Teachable Moment: Cleanliness


A hotel guest, Mr. Smith, approaches the front desk ready to check in. Mr. Smith has a pleasant check-in experience; the agent is friendly, uses his name and provides keys to the room, which is ready on time. Although the experience was great, Mr. Smith couldn’t help but notice the messiness of the desk behind the countertop. Oh, wasn’t there some debris on the front drive too? Heading up to his room with another member of the front desk team escorting him, he wonders what the condition of the room will be like.


  • You and your colleagues can provide the best service, but if you cannot get the basics right, such as cleanliness, then you will have a tough time building customer loyalty.
  • It’s important to remember that your workstation may be more visible than you think. If you are customer-facing, like a front desk agent, you must absolutely be cognizant of this. This certainly applies to your clothes as well, and depending on your job, could apply to your car, or some other space or article that comes in contact with your customer.
  • At The Ritz-Carlton, we remind ourselves that cleanliness is essential to boosting our customer engagement in our Gold Standards. This is not limited to cleanliness for the sake of appearances, but also for safety and quality of service. Debris on the floor, stairway or anywhere else can pose a threat to your employees, your most valuable resource. Also, if you fail to keep your space neat, you are compromising your ability to work efficiently as clutter takes over the area. 

Significant Stat: Customers’ Time

77% of customers surveyed say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good online customer service. (source)

Advice from Joe Quitoni, Corporate Director, Culture Transformation at The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center:

Today many—if not all customers in any business—feel that if a brand values their time, they are getting meaningful worth and are willing to pay for it. One of the keys to creating value for customers is through providing and ensuring fast access to knowledge of the brand. At The Ritz-Carlton, our Ladies and Gentlemen go through an extensive on-boarding process to ensure that we are providing our employees with all of the necessary tools and resources to assist our guests. However, having the answers to customers’ questions is only half of the equation. A second key that adds value is convenience. How easy an organization makes it for a customer to interact with them can be a determining factor in creating brand loyalty. Once those non-negotiable terms are met and are coupled with an experience that is personalized, we have the ability to turn any interaction from satisfaction to engagement, creating value for all of our guests. 

Our Enrichment Courses immerse clients in The Ritz-Carlton ambience while offering philosophical and tactical service excellence knowledge. Please visit our Course Calendar to learn more about our upcoming courses and to register. 

Etiquette & Engagement: Tasteful

Imagine if every person acted like a lady or gentleman…..

Engagement Tip: Ladies and gentlemen are tasteful in their professional appearance.

What is tasteful? Some people may feel a designer suit is appropriate attire—while others may feel that tasteful simply means you showered this morning. No matter what your definition of “tasteful” is, your appearance should not detract from your job and should not be a distraction to others. Your pajamas may be crazy cute, but if you wear them to work, you will probably make your customers and co-workers uncomfortable. Likewise, that outfit you wore for a night of bar hopping is probably not the best choice for a traditional business environment. You clothing should reflect your work environment. For example, you wouldn’t wear high heels and a pencil skirt to run on a treadmill, and you probably shouldn’t wear your yoga pants to a business meeting (unless yoga is part of the meeting). One of the Service Values at The Ritz-Carlton is, “I am proud of my professional appearance, language, and behavior.” Our employees—known as our Ladies and Gentlemen—want to be remembered for their excellent customer service—and not for any questionable fashion choices. 

The motto of The Ritz-Carlton is “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” This motto sets a tone of goodwill and grace for all.

Etiquette & Engagement: Gratitude

Imagine if every person acted like a lady or gentleman…..

Etiquette Tip: Ladies and gentlemen have an attitude of gratitude.

