Successes and Lessons Learned

Here is a lesson learned and a success story ...


Technology Isn’t Always the Solution


It used to take a letter three or four days to get to another city.  Now, the same words in an email travel in seconds.  Technological advances are amazing, and I am a grateful consumer.


But technology isn’t always the solution.


When I worked at the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, we partnered with a local health insurance company on a new group health plan for small businesses.  We launched the program with a lot of fanfare.  Print and radio advertising urged businesses to call for information, and the phones lit up. 


About three weeks later, we gathered with our partner to assess the campaign’s progress.  Some companies had requested information.  Many others, I was told, said they would call back later if they were interested.  I asked if we could get a list of those prospects so the Chamber could call and follow up. 


The person overseeing the call center at the insurance company said they did not keep a list, explaining there was no field in the database to enter such information.


I looked at my counterpart, the marketing VP of the insurance company, and the horrified look on his face indicated he shared my astonishment.  We had spent thousands of dollars to generate inquiries, people called, and we didn’t bother to get their names so we could continue to follow up.


“There was no field in the database?” he asked incredulously, then added with dripping sarcasm, “How about writing the names on a legal pad?”


An even better story with a happy ending comes from Roger Dow, a marketing guy and then senior vice president with Marriott.  Dow is an entertaining speaker.  I heard him tell this story a couple times to chamber of commerce audiences.

Dow explained he had asked his IT staff to come up with some kind of database enhancement that would allow the front desk staff to identify guests who had stayed at the hotel before so they could greet them with a friendly “welcome back” as they arrived. 


The IT team responded a few weeks later and said they could do it for $1.5 million, and it would take 18 months.  Great idea, Dow thought, but hard to justify the dollars.


A few months later Dow was visiting a small Marriott in the Southwest.  As he walked with the bellman from the front door to the registration desk, the bellman remarked, “Good to have back with us again, Mr. Dow.”  At the front desk, the registration clerk smiled and said, “Welcome back, sir.”


Dow couldn’t believe what he had heard.


“What did you say?” he asked.  “How did you and the bellman know who I was and that I had been here before.  I’m the VP of Marketing for all of Marriott, and I know the database doesn’t tell you that I’ve stayed here before.”


The reservation clerk explained the greetings had nothing to do with computers or a special database.  


“Well, you see, when you pulled up in the driveway, the doorman started a conversation and casually asked if you had stayed here before.  You must have forgotten that.  After the bellman took your bags and when your back was turned, the doorman tugged on his right ear.  That’s the signal that you had stayed with us before.  The bellman probably saw your name on your luggage tag and added that to his greeting.  And when he brought you to the front desk, he tugged on his right ear to signal me that you had been a guest here before.”


Hmmm, thought Dow, the IT solution was to spend $1.5 million and be up and running in 18 months, and some enterprising frontline staff members spent no money and implemented the same program immediately.  There must be a message here.