There can be little doubt that Ritz-Carlton hotels provide exceptional customer service. From the gracious courtesy of the front-desk staff to the comforts of a room with an expertly made bed covered with a cloud of down pillows, a visit to the Ritz always seems special, no matter how long (or short) the stay.

In a perfect world, that's what apartment living would be like. Residents would be welcomed from the moment they first visited a property. Any problems would be addressed promptly and politely. Special requests would be accommodated cheerfully. And residents would renew their leases over and over and over again.

Given resident turnover rates, that scenario contains a bit of wishful thinking, but customer service qualifies as top priority for many apartment firms, who are experimenting with everything from technology to hospitality-type programs to deliver the best possible living experience to their residents. In this edition of Conference Call, the first of two on customer service, we'll hear from four industry leaders with their ideas for "putting on the Ritz" at their properties.

What is your company's philosophy toward customer service?

LYNN KLUG, Sares·Regis Group: The customer is number one, from the minute they walk through our doors, either as a prospective resident or a current resident. In training for our top-level team leaders, we focus on the regional managers, making sure our customer service goals are conveyed to them. Leasing professionals are given extensive training in customer service, too, and we also work regularly with the maintenance team, because often they have the most ongoing contact with our current residents. Finally, we conduct "mystery shops" of all leasing associates to ensure they are fulfilling our expectations with prospective residents.

TODD POPE, Simpson Property Group: About five years ago, we were searching for a common theme around which to create a culture [for our newly merged companies], and we had a speaker from Ritz-Carlton at a management meeting. It got a terrific reaction [from staff], so we created a program that is modeled after theirs. We came up with a credo and a set of guiding principles, which our folks get reiterated every Monday in an automatic email. We wanted to provide absolutely the best service in the apartment industry that anyone would see.