No matter what is going on in your personal life or your workday, a lady or gentleman can always find a way to express gratitude. Expressing gratitude to your customers is particularly important. At The Ritz-Carlton, we dedicate a full week, known as Global Customer Appreciation Week, to recognizing our key accounts, top customers and global partners. In 2014, our global sales staff reached out to thousands of customers, hosted them at special events and attended thousands of in-person meetings. Events included luncheons, evening receptions and several exceptional experiences. For example, in Hong Kong, the team hosted a private viewing party of a documentary about Hong Kong. Their top clients not only had the privilege of attending the film’s first showing in Asia, but also had the opportunity to meet the film’s director during an exclusive viewing party and cocktail reception. In-person meetings were also opportunities to make meaningful connections. In past years a small team that set up a meeting with a client in Kansas City decided to turn the upcoming meeting into a “Happy Hour.” They recreated the famed guacamologist presentation from The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas and spent the meeting time getting to know their client better. Setting aside dedicated time to express gratitude to clients is valuable, but when you combine that with getting to know your customers better, you’re able to express personalized appreciation throughout the year. 

The motto of The Ritz-Carlton is “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” This motto sets a tone of goodwill and grace for all.

Etiquette & Engagement: Concise

Imagine if every person acted like a lady or gentleman…..

Etiquette Tip: Ladies and gentlemen are concise when expressing themselves.

There’s a famous quote that goes: “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” This quote hints at a general tendency to go on longer than needed. A lady or gentleman should communicate clearly and concisely. Whether you’re talking to customers, writing an email to a colleague or speaking to a friend over the phone—you should be respectful of the other person’s time. Your colleague probably doesn’t need to know every detail of your project and certainly doesn’t have the time to read an email that rivals the word count of a Harry Potter novel. Your customer may be a dog lover, but that doesn’t mean your customer wants to hear about every Halloween costume you’ve sewn for your golden retrievers. Your goal may be to connect with your customer, but your customer’s goal may be to drop off a package before the post office closes. At The Ritz-Carlton, our employees, known as our Ladies and Gentlemen, listen for verbal clues and look for non-verbal cues. When you economize your speech and edit your writing, you become a more effective and concise communicator. 

The motto of The Ritz-Carlton is “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” This motto sets a tone of goodwill and grace for all.

Etiquette & Engagement: Respectful Teamwork

Imagine if every person acted like a lady or gentleman….

Engagement Tip: Ladies and gentlemen are respectful when working as part of a team.

Fostering a respectful work environment impacts your employee engagement as well as your customer/patient experience. At The Ritz-Carlton, our Employee Promise states that we will apply “the principles of trust, honesty, respect, integrity and commitment.” These qualities are the foundation of our workplace and apply to all relationships—manager to employee, colleague to colleague and customer to employee. We show our respect by valuing each person’s background, ideas, time and privacy, and our Gold Standards enforce these habits. One of our Service Values charges us to “create a work environment of teamwork and lateral service so that the needs of our guests and each other are met.” This service value ensures that we are open and willing to offer support to colleagues. In order to nurture an atmosphere of collaboration, every member of the team should feel appreciated for his or her contribution. For more ideas on building respectful teams, review our list of “DOs and DON’Ts for Excellent Teamwork.” 

The motto of The Ritz-Carlton is “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” This motto sets a tone of goodwill and grace for all.

Our Ladies and Gentlemen: Abner Nelms, The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead

Each month, The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center (RCLC) features an interview with an employee—also known as a Lady or Gentleman of The Ritz-Carlton—in order to share an insider’s view of the organization. This month’s interview is with Abner Nelms, 34-year veteran Doorman and Driver at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead in Atlanta.

RCLC: Please talk a little about your role with our organization and how long you’ve been with The Ritz-Carlton.

Mr. Nelms: I have been at The Ritz-Carlton since January 1984—that’s over 31 years. I work in guest services and have for my whole career here. I’ve worked inside as a bellman, but most of my career was working as a doorman up front. Most recently, in addition to working as a doorman, I’ve worked as a driver.

RCLC: Can you share why you’ve chosen to work at The Ritz-Carlton for so long? What do you enjoy about working here?

