Guest Blog: Ritz-Carlton Service on a Ritz Cracker Budget

March 5, 2013 Scott Carbonara

From time to time, we welcome a guest blogger who brings new perspectives on key issues in the worlds of culture, engagement and recognition. Last week, we were delighted to host a webinar featuring Scott Carbonaraaka The Leadership Therapist. Today we follow up with another post from Scott, who is a former award winning crisis counselor and executive chief of staff for a multibillion dollar health insurance company and current CEO of Spiritus Communications. You can find Scott online at

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel chain is consistently lauded as the very model of an organization that creates loyal, engaged customers.

I know what you’re thinking:

I can’t provide Ritz-Carlton customer engagement levels on my company’s Ritz cracker budget!

While lack of funds might seem like a good excuse for providing less than stellar service, giving outstanding customer service doesn’t cost more. It just requires that you lead your employees differently. A top-notch service environment is created by world-class leaders who foster a best-in-class employee engagement culture.

Here are 3 no-cost leadership tips to help you generate outstanding customer loyalty and engagement. This is something you accomplish by first engaging your employees–

1. Treat your employees with respect. Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Sadly, some leaders offer respect to their employees on a contingency basis instead of making respect an absolute centerpiece of how they lead others.

The Ritz-Carton motto says this:  “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” You can’t expect your employees to treat customers like ladies and gentlemen if you treat your employees like deadbeats and dirt-bags. Practice both the Golden Rule (“Treat others like you want to be treated”) as well as the Platinum Rule (“Treat others the way they want to be treated” with each employee. Your employees, whether they sell high-tech servers or low-fat ice cream, crave your respect. Assume that they will treat their customers with the same level of respect that you treat them.

2. Make empowerment a practice, not just a poster. Some companies place posters on the wall claiming “Our employees are our most valuable resource,” but those same companies don’t act in such a way as to empower their most valuable resources.

Do you have policies as well as practices that allow and encourage your employees to go above and beyond for the customers? The Ritz-Carlton does. In fact, every employee has up to $2,000 at their discretion to spend on each guest to resolve a problem or just to provide a legendary customer experience.

Even if your Ritz cracker budget doesn’t allow for your employees to spend money on customers, there are some things that you can empower employees to do. For example, can you allow your customer service reps on the phone to spend a little more time with a caller to make sure that the issue is handled right the first time? Or can you permit your baggers at the grocery store to offer to carry groceries to the car for customers? You can empower your employees to go the “extra mile” for their customers while still setting defined boundaries. Empowerment costs you nothing, but it offers dividends to your employees and ultimately your customers.

3. Encourage employees to work from their strengths. While I don’t often travel internationally for work, I do make it a point to hit one international establishment on a regular basis: the International House of Pancakes (aka, IHOP). It was at IHOP where I met a waitress named Cindy Lou. She was a HOOT! She came to the table, announced her name, poured coffee, and said, “If you tell me what you like to eat, I can recommend the best value. I hate to see people spend too much money and not even end up getting what they like.” I loved her authenticity.

Can you picture the potential horror on the face of President IHOP if he or she heard a comment like that coming from the wait staff?! Well, I hope that President IHOP would have given Cindy Lou a pat on the back instead of a reprimand. As a result of Cindy’s personality and approach, my bill probably ended up higher, not lower. But she was true to her word: the food that came out was 100% what I wanted. Cindy’s personality was her differentiator. In the course of my meal, she called me “hon”, slapped my arm a few times, and came by just to say, “I wish all of my customer were like you.”

And for my part as a customer and a consultant, I wish more customer service leaders would let their Cindy Lou’s be Cindy Lou’s. The way Cindy Lou provided service didn’t make the food taste any better, but by her using her strengths to engage me, she made the experience memorable instead of forgettable.

Don’t use budget constraints as the reason why you can’t create an environment where your employees put on the Ritz for their customers. When an organization promotes respectful, empowering leaders who tap into the uniqueness of his or her employees, engagement becomes a given.