Best In Class Customer Service; What You Can Learn From the Ritz and Others

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By Tricia McKinnon

How often does someone rec­­­eive poor customer service and then decide to take their business elsewhere? It happens more often than any company would like to admit.  According to a study by InMoment a customer experience management firm, 74% of internet users believe that interaction with staff (with a poor attitude or lack of knowledge) contribute to a negative brand experience.  In contrast only 29% of brand professionals surveyed believe that those factors contribute to a poor customer experience. 

Clearly there is a gap between customer and brand expectations.  How can brands close that gap?  The Ritz Carlton, Zappos and Nordstrom are three organizations that are providing a level of customer service that any company can learn from.

The Ritz Carlton

The Ritz Carlton has long been known for its award-winning customer service.  It has earned the Malcolm Bridge National Quality Award twice. One of the keys to its success is empowering employees to surprise, delight and solve customer problems.  As a result of this philosophy, Ritz Carlton employees are empowered to spend up to $2,000 per day to improve the customer experience of any guest.  All employees fall within this program, from front desk receptionists to house-keeping staff.

This program has led to many examples of outstanding customer service.  For example, one Ritz Carlton customer forgot their laptop charger in their hotel room. Before the customer had time to call the hotel, the charger was couriered to the customer.  A loss prevention employee that sent the package wrote in a note accompanying the package: “Mr. DiJulius, I wanted to make sure we got this to you right away. I am sure you need it, and, just in case, I sent you an extra charger for your laptop." The Ritz Carlton believes the key to customer engagement is employee engagement.  Instead of having a lot of red tape or bureaucratic processes, the program also enables employees to take immediate action so that problems are solved quickly.  When employees are fully engaged and empowered customers reap the benefits.  


Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, the online shoe retailer, says that customer service is their main product.  Zappos believes that customer service is a differentiator since a customer has many options for where they can buy shoes.  Zappos’ number one core value is to Deliver WOW Through Service.  

To demonstrate this commitment to its customers, in 2015 30 Zappos employees arrived in Hanover New Hampshire in the middle of the night. They dropped off large boxes of gifts to each home in Hanover. The Hanover community is considered to be “fiercely loyal” to Zappos.  Approximately 1,900 packages were delivered.  The packages contained a range of items including backpacks, headphones and warm weather gear.  Not surprisingly residents were delighted to find the packages when they woke up the next morning.  Rewarding the loyalty of existing customers is likely to increase spend and since all residents got packages Zappos likely attracted new loyal fans.

Zappos is also known for rewarding customers with upgraded shipping and it offers full refunds for returns within a 365-day period.


A key differentiator between Nordstrom and other retailers is its customer service.  Nordstrom focuses on having employees use their best judgement in all situations. Employees are also given the flexibility to determine how best to solve a customer's problem.  In a classic story of great customer service, a Nordstrom employee noticed that a customer left their luggage and flight itinerary in the parking lot of the store. The employee jumped into their car and drove the customer’s luggage to the airport and found her before her flight took off.  Without an engaged employee base or empowerment most employees would be unlikely to go the distance to surprise and delight a customer.

Although most organizations cannot fund a program similar to the Ritz Carlton’s they can focus on employee engagement.  Monitoring employee engagement and making improvements in employee engagement a key priority can go a long way towards providing better customer service. 

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