How the Ritz-Carlton Delivers Exceptional Customer Service

Seven Lessons that Make a Difference

Exceptional customer service is a game-changer when building loyalty among clients. I’ve shared the story of our greatest customer experience ever at Disney, and I’ve written about how Disney uses systems to deliver stellar customer service. I recently discovered the same is true of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, widely recognized for providing truly extraordinary customer service to people worldwide.

I recently read The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Lessons for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company by Joseph Michelli. I also sat down with David Cayuela, the General Manager of the Ritz-Carlton in Cancun, Mexico, and interviewed him about leadership, organizational development, and customer service. From these interactions, as well as our own experiences, I’d like to share seven insights I gleaned about how the Ritz-Carlton deliverers truly exceptional service.

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1. Organizational Culture

Each staff member at The Ritz-Carlton carries a “Credo Card” that describes the core element’s of the hotel’s organizational culture. I asked a concierge if I could see her Credo Card and she happily said, “I’ll be glad to get you a copy to keep.” She handed me a small, multi-folded Credo Card the size of a business card. The card included six aspects of the organization’s culture:

  • Credo – A creed that describes the Ritz-Carlton’s mission, service, facilities, and experience.
  • Twelve Service Values – Twelve one-sentence values that employees personally own and model. These values begin with the heading, “I am proud to be Ritz-Carlton.”
  • Mystique – A combination of emotion and tradition to create memorable and unique experiences for guests.
  • Three Steps of Service – A concise list of three practical ways to offer exceptional service.
  • Motto – “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”
  • Employee Promise – A description of the Ritz-Carlton’s commitment to its employees and work environment.

Having clarity about these principles, promises, and values sets the tone for the organization’s culture. Nobody has to guess what target the Ritz-Carlton is trying to hit. It’s clear.

Lesson: Healthy organizational cultures are created with intentional clarity about what matters most.

2. Employee Selection

I asked David Cayuela what he considered to be the most essential keys to creating an effective organizational culture. Without hesitation he said, “The selection process.” The Ritz-Carlton doesn’t select employees haphazardly, hoping to fill a vacancy quickly so they can get on with business. They take hiring (known as the selection process) very seriously. It’s not uncommon for the selection process to involve six or seven steps (and even more for management positions and higher). Mr. Cayuela said, “We don’t hire for technical talent but for natural talent.” It’s easier to train technical talent, but natural talent makes the difference. He pointed to being a “team player” as one example of natural talent. A person’s ability to work with a team and reflect the organization’s values has far greater value than any technical skill.

It’s easier to train technical talent, but natural talent makes the difference. Click To Tweet

The Ritz-Carlton also values diversity in the selection process. On one occasion I asked an employee how she enjoyed working for Ritz-Carlton. She said, “I really like it. I’ve worked here for ten years. Other hotels only like to hire younger employees, but the Ritz hires people of every age.”

To help them with the selection process, Ritz-Carlton uses assessment tools from Talent Plus and Gallup. While multiple interviews and assessments require greater patience, this thorough process has proven effective. Joseph Michelli shared the perspective of Susan Strayer, a member of the Ritz-Carlton team: “By choosing the right people in the first place, our turnover is in the 20 percent range in an industry that averages about 60 percent. That payoff alone, not to mention staff morale benefits, is enough to justify our patience” (p. 78). Having an effective hiring process is essential.

Lesson: Create a multi-stage hiring process that is thorough, values based, and leverages helpful assessment tools.

The Four Keys to Increasing Volunteer Engagement

How to Live in the Serving Sweet Spot

Every year millions of people volunteer with churches and not-for-profit organizations, hoping to make a meaningful difference. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 62.6 million people (24.9% of the U.S. population) volunteered through or for an organization at least once in a 12-month period. The most likely people to volunteer were 35-44 year-olds (28.9%), then 45-54 year-olds (28%), followed by teenagers 16-19 years-old (26.4%). The least likely to volunteer were 20-24 year-olds (18.4%).

