Taking Assumptions Out of Listening

Len Berry of Texas A&M University first told this story twenty years ago.  But, it still holds a very valuable lesson.

The new manager of the Chicago Marriott was going over year-end budget requests and came across a $20,000 line item to upgrade the black-and-white television sets to color in the bathrooms of the rooms on the concierge level. At first glance, it seemed like a nice enough service enhancement.  But something teased at the edge of his service vision.

So the manager started asking questions of his people, based in part on the implicit assumption that they had been listening to customers and hence would have a good handle on guest preferences and requests.  First, he asked the concierge level staff and the people in engineering how many requests they had received for color sets in the bathrooms on that level. “Actually, none” was their reply, “but we thought it was a neat idea.”

Then, he asked the housekeeping staff assigned to the concierge level what they were hearing from guests on the floor–what was the most requested item that they didn’t have. Keep in mind, this was twenty years ago.  Their reply: irons and ironing boards. Guess what he authorized for purchase under that line item? And as an unexpected reward for listening, understanding, and responding, it turned out that the cost of putting in irons and ironing boards was less than the cost of upgrading black-and-white television sets to color.

Listening is a contact sport! It is about listening to learn, not listening to make a point, instruct, or correct.  Listening without contact–listening without dramatic connection–is like looking without seeing. Given the uniqueness of being really heard, customers remember long those who listen well.

About Chip&John

Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of several best-selling books. Their newest book is "Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to do About it."
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