Bruce Himelstein is the Ritz-Carlton executive who transformed customer service for one of the world's most recognizable luxury brands, as featured prominently in the New York Times bestseller, The New Gold Standard.
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Customer Service IS Your Brand! The Truth about Branding from a former Ritz-Carlton executive

February 14, 2017   

A recent edition of my local newspaper carried the following headline: “Chipotle co-CEO to focus on customer service.” The body of the article reported, “Now that the Denver-based company is satisfied with its new safety protocols, it’s turning its attention to better customer service.”

While I applaud the company’s efforts, focus on customer service is not a box to be checked or some static goal that can be marked “complete.” Customer service is the very DNA of a customer-centric culture. For years, when I was chief marketing officer at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, attention to our guests was the undeniable brand. It still is.

In the hotel industry, it takes only a checkbook to be competitive. The great differentiator, however – the factor that sets one competitor above another – is how the customer is treated. Animating your brand with the tenets of world-class service starts with the CEO and permeates throughout the organization. Anticipating customers’ needs and delivering on them must always take priority. These tenets are non-negotiables; they simply must not be stripped down or cut out during the budget process.

Along with being non-negotiable, customer service should be nonproprietary inside the organization’s walls. In other words, accountability for outstanding service doesn’t belong to any one person or department but rather to every employee, associate, and department. Now, allow me to make the distinction here: the word “nonproprietary” applies to customer service across all departments – they all share in delivering. But when the discussion shifts to trends across an entire industry, by all means strive to make your company’s customer service proprietary. Own it. Stand out from competitors in how your organization delivers. By the way, when a brand gets this right, it allows pricing power because we know that from the customers’ perspective the cost of switching to a competitor just spiked higher.

There are three things to keep in mind about customer service and branding:Customer service is one of few things over which organizations have complete control.

1. Customer service is one of few things over which organizations have complete control. 

2. Providing better customer service than your competition raises the switching costs.

3. The way to win in any market is to make customer service the foundation of your brand.

During my tenure at Ritz-Carlton, a major airline’s flight attendant group approached us. They were interested in raising their level of service – commendable for sure. When asked if their CEO knew they were meeting with us, their response was no.  In fact, no other department within the airline was present or had plans to follow this group’s service-improvement journey. The fact is they would have failed because their organization didn’t consider it a priority. Customer service–fueled brand identity should begin at the top and spread to every department like – well, like planes dispatched from hub cities span the continent. It seems like kind of an automatic metaphor, one would think.

So, kudos to Chipotle’s executives for recognizing the corporation has an issue. However, the company’s future would be better served if its execs realized that customer service cannot be the Flavor of the Month.


Prominently featured in the New York Times bestseller The New Gold Standard, Bruce Himelstein is the Ritz-Carlton executive who transformed customer service for one of the world’s most recognizable luxury brands. Now a consultant and speaker, Himelstein discusses brand marketing on respected venues such as and the Wharton School’s Sirius radio channel. Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International named him among the Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing.

  • Recognized as “One of The Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales & Marketing” by The Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI).
  • Featured & Quoted in as Branding Consultant.
  • Featured on The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania’s Sirius radio channel discussing his experiences in marketing lifestyle brands.
  • An inductee into “The American Marketing Association” Hall of Fame, Himelstein also sits on many prominent industry boards, including the Luxury Institute Advisory Board.
  • Drove efforts to "blow the dust off the lion and crown" by transforming one of the world's most recognizable luxury brands...the Ritz-Carlton.
  • Recognized for identifying and implementing strategies to maintain relevance in today’s rapidly evolving business world.
  • Featured prominently in Joseph Michelli's New York Times bestseller, "The New Gold Standard".
  • Passionately worked to improve healthcare by serving on the Shady Grove Hospitals Board of Directors
  • Completed innovative work by breaking marketing barriers for Marriott's Senior Living Services