"We all have
competitors. Sitting next to you, within four seats, is someone who
competes with you on a day-to-day basis," said Roger Dow, VP and
General Sales Manager for Marriott Lodging. His inspiring keynote address,
"Energizing Your People, Customers and Profits," opened ATME's
1998 annual conference this past May.
"Everybody seems to be pushing us on price,
but yet our operating costs keep going up, and our margins are harder
to come by," Dow said. Because today's marketplace, within and
outside the travel industry, increasingly competes for the same dollar,
it is imperative that organizations stay on top of changes in the economy
and other variables that impact their businesses, he said.
Marriott should know. Marriott had overbuilt in
the 1980s. "We had believed so much of our own press-that everything
we touched turned to gold, and compounded annual growth at 20 percent
-that we fell asleep. We weren't paying attention to how the market
was changing rules and playing the game. We still were playing with
a 1970s mentality."
Marriott Chairman William Marriott Jr. called a
meeting with senior management, around 1990, to confirm the rumor that
the company, representing 200,000 employees, was in trouble. "He
said, 'If we go under, they go under...and that's not right,'"
Management was asked to assess and keep what is
most important to customers, and economize on the rest. "He [Marriott]
said, 'Any idiot can fire people,'" Low remembered, "'That
doesn't take too much intelligence.'"
Management was challenged to save the company, yet
maintain customer loyalty and the brand's integrity. Employees rallied,
finding creative solutions to save or raise money.
One cashier at an Ohio Marriott, for example, suggested
that extra money in the company's 40,000 registers be collected. Two
weeks later, more than $3 million showed up at the home office.
Referring to management guru Tom Peters' book, Turned
On, Dow said, "You can have the greatest product or service in
the world, but if your people and your customers aren't turned on, it's
over." Dow referred to other insights from Peter's book and his
own publication, The Trust Imperative, written with Marriott Hotels
VP of Interactive Sales and Marketing, Michael Pusateri.
Marriott reassessed its way of doing business. "We
really need to know what is changing. How to market differently? What
kind of role is the Internet playing? How are people getting their information?
Marketers can't become static and fall asleep," Dow said. They
must continue to court customers and communicate to market segments
on their level and from their points of view, whether it be with design,
or using the latest slang or popular reference.
"Anyone can get customer satisfaction,"
Dow asserted. "Just lower your prices. But how do you build customer
enthusiasm?" Dow humorously pointed out that some Harley Davidson
customers, for example, have the motorcycle company's logo as tattoos.
Building both employee and customer loyalty through
leadership is important. "It's not hard," said Dow, "but
few do it." Leaders establish goals, involve their teams, then
set examples, just as Bill Marriott does. Marriott's chairman makes
a point of thanking the company's top five sales people each month,
whether they are the most senior or junior sales person, with a personal
Empowering employees is also important. Dow told
the story about a former football player, Albert Smitty Smith, who works
for Marriott as a room service waiter. He was awarded top sports sales
person, because of the exemplary way he has cared for sports team clients
for 10 years. When teams switched to a new, nearby hotel, Smith visited
them at the other hotel as teams arrived, greeting them, and wishing
them luck on the game. He even offered to serve them special orders
from the Marriott. That extra attention eventually brought the teams
back to Marriott.
When your people are enthusiastic about your company
and its goals, they cheerfully provide customer service and recognition
beyond the expected, Dow noted. Employees develop a caring relationship
with customers. Like another Marriott room service waiter, Charles,
who consoled a grieving guest with a complimentary piece of apple pie
and sympathy card signed by the entire night staff. Employee enthusiasm
is contagious, infecting customers, and creating customer enthusiasm.
When a company can make its customers feel special, it builds long-standing
"When we go down that road together as partners
and really do a great job for our common customer," Dow said. "That's
what it's all about."