local vitamin shop when I overheard a customer tell the cashier, “I think someone just left their credit card.” The cashier says, “It might be that woman’s,” and points to the lady outside just about to get into her car. It was very obvious the cashier wasn’t going to do anything else so the customer took the card and practically ran out to ask. It wasn’t hers. The customer brought it back, left it on the counter and went about shopping in the store. The card was still on the counter when he went back with his purchase. The customer picked it up and placed it behind the counter. The cashier just left it there. He didn’t stick in the register. He didn’t give it to the manager. Nothing.

That cashier didn’t get it. To that cashier, it was simply a piece of plastic. To him, no big deal. To us, as customers, credit cards are unbelievably valuable. If we ever misplace a credit card, let alone lose one, we panic. To us, it’s a BIG deal.

As a customer, you know that we don’t buy from companies; we still buy from people. And we buy from people we know, like and trust. In just reading about what happened, you see as I see, as a customer, that the cashier is the store. And that one act that he does not think was at all important to him is the snapshot we take of that business. To the customer who found it, to the customer who hopefully will claim her card and to me, we are all questioning the trust we can have for that store. And that mental snapshot stays with us until another snapshot of that business replaces it. In fact, for some customers, it may take a motion picture worth of positive impressions before that one snapshot is deleted. It takes 12 positive service incidents to make up for one negative incident. And some customers who have a bad experience may never give a business a second chance, opting simply to walk away, intent on never coming back.

Now put on your customer service hat. When you serve customers remember, “To the customer, YOU are the company”. If you are a customer service manager, reinforce to your team that each interaction with a single customer represents all of you as a business. Every act of any one individual is a customer’s snapshot of your company’s likability and trust. And every act, no matter how small, is a big deal.

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Filed under Customer Loyalty, Customer Satisfaction, Training

When It Comes to Service Training, Once Is Never Enough

A wife sits on the sofa next to her husband who is reading his laptop. She says, “I love you.” No response. She says a little louder, “I love you.” Complete silence. She then questions directly, “You know, I say ‘I love you’ a lot to you, but you never say it back to me. Why is that?”  The husband looks up from his computer and declares “Look, I said I loved you when we got married. If that should change, I’ll let you know.”

Now, really, do you think that is enough to sustain the love? Of course not. If you want to be recognized for your commitment to personal values like trust, honesty, or respect, you must practice, not simply preach. It is no different for your business values when you are leading others. Too often, the value of service excellence is communicated only at new employee orientation and the on-the-job training during the first week with no reinforcement thereafter. That is simply not enough to drive consistent customer care performance. And while I enjoy presenting my customer experience seminars to clients, I always let them know that learning about customer service cannot be seen as an event, but must be seen as a process. If your intent is to drive customer service excellence, you need to say it and your team needs to hear it more than just one time.

One of my favorite quotes is from Samuel Johnson, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” You must periodically remind your team that when it comes to customer service, being consistently good is better than being occasionally great. Here are a few ideas:

  • Make sure customer service values and skills are included in the job description and reviewed at each performance evaluation.
  • Check out Successories.com, Baudville.com or SimpleTruths.com for ideas on creating and reinforcing a sustained customer focused message.
  • If your company has an intranet, use the screensaver feature to remind your team of your customer service values.
  • Post thank you letters from customers in a prominent area where your team can read them.
  • If you receive a compliment from a customer on your voice mail, broadcast it to the others on your team.
  • Write a letter of commendation recognizing a specific customer service act that can be placed in the associate’s personnel file. Send the letter to the associate’s home. What is your ratio of written thank you notes or commendations versus written corrective action notices? In order to create a culture of customer care, the ratio should be 3 to 1, and better still 5 to 1.
  • Recognize an individual’s act of kindness that was appreciated by a customer with a small token of acknowledgement. (movie tickets, free dry cleaning, a  day off with pay)
  • Start every meeting with an opportunity for attendees to thank someone in the group for their actions in support of internal or external customer care.
  • Periodically send out reminder messages via email, paycheck stuffer or company newsletter on the importance of the customer. If you are short of ideas, take a look at my Facebook page that offers customer service tips, quotes and insight from various sources.
  • Always serve as a role model by interacting and responding to each individual on your team with the intent to live the credo first used by Jan Carlzon, president of SAS Airlines, “If you’re not taking care of the customer, you better be taking care of the person who is.”

Commit to periodically reminding your team of the value of customer service excellence. Otherwise their delivery of exceptional service will be inconsistent. It’s up to you to commit to their lifelong learning because once is never enough.

What ways do you remind or recognize your team about the importance of customer service excellence?

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Filed under Leadership, Training