Even if you haven’t had the pleasure of doing business with one of the world’s most customer-centric companies, chances are at some point you’ve experienced their opposites. Maybe you wrestled your own bags into a motel, only to spend the next few minutes waiting for a less-than-enthusiastic front desk associate to arrive and tell you that they have one room left, then time out your decision with their chewing gum. The antithesis to that experience, for example, might be The Ritz-Carlton.

“We’re all consumers and we all know what great service feels like,” says Diana Oreck, vice president of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center. “When it’s done wrong, it’s like something straight out of a Steven King novel.”

But even Ritz-Carlton wasn’t hatched with a superior customer-focused modus operandi. When the company opened its first chain of hotels back in the early 1900s, only its Boston location survived. This set the company’s executives on a mission to clone the operations of that location. Private baths for each guest room, white tie and apron uniforms for its employees, fresh flowers, and a la carte dining—there were countless distinguishable features to key in on, but ultimately it was decided that the sum of the whole is what made a difference. And so the company was redrawn, from the ground up, with every detail carefully crafted around customer experience.

Flash forward nearly a century and, in 1999, Ritz-Carlton found itself a two-time winner of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which is named after the late Secretary of Commerce and designed to recognize U.S. companies that have implemented successful quality management systems.

“The second award was a game changer for us because only five companies have won this twice, including no service and hospitality companies,” Oreck says. “Suddenly, we had all of these companies knocking on our door, asking us to share our best practices. Our then president said, ‘This is crazy. This has become a distraction.’”

Identifying the differences between a motel and a Ritz-Carlton is easy. Placing your finger on what consistently creates those differences is, well, a bit tricky. For this reason, since January 2000, companies have lined up to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000 to attend training and consultation services with The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center. Oreck says the center, which she describes as a “corporate university that’s open to the public,” was originally designed to last a year.