Mr. Nelms: Well, there are a lot of things I enjoy about working here! If I go back in time, I was one of the first people to be hired. The neat thing about our property is that it’s the first Ritz-Carlton to open in the modern brand—so it was really an honor and it was exciting. It’s good to be part of the beginning of something—especially something that’s so successful because back then, we only had two hotels in the whole company. At that time, I had worked for other hotel properties, small properties, but you know when The Ritz-Carlton came along, it was like something I had always dreamed of working for—a real, “first class,” luxury hotel. So I think I was just at the right place at the right time. Other opportunities have come up, but when you’re working for the best hotel company in the business at that time, probably in the world, I never thought about leaving—at least not to go to work for another hotel.

RCLC: What do you value about the culture of The Ritz-Carlton?

Mr. Nelms: I would have to say that all the things that the company has put in place: Gold Standards, all our Service Values and everything. I was in my thirties when I started working for the company, and I’m in my sixties now. When I think back, I see that the culture has taught us how to be gentlemen, how to behave.

RCLC: What does customer service mean to you?

Mr. Nelms: What does customer service mean? Wow, it means a lot of things! I feel that customer service is serving a customer or guest in the manner that they want to be served, that they want to be taken care of. I say that because I have been in some customer service situations where it didn’t go well, and when you’re in a customer service business, you’re well aware of when you’re not getting good customer service. Right? So that’s what it means—taking care of a customer the way they want to be taken care of.

RCLC: Have you built relationships with customers throughout the years?

Mr. Nelms: Most definitely! At The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead, we’ve been there so long, not only have we built long-term relationships with the guests, but we’ve built long-term relationships with their children. Sometimes I’ll see a long-term guest that is arriving and being taken care of and the person that is taking care of them might not recognize them, and then they’ll ask them a question like “have you ever stayed here before?” and if I get the chance, I’ll always go over and greet them myself, recognize them and then introduce them to the employee that doesn’t recognize them. I kind of tease them, and I introduce them as a “Charter Member.” “Oh yeah, Mr. Johnson, he’s a Charter Member, he’s part of the beginning!” We do have a lot of guests that have been staying with us for the entire time. It’s always fun because it gives me the opportunity to connect with that guest, that long-term guest.

RCLC: Are there any memorable customer experiences (WOW moments) that you would like to share?

Mr. Nelms: There are so many! Immediately when I think about WOW stories, I feel like I’m the one that was probably WOWed by the person I was taking care of. One moment comes to mind: a lot of people who come to our hotel are here on business, and they never get a chance to really get outside of the Buckhead area. Sometimes they think that that’s all Atlanta, right? Just that concrete area. We have the Atlanta History Center and that brings people to Buckhead, so these guests I was driving did break away long enough to go see the History Center. On the way back, I said to them “if you have a moment, I’ll take a little scenic route that will take us back to the hotel. It will only take us 10-15 minutes,” they wanted to do that—so I showed them the neighborhood that they never had a chance to see. They talked about it, and they were so excited because they had read about it in books and saw pictures in magazines. We have an area, the West Paces Ferry area, where our Governor’s Mansion is, as well as a lot of antebellum homes and properties with rolling hills and magnolia trees. There’s a particular mansion where parts of Gone with the Wind were filmed. I was just amazed at how excited they were about it. So it really made me feel good, and they didn’t even really know about that part of our town—so that’s probably the most memorable. I enjoy doing that, introducing people to things like The Swann House, the most photographed house in Atlanta. I think I was just as WOWed as they were. They WOWed me!

RCLC: Have you had to deal with upset customers? If so, any advice on the best way to handle this?

Mr. Nelms: Like we were saying about what customer service means, the best way to handle an upset guest is first of all to listen, empathize and see what their problem is. Especially to listen, you have to let them vent, let them get it all out and then be thinking, anticipating, what you can do to help. Then I will ask them, “what can I do to help in this situation?” I’ve been in that situation before, and fortunately, I’ve had the resources to help people. We’ve had situations when people’s limousine transportation didn’t show up, and they were stressed out so we were able to put them in our vehicle and take them to their appointment—even though it was outside of the usual area where we typically go. They’re always wild about that.