Recently, a leader of a college campus ministry asked me what he should consider the most when recruiting volunteers: gifts, passions, or ministry needs. The short answer is, “Yes!” In fact, I would add a fourth. To increase volunteer engagement, I believe it’s helpful to consider the intersection between gifts, passions, time, and needs.

Serving Sweet Spot

Gifts are the combination of abilities, skills, and spiritual gifts that define how a volunteer can make their greatest contribution. Without the right gifts, the volunteer can’t help you, the organization, or the people served by the organization. And there are practical steps volunteers can take to confirm whether or not they have a gift. As leaders, when we ignore the gifting of a volunteer, we become self-serving rulers rather than people-empowering leaders. Gifting determines how the volunteer can help.

5 Words of Wisdom for Graduates

Insights to Guide the Next Chapter of Life

Graduation is always a great milestone in a person’s life. Regardless of your age, graduating from high school, trade school, college, or grad school is worth celebrating. But when the celebration ends, and you wake up the next morning to start a new chapter in your life, let me encourage you to take to heart a few simple words of wisdom.

Graduate Words of Wisdom

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1. Graduate School but Don’t Graduate Learning – Learning should be a lifelong goal. In fact, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner call learning the Master Skill. It’s the skill that opens the door to future opportunities, future growth, and ultimately the person you want to become. Today might be the day you graduate school, but the day you graduate learning should be the day you draw your last breath.

2. Pursue the Boredom of Success – I know that sounds like a strange statement, but I believe it is one of the most important things you can do. Behind the glitz and glamour of success is usually a very routine, even at times boring, set of disciplines. What allows a person to reach their goals and experience success is what is done behind the scenes day after day, week after week, and year after year. It’s the everyday disciplines that make a person successful, not the 15 minutes of fame you see on YouTube. Pursue the Boredom of Success by establishing daily disciplines that will produce longterm health in key areas of your life.

Behind the glamour of success is a very routine, even at times boring, set of disciplines. Click To Tweet

3. Avoid the Attitude of Entitlement – Graduating school is a great accomplishment, but keep this simple truth in mind: nobody owes you anything. I know that’s not what you want to hear on graduation day, but people aren’t handing out jobs like lollypops. You have to prove yourself. You have to bust your butt. If you have a vision for the next chapter of your life, it has a price tag…and nobody but you can pay it.

4. Develop a Healthy Perspective of Success and Failure – Don’t let success go to your head and don’t let failure define you. As you move into a new season of life, you will experience both. That’s part of the journey. The difference-maker is how you respond when success and failure come. Celebration and humility is a great response to success. Reflection and learning is a great response to failure.

5. Match Your Books Smarts with People Smarts – It’s quite amazing how many people are extremely smart in school but extremely dumb with people. They’ve got the books smarts, but they haven’t learned how to work with people. They lack emotional intelligence, the ability to build trust, and the skills to make people feel valued. Your book smarts might get you hired, but your inability to connect with people will get you fired. In fact, attitude issues and poor people skills are among the top reasons people lose their jobs.

Book smarts might get you hired, but your inability to connect with people will get you fired. Click To Tweet

If you’ve recently graduated, or your graduation date is just over the horizon, I encourage you to take these lessons to heart. If you’re a young leader, I’d also encourage you to check out 10 Words of Wisdom to Young Leaders.

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The Passion/Vision Loop

Three Keys to Keep Passion and Vision Alive Without Killing Your Organization

Passion and vision are important parts of leadership and organizational culture. You have to capture a vision, and make sure the vision has substance. You have to discover your passion, and ensure it matches your vision. The truth is, neither can exist without the other. In fact, each one stimulates the other in what I call the passion/vision loop. Here’s how it works.

First, passion births a perceived vision. Vision doesn’t just pop out of nowhere. It begins when a leader’s hearts comes alive with passion. That passion is usually ignited when the leader is stirred by a need or a problem. Eventually the leader is able to articulate his passion as a clear and compelling vision for the future…something that becomes an answer to the need or a solution to the problem.

