The Giant Impact of a Little Sign

I vividly remember noticing the clear plastic award on the desk at the Fairfield Inn in Quincy, Illinois. It read, “#1 Nationally in Customer Satisfaction”, or something like that. I remember the sign because the cynic in me wondered how much it cost when ordered in large quantities. Did the hotel’s management buy a “#1 in Customer Satisfaction” program from the franchise? I thought it was pretty unlikely that on our first stay at a Fairfield Inn, on a road trip without reservations, we’d stumble upon the best Fairfield Inn in America. At that moment I didn’t know I had stumbled upon a great application of excellent marketing that was far beyond billboards advertising low prices.

Every business struggles to differentiate itself from competitors. Marketing a mid priced hotel along a road chock-full of other mid—priced hotels with similar prices and services can’t be easy. The Fairfield Inn had a sign by the highway and a big one on property, just like the others. The lawn looked well maintained, just like the others.

It really doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, the problem of successful differentiation is a big one.

The desk clerk was pleasantly chatty as we were checking in, asking where we were from and what brought us to their community. She told us how to get to the room and about the complimentary breakfast in the morning.We were comfortable asking if there was a local restaurant she would recommend.

“What kind of food would you like tonight?” she asked. After talking about it a bit she took out a local map of restaurants designed especially for this conversation. She made some notes on it and told us not to forget to order the dessert if we ate at one particular restaurant as customers say they love it.

We headed to our room but paused at the hallway. We couldn’t remember, left or right?

“Looking for the elevator?” asked a man dressed for maintenance work. “It’s to your right, third door, just past the vending area.” There was a pause and then as if answering a question in our minds he said, “I supervise all the maintenance for our hotel and if anything isn’t working as it should, please call the desk right away and we’ll get it fixed. Oh, and thanks for staying with us.”

As we were walking out of the elevator on the third floor there was a person from housekeeping waiting to ride it downstairs.

Again, we paused to read the sign on the wall, left or right?

“What’s your room number?” asked the housekeeper. After we told her she said, “That’s just down the hall to your right, last door on your left. Sorry it’s so far. I just finished cleaning all the rooms on this floor and yours is all ready to go. If you need anything, more towels, more coffee, just ring the desk and we’ll be happy to bring it to you.”

When we got back from the restaurant the same desk clerk asked where we ate and if we found the restaurant easily. What did we have and what did we like.

I was left to ponder a big question about that little sign next to her. Would I have noticed all the great customer service if that sign weren’t there?

That small sign was a signal that we should expect great service.

It takes courage to post a sign like that because if you don’t live up to it, your customers are more dissatisfied than if you’d left it under the counter.

Do you have the courage to proclaim that you’re not just good, but ...GREAT? Do you practice and track how well you do? Or like most businesses, will you struggle to differentiate yourself from the competition because you don't lack the courage to promise your best?

What is the cumulative effect of great customer experiences for a hotel? The random business traveler who decides to stay at the hotel every time they’re in town sure helps. How about the great comments people in town hear and pass on to those who will be attending reunions, weddings, or funerals? What if someone writes a blog post and even years later remembers the awesome customer service?

Forget gimmicks. The best marketing is like the sustained effort of laying a brick wall, and it’s done one brick at a time.