RCLC: What are a few of the customer service lessons you’ve learned over the last three decades?

Mr. Nelms: You have to listen to people—listen to them and remain pleasant. Don’t allow yourself to get upset since a lot of times we deal with so many different kinds of personalities. Sometimes when people are upset, they want you to get upset. That’s the most important thing I have learned to do is to listen and then be thinking how you can assist them. “What can I do to make this better?” That’s what people want to hear in a customer service situation. 

The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center offers advisory services, courses and presentations to organizations that wish to benchmark the award-winning business practices of The Ritz-Carlton. Your organization can learn about The Ritz-Carlton methodology for customer service, employee engagement and leadership development. We also guide organizations through a multi-step process in order to achieve sustainable culture transformation.

Inspired Thinking: Customer Expectations

“Setting customer expectations at a level that is aligned with consistently deliverable levels of customer service requires that your whole staff, from product development to marketing, works in harmony with your brand image.” – Richard Branson, English businessman

The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center:

Superior customer or patient experiences can only be fulfilled when your entire organization is committed to service excellence. Without the buy-in of every employee, your service risks being inconsistent and could potentially disappoint your customers or patients. Leaders can foster an environment of service excellence by:

  1. Ensuring employees understand that customers are the highest priority
  2. Providing written service guidelines so employees know what is expected of them
  3. Offering training and modeling to employees to improve service skills
  4. Empowering employees to fulfill the expressed and unexpressed needs of customers and patients
  5. Asking for feedback from customers and patients to determine if service is meeting expectations

Leaders at The Ritz-Carlton spend many hours focusing on discussions around our guest experience and how we all as a team can improve to consistently align performance (and culture, too) with the reputation of our brand.  How does your organization work together to focus on customer needs?

Dear Ritz-Carlton: Customer Harassing Employees?

Dear Ritz-Carlton: What if a guest were harassing employees?

Answer from Alexandra Valentin, Corporate Director, Culture Transformation at The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center:

Head Shot Alexandra Valentin

Part of The Ritz-Carlton mission statement, also known as our “Credo,” states “that the genuine care and comfort of our guest is our highest mission.” The Ritz-Carlton strives to provide for all employees a professional and congenial work environment and will take all necessary steps to ensure that the work environment remains pleasant for all employees. An integral part of this type of work environment is for all employees to treat each other with courtesy, consideration and professionalism, and we expect the same from our guests.

The Company will not tolerate harassment of any employee by any other employee, supervisor, vendor, guest, client, or customer. Harassment for any discriminatory reason, such as race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, veteran or military status, or other basis protected by applicable law is prohibited by state and/or federal laws and may subject the Company or the individual harasser to liability for any such unlawful conduct. With this policy, the Company prohibits not only unlawful harassment, but also other unprofessional and discourteous actions.

At The Ritz-Carlton, we treat our Ladies and Gentlemen (employees) the same way we treat our guests. The Ritz-Carlton motto, “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen,” defines who we are and how we should behave. The motto emphasizes mutual respect for one another and respect for ourselves. It creates a positive work environment and is an attitude that can be accepted or appreciated by anyone from any culture or walk of life. We remind our guests when appropriate of this powerful statement.

Join us for a one-day symposium, “Your Journey to Service Excellence.” The day includes a keynote speaker, a Q&A session with The Ritz-Carlton executive panel, an optional networking reception and presentations about legendary service, employee engagement and a customer-centric culture.

Service Standards: Create, Disseminate and Reiterate

In order to build a reputation for legendary customer service, your organization must be able to execute service excellence consistently. Consistency is the key ingredient. Companies like Starbucks, Apple and The Ritz-Carlton ensure service uniformity by having clear service standards.

Your staff should realize:

  • their overall purpose in your organization;
  • the responsibilities of their individual role;
  • AND the specific customer service standards you would like implemented in that role.

The first step toward improved efficiency and reliable service is to create written service standards for each position in your organization.

