The Ritz-Carlton Does Customer Service Right

I attended a luncheon event for 300 people at the Ritz-Carlton Phoenix recently and experienced their legendary customer service first-hand.  I wish every server at every restaurant demonstrated the same excellent skills, attitude and problem-solving abilities as this wonderful server at The Ritz-Carlton.

The salads were on the table when we sat down, and the server came around offering salad dressing.  I asked him if the dressing was gluten-free since I’m avoiding anything with wheat.   He said he wasn’t sure, and that he’d check.  He returned a couple of minutes later to let me know it was gluten-free, and proceeded to ladle the tasty dressing onto my salad. 

Then he asked if I’d like to have some fresh fruit for dessert instead of the decadent chocolate cake that was setting in front of my plate.  I told him I would appreciate that, and he swiftly replaced the flour-filled cake with flavorful, fresh berries.  As I was appreciating his skills at anticipating my needs, he continued to make sure I could enjoy the meal.  He let me know that the entrée was not gluten-free, and asked if he could bring me a roasted chicken breast on steamed vegetables instead.  

I was delighted that he thought through the entire meal and determined everything that could be on my cannot-eat list.  He didn’t make me ask about every item on the menu, and he provided solutions that made my meal enjoyable and worry-free.  He was engaged in serving me and his other diners, not just running on automatic pilot.  He was friendly and sincere in accommodating my dietary restrictions and made it seem like an effortless pleasure to serve me.   

One of the service values of The Ritz-Carlton is, “I am always responsive to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”  My banquet server exemplified that value and responded as a service expert.   

Having just experienced this legendary service at The Ritz-Carlton, I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast a few days later when my husband and I had dinner at a mid-range restaurant a mile from the hotel.  As we were seated, I asked our server for a gluten-free menu.  He and I discussed the ingredients in several items on the menu before I placed my order.  The server seemed knowledgeable about the way the items were prepared, and was attentive and friendly. 

As an afterthought, I ordered a garden salad to start my meal.  Imagine my surprise when the smiling server arrived with my salad topped with croutons.  Didn’t he remember the conversation we’d had seven minutes earlier?  I didn’t know the salad came with croutons, but he knew I wanted a gluten-free meal.  What happened to the server who had discussed gluten-free options with me?  Where was the disconnect?  Had amnesia struck him in those few minutes?

As I picked the croutons off the salad, I grumbled to my husband, “That server must have a short memory.”  Even when the server cleared our plates – mine with the discarded croutons scattered around it, he didn’t connect the dots.  He never recognized his mistake nor did he apologize for his oversight.  I wanted to pound on the table and ask, “Why aren’t you paying attention?”  The restaurant wasn’t busy that afternoon, so I wasn’t willing to attribute his lapse to overload.  He probably didn’t connect the dots even when his tip reflected our opinion of his lack of attention and customer service skills. 

Maybe this server could be specifically trained to eliminate croutons on a salad when a customer asks for the gluten-free menu.  Or maybe he could be trained to at least mention that the salad comes with croutons when taking the order.  But he doesn’t possess the attitude and problem-solving skills for superior service that the Ritz-Carlton server demonstrated. 

Companies that are known for exceptional customer service, like The Ritz-Carlton, hire for attitude and train for skills.  You can train people to smile and parrot back scripted comments that give an outward impression of good customer service.  I know; I train people to deliver outstanding customer service in my workshops.  I see the difference among my customers’ employees who attend my workshops.  I also recognize that it’s pretty much Mission Impossible to train someone to have the internal attitude and problem-solving abilities that make them exceptional at delivering a high level of customer service. 

In your business, what level of service are you and your employees delivering – mediocre, so-so, almost-good-enough service?  Or legendary service that keeps your customers raving about you, that attracts customers who are willing to pay more, and that keeps your customers coming back? 

Take a page from The Ritz-Carlton model and do customer service right.