Potential clients frequently ask us to deliver training on customer service. My first question has always been, “What are the standards of customer service you want to offer your customers?” The question is most often met with a “Please explain” response, as I go on to suggest that without setting the standards, training will be of little use and they will waste most of the money they may spend with us.

I tend to use examples to explain, such as a recent flight from Melbourne to Cairns on Virgin Australia and then from Cairns to Guam on United Airlines in business class. The flight from Melbourne to Cairns was in daylight/early evening hours and the flight from Cairns to Guam was between the hours of 12:35 am and 5:40 am. My expectations and need of service was higher on the Virgin leg than the United Airlines leg.

The difference in service was stark.

The Virgin crew actually seemed to care about each passenger, wanting to make each person’s experience comfortable for them – in the passenger’s mindset, not the flight attendant’s. They spoke in whole sentences, explaining choices clearly and appearing to be genuine when the passenger’s need could not be met. They engaged in, albeit limited, conversation with passengers.

The United Airlines crew spoke almost in bullet points, repeating the same words exactly with every passenger, being careful to add in “Sir” or “Ma’am” when appropriate and saying, “Please” and “Thank you”. The feeling of warmth approximated that of a block of ice. The degree of care taken with individual passengers as a result was something akin to that one might expect from a clever robot. When food service was over (which most people did not want because of the hour) the attendants retired to their seats at the front of the cabin with the curtain open, lights on and began to chat loudly while passengers were trying to sleep.

The Virgin crew seemed to have been trained and instructed to take care of their passengers to a standard, whilst the United Airlines crew seemed to have been trained to follow a process, which they probably did not follow. If the United Airlines crew had been trained to achieve a standard, then it was a low one. (I must admit that until a year or so ago, Virgin Blue, as it was then, also seemed to be trained to follow a process of a quick joke followed by cheery familiarity and a standard of service in the attendant’s mind rather than reaching a standard of service in the passenger’s mind).

Whilst processes can streamline customer service activities, they should, in no way, usurp the need to instil customer service behaviours into employees through defining the standards of behaviour you want.

Ritz Carlton occupies legendary status for its customer service. The foundation of its customer service is not a process but a set of standards; the “Gold Standards.” They encompass the values and philosophy by which Ritz Carlton operates and include The Credo, The Motto, The Three Steps of Service, The Basics, and The Employee Promise.

The Credo pledges: “The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instils well-being, and fulfils even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”

The Motto is simple and embodies the relationship between employees and guests and also indicates the values of Ritz Carlton. The Motto is: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Employees use this framework for dealing with guests, and with their fellow Ritz-Carlton employees. They must treat workplace colleagues with the same dignity they incorporate with guests.

The Three Steps of Service is equally simple and call for giving the guest a warm and sincere greeting (using the guest’s name when possible), anticipating and complying with guest needs, and saying a fond farewell, again using the guest’s name.

The Employee Promise asks of its employees:

“At The Ritz-Carlton, our Ladies and Gentlemen are the most important resource in our service commitment to our guests.

By applying the principles of trust, honesty, respect, integrity and commitment, we nurture and maximize talent to the benefit of each individual and the company.

The Ritz-Carlton fosters a work environment where diversity is valued, quality of life is enhanced, individual aspirations are fulfilled, and The Ritz-Carlton Mystique is strengthened.”

There are twelve service values which underpin the delivery of service and the growth and self-leadership of its employees:


  1. I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life.
  2. I am always responsive to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.
  3. I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests.
  4. I understand my role in achieving the Key Success Factors, embracing Community Footprints and creating The Ritz-Carlton Mystique.
  5. I continuously seek opportunities to innovate and improve The Ritz-Carlton experience.
  6. I own and immediately resolve guest problems.
  7. I create a work environment of teamwork and lateral service so that the needs of our guests and each other are met.
  8. I have the opportunity to continuously learn and grow.
  9. I am involved in the planning of the work that affects me.
  10. I am proud of my professional appearance, language and behaviour.
  11. I protect the privacy and security of our guests, my fellow employees and the company’s confidential information and assets.
  12. I am responsible for uncompromising levels of cleanliness and creating a safe and accident-free environment.


Ritz Carlton are also quite particular when recruiting staff, to ensure that the people they employ are likely to be able to learn and demonstrate their standards in the way they behave and think. Typically, they will have more than ten applicants for each new employee they select for a role. They are equally stringent when it comes to reviewing performance of their employees against the standards.

Lying behind their standards lies a range of policies, and yes, processes and procedures and incessant training. But the training and processes are there to support the delivery of service against the standard; they have not become the alternate to having a standard.

It is, perhaps, unlikely that organisations will want to emulate the degree to which Ritz Carlton has gone to embed its Gold Standards into the way of life for its employees. It is definitely unlikely that the actual Ritz Carlton standards will fit your organisation. You have to create your own standards to match the value you want both your customers and your employees to perceive of your organisation.

Effectively writing Standards of Customer Service requires you to have a strategic vision for your organisation and what role customer service plays in adding value to your organisation’s ability to reach its goal. You also need to understand what role your employees play in delivering that customer service. You must think through these two key issues and develop processes to create the standards of service and build the environment which encourages the behaviours required to deliver those standards and discourages negative behaviours. If not, then training in customer service will likely result in a short lived blip in improved service, followed by disappointment about the ineffectiveness of it all.