Second, pursued vision produces more passion. As the leader casts the vision, and mobilizes people and resources to pursue it, the passion grows even stronger. What the leader had always hoped for is no longer confined to wishful thinking. It’s actually happening, and the energy associated with progress becomes contagious. As Bill Hybels says, “Vision is a picture of the future that produces passion.”

Passion-Vision Loop

As you experience the passion/vision loop, it’s good to keep three things mind to keep the loop alive without killing your organization.

1. Processes

In his book, Predictable Success, Les McKeown describes the stages organizations experience as they age. One stage is called “White Water.” Organizations experience White Water when their growth exceeds the capacity of the organization’s systems and processes. Things start to get choppy, break down, and fall through the cracks because old processes can’t support the new growth.

This condition can happen when the vision/passion loop picks up speed. The vision is executed to produce great results, and those great results create more passion to produce even better results. Instead of reaching 100 people, now you’re reaching 500. And if you can reach 500 people, surely you can reach 1,000 people. Instead of selling 1,000 widgets, now you’re selling 5,000 widgets. And if you can sell 5,000 widgets, surely you can sell 10,000 widgets. The problem is, your systems and processes can’t handle the growth. If the processes don’t match the growth, the growth will stop and the passion will fade.

Leading With Purpose

Three Qualities of Jesus' Commitment to Purpose-Driven Leadership

Leaders are driven by an unquenchable vision with roots that go deep into the soul. This “purpose” awakens them early in the morning and keeps them up late at night. It’s undeniable in its power to thrust leaders forward, determined to see a mission completed, a calling fulfilled, a dream realized.


If there was ever a leader who understood, and unapologetically pursued, a vision, it was Jesus. Throughout the Gospels, we see His purpose come to life and His mission come to pass. A perfect example is found in Luke 4:42-44:

“At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.’”


From this passage, we discover three qualities of Jesus’ commitment to purpose-driven leadership.

1. Unwavering Clarity: Jesus knew His purpose

Jesus’ purpose is clear when he says, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43, NIV). Jesus’ purpose wasn’t a fleeting thought. It wasn’t a hope, or a wish, or an idea. It wasn’t a hint or a hunch. Jesus’ purpose was central to His life.

Other passages confirm His purpose in an equally compelling manner. “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10, NLT). Matthew 20:28 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (NLT). And John said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10, NLT) and “…The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8, NIV)

Jesus’ purpose was to seek and to save lost humanity. In fact, you could boil Jesus’ purpose down to one word: Redemption.

What about you? If I were to ask you to summarize your life in one word, what would it be? In his book, Aspire, Kevin Hall says that when he’s coaching someone, he challenges them to describe their life in one word. When they distill it down to one word, it’s like turning to a page in a book with only one word on it. Kevin writes, “Instead of seeing three hundred different words on the page, the person’s attention, and intention, is focused immediately on that single word, that single gift.” Then he makes a great observation: “What the individual focuses on expands.”

Jesus had unwavering clarity when it came to His purpose in life. He was never wishy-washy about why He was on the earth. Because of His clarity, the impact of His mission expanded.

Before I move on to my second point, let me mention that Jesus understood the WHAT and the WHO of His purpose. I just described the what, but verse 43 describes the who: “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

If you’re sent somewhere, then somebody has sent you. Jesus was on a mission that originated with His Father in Heaven. He was sent by His Father. John 20:21 says, “Again he said, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you’” (NLT). And Acts 3:26 says, “When God raised up his servant, Jesus, he sent him first to you people of Israel, to bless you by turning each of you back from your sinful ways” (NLT).

Your purpose will never be found in a friend, your spouse, or your kids. Regardless of how great your job or how large your bank account, it will never serve as the source of your purpose. True purpose is discovered first and foremost in Christ. He is the who behind the your what.

