Presented here is one of the most powerful lessons of customer loyalty. It’s from a man who was arguably the father of hotel hospitality…Conrad Hilton.
The lesson is from the book, The New Art of Selling, by Elmer Letterman, published in 1957. This is a story about providing service beyond the normal thought process. This is about the philosophy, “Just because we don’t have anymore, doesn’t mean the customer’s need goes away.” Here is the story without an edit. (Obviously, it’s taking place in the late 1940s.)
One man who created a sale by creating a service. One of the most overworked words in salesmanship is “service”. I would like to remove it from applying to those regular attentions which any sensible salesman gives to his customers. Service, to my mind, should mean a unique new tailor-made, extra contribution made to a customer’s welfare beyond mere routine follow-through.
When Conrad Hilton took over The Palmer House in Chicago, all hotels were crowded in the wartime rush (WW II) for accommodations. Travelers found themselves room-less and frustrated. Hilton saw it day-after-day in the familiar sign: “Sorry! No rooms today without reservations.” It got on his nerves. That word “sorry!” stuck in his crop. It was weak and it looked insincere. Suppose he were a traveler who just arrived in the city looking for a room in The Palmer House. He could feel his own gorge rise.
It was not long before that sign was down. In place of it, he set up accommodation desks with hotel representatives at them ready to help a stranded traveler find a room in another hotel. They did not always succeed in their quest, but there was no doubt in the mind of the guests that The Palmer House sincerely wanted to help them. It stood the hotel in good stead when later days brought about a situation in which there were more rooms than guests.
A second source of irritation in those overcrowded days was the delay often experienced by a guest with a reservation who arrived only to be told that his room was occupied until 3:00pm – checking out time. Instead of leaving him stranded, Hilton set up facilities in the hotel where he could take a shower and shave immediately and have any messages telephoned to him.
The customer came for a definite product. In the nature of things, he could not be given that product. The problem presented, therefore, was to retain his good will while being unable to satisfy his specific demand. Hilton did this by a series of unique and ingenious new combinations of old ideas. There was nothing new about the idea of trying a second hotel when you couldn’t get into the hotel of your choice.
There was something decidedly new, particularly in that period of competition about one hotel going out of its way to find a room for a guest in another hotel. It gave a new dimension to the word “Guests” as applied to the hotel business. What Hilton was virtually saying was this: any man who comes to The Palmer House first is, by that act, making himself our guest and we will take care of him as an individual would take care of a guest at his house.
If we can’t accommodate him, we will get one of the neighbors to do it and even when he stays in the neighbor’s house, he will recognize that he is still our guest. He is our guest even though we are temporarily forced to put him in another hotel.
With the same ingenuity, he said to himself: “If a man comes with a reservation and can’t get his room, he gets sore. From his point of view, he has a right to get sore, but why does he want that room at once. Because, he wants to be able to get any messages and because he wants to attend to certain personal needs. I can’t give him all the room he desires, but I can give him some room.” This was the fresh look and a solution which created a new service in the midst of the pressures of an extraordinarily harassed time.
This was a new service created within the framework of the hotel business and having definitely a hotel flavor. Yet, it went beyond the limitations of mere institutional gesture. It combined personal attention with professional practice, ingeniously. It was creative within the techniques of its own operation, a fact that took from it any air of artificiality, yet left an impression of sincere truthfulness. (end)
Well, what can we learn from this? On one hand, you couldn’t blame anybody who’s a regular employee from saying, “We’re sold out right now. We don’t have any more. We’re out of stock with that item right now. And, the customer says, “Oh, rats,” and goes away.
But the other hand says, FULFILL THE CUSTOMERS NEEDS NO MATTER WHAT.
My challenge to you is to take ownership control of the problems that come your way. If you take ownership of the problem, then you take ownership of the customer. If you try to delight customers in every way (even when you think you can’t), you will become a long-term winner. If you let them go away, someone else is sure to take care of them that day and for days beyond.
Problems often show up as opportunities in disguise. It’s all in how you view them. And the cool part is: The choice is yours.
The challenge for you is to think of what other ways you can respond or react other than saying we’re sold out, we’re out of stock, we don’t carry that, we’re not taking any more reservations, or sorry that sale ended yesterday.
Just because you can’t fill the need, does not mean the need goes away, it just means someone else gets to fill it. Big Mistake.
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