December 5, 2022

Small Business Advice

Ritz Carlton Experience

Jerry Osteryoung | 11/9/2009
If you have followed this column for a while, you know that one of my favorite topics is customer service. A business must focus on this in order to be successful.

Recently, I was able to attend a customer service seminar at the Ritz Carlton in Phoenix. This was by far one of the best seminars I have ever attended -- not only because of the topic, but more importantly because we were able to live the customer service experience at the Ritz 24/7. The Ritz makes the customer the top priority for each and every staff member both through the hiring process and continuous training. I learned so much that will be the subject of future columns.

One of the things that is so powerful about the Ritz Carlton is that each employee carries a card that states, “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” This one simple sentence clearly says that how we interact with our customers should be no different than how we interact with each other. Time after time I witnessed exceptional civility between the employees as they worked together.

Each Ritz employee is so thoroughly trained in customer service that it is almost as though they have radar implants that allow them to anticipate each guest’s needs before they know what they want. At the Ritz, they would never ask a client if they would like an umbrella when they see it is raining. Rather, they would go out and hand them an umbrella. It is a subtle distinction, but it is an important one when trying to anticipate what a customer wants.

One classic story told at the seminar was about a maid who was cleaning a guest’s bathroom when she noticed that all of the toothpaste had been squeezed out of the tube. While the hotel provides house brands for those guests who forget to bring toothpaste with them, this maid went to the drug store across the street to buy the guest’s identical brand. She left the toothpaste with a note on the counter by the sink. This is great customer service!

I think staffing at the Ritz is critical as the staff is ultimately responsible for delivering exceptional customer service. For every open position, the Ritz takes ten applicants and interviews each candidate at least five times before making a job offer. Not only does the Ritz value its existing employees, but it knows that the heart of customer service is getting and keeping a great staff. In fact, turnover at the Ritz is approximately one third of the industry average.

Now go out, evaluate your customer service and make sure it is the best it can be. Customer service does not cost. It pays.

Jerry Osteryoung is the Director of Outreach of the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at Florida State University, the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship; and Professor of Finance. He was the founding Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 850-644-3372.

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