STEP 1 – Create Your Service Standards

Written customer service standards should be detailed and clear, but not so rigid that your staff seems scripted and robotic. For example, if you have employees who speak to clients on the phone, you might include the following in their service standards:

  1. Always answer the phone by the third ring.
  2. Smile as you answer the phone and have a positive attitude.
  3. Provide a warm greeting (never say “hey,” “howdy” or “hi there!”) and then share your first name, the name of our organization, and offer to help your customer—i.e., “Hello. This is Albert at the Incredible Store. How may I help you today?”

As you create service standards for each role, think through all possible scenarios where your employee might interact with a customer. Will your employee ever be on an elevator with a customer? If so, you might want to include elevator etiquette in your guidelines. Is your employee going to be responsible for cleaning your facilities? If so, you might want to detail how often cleaning should occur. Does the recycling need to be emptied each night? How often should dusting occur? When you make your expectations clear, your employees don’t have to guess or make up standards for themselves, and consequently, they’ll be able to use their time more effectively.

If your employees are responsible for paperwork or responding to customers promptly, you may want to indicate time limits. Here’s an example from the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA):

  • “95% of responses to written inquiries are accurate and issued within 30 days.
  • At least 97.5% of telephone calls are answered within 120 seconds.
  • 98% of all claims are processed within 60 days.”

Along with specific tasks, you might include suggestions about maintaining a professional presence that includes a positive attitude, good posture, eye contact and proper dress. Written service standards can also help eliminate potential workplace drama. Suppose Fred begins wearing flip flops to work and his manager decides that flip flops aren’t professional. But Suzy works at a branch office and her manager doesn’t mind when she wears flip flops. Now Fred feels his manager is being unfair. When professional appearance is established by your organization’s brand and service standards—and not by individual managers—this allows for more universal and equitable treatment.

Finally, you’ll want to be aware of cost, time, and resources as you create standards. Be sure your service standards are economically feasible and executable. Your goal should be excellent and efficient standardized service.

STEP 2 – Disseminate Your Service Standards

Once you have your written service standards, you need to establish how you will share them throughout your organization. Disseminating means more than handing employees a piece of paper and asking them to read it. When you’re introducing service standards for the first time, you must strategically plan your roll-out and implementation in order to garner employee buy-in. If your employees don’t embrace your new standards, you won’t achieve improved service.

Service standards may sound like new rules to your employees and people don’t generally appreciate having more rules. You must share the benefits with your employees such as:

  • more consistent service that will improve your organization’s service reputation
  • a clear understanding of service expectations can lead to greater employee empowerment

You’ll also have to decide how new employees will be introduced to your service standards. At The Ritz-Carlton, service standards are presented during the onboarding process, and learning coaches train new staff on proper execution.

STEP 3 – Reiterate Your Service Standards

Once your service standards have been implemented, you will need to remind employees about the importance of following through. You can achieve this through several methods including verbal reminders, e-communications, and offering ongoing training opportunities. At The Ritz-Carlton, service standards are often highlighted through service stories and at daily meetings. These standards should become habits for all of your employees. Written service standards should also be reviewed regularly to make sure they are relevant to the customer. If your customers’ needs have changed, your service standards should be adjusted.

Rewards of Customer Service Standards

Written service standards help your employees, your customers and your organization. Your employees will know what’s expected of them and they’ll be able to function more efficiently. In addition, written service standards are a good step toward employee empowerment. Empowered employees feel more trusted and valued, and they’re able to resolve customer problems faster because they don’t need to funnel problems through layers of management. Your employees will be more engaged, and as a result, your customers will receive better service. As your reputation for service excellence grows, your organization will attract more customers and more business. Drafting service standards for every position in your organization may seem like an arduous undertaking, but any task that leads to greater profits and success is certainly a step worth taking. 

The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center offers advisory services, courses and presentations to organizations that wish to benchmark the award-winning business practices of The Ritz-Carlton. Your organization can learn about The Ritz-Carlton methodology for customer service, employee engagement and leadership development. We also guide organizations through a multi-step process in order to achieve sustainable culture transformation.