Enlarging Your Growth Environment

How Your Environment Shapes Your Development

The longer you lead, the more intentional you have to be about your personal growth. It’s easy to slip into a mindset that uses expertise as a license to slow your appetite for growth. But the truth is, the longer you lead, the more difficult growth becomes.

I recently heard author and pastor Matt Keller compare the first 90% of growth to the next 1% of growth. Keller notes that all of the energy, effort, and resources it takes to grow your leadership from zero to 90% is the same amount of energy, effort, and resources it takes to grow your leadership from 90% to 91%. Maybe that’s why it takes 10,000 hours of practice before you are considered a true expert – somebody at the top of your game – in your specific field or industry.


One of the keys to closing this leadership gap is to broaden your growth environment to include mentors and coaches. It’s one of the prices tags of growth. It’s so easy to hang around the same people, go to the same conferences, read the same authors, and listen to the same podcasts. After a while, everything looks and sounds the same. It can quickly lead to the leadership disease of mindless mingling.

Last year I found myself reaching this place of “sameness.” I needed to expand my leadership and get around a more robust growth environment. So I took a leap and signed up for a coaching program with a small group of pastors from around the country. Each month I flew to Atlanta for a couple of days to engage in leadership discussions and coaching. We talked about everything from spiritual growth, to effective leadership, to organizational development.

The Three Forms of Teachability that are Critical to Your Growth

Are You Curious, Coachable, and Correctable?

Many leaders pride themselves on their commitment to personal growth. They recognize the connection between personal growth and organizational growth, and they understand the importance of learning new methods, embracing relevant strategies, and staying up to date with best practices. In a word, they might describe themselves as “teachable.”


That would be a true description. But over the years I’ve come to realize that teachability has three faces to it. If you’re going to become the most effective leader, you have to embrace all three forms of teachability.

The Three Forms of Teachability

1. Curiosity

The first form of teachability is a self-directed curiosity. Curiosity reveals itself as a deep desire and commitment to acquire knowledge. Curious people are never satisfied with what they know. They have an insatiable appetite to learn more and expand the width and depth of their knowledge. If you want to know how curious you are, ask yourself these questions:

  • What have I learned since I graduated school?
  • Do I regularly read books, attend conferences, listen to podcasts, and participate in webinars where I will stretch my thinking, learn new ideas, and acquire fresh insights?
  • Am I personally driven to learn, or do others have to continually prod my development?
  • Do I have a plan for personal growth?

This form of teachability focuses on the acquisition of information. It’s like adding files to your file cabinet of wisdom. While self-directed curiosity is essential to a growing leader, it’s also the easiest form of teachability. By easy I don’t mean it doesn’t require effort, discipline, or commitment. I mean it’s contained within the mind of the leader, and therefore is usually void of dialogue or accountability. Basically, the learner decides if they’ll do anything with what they’ve learned. There’s nobody to push back, challenge thinking, or confront assumptions. The individual ultimately determines if they like what they’ve heard, read, or watched.

Without the “curiosity” form of teachability, leaders will get stuck in old paradigms, become lazy, and slide into ruts that inhibit personal and organizational progress. At the same time, if the only form of teachability a leader embraces is curiosity, they will fail to mine the gold and confront the gaps that the other two forms of teachability offer. Curiosity is an essential starting place, but there’s more. 

My Top Posts From 2015

At the end of each year, I post a list of my top read posts from that year. Below are my top posts written in 2015. Enjoy!

1. The 10 Price Tags of Growth

2. Four Dimensions of Jesus’ Personal Growth

3. Seven Reasons Our Prayers are Unanswered

4. How to Silence the Voices of Insignificance, Inadequacy, and Insults

5. The Four Stages in the Cycle of Pride

6. The Six Metrics of Church Health

7. Heart Failure: 7 Lessons One Year Later

8. Seven Great Assessment Tools to Use with Your Team

9. Four Reasons Leaders Can’t Execute

10. Ten Ways to Lead Up