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The Towel & The Soap A Customer Service Fable
I'm in Charlotte to visit +Alison Phalen and +Command Partners staying at +Marriott's courtyard where +Phil Buckley and I stayed last week during the Search Exchange Conference (see video Phil's presentation right now on Curagami http://www.curagami.com/featured/conversions-became-new-links/ ).

Today's fable is about a kingdom beset by 7 lean years after 7 years of plenty. The kingdom (hotel biz) is in an unenviable position. Supplies cost more even as yields decline. Rogue "clean slate" warriors come from all sides now (AirBnB.com only one great example).

Finding even the tiniest air to breathe is getting harder and harder. Just as they reacted positively during 7 years of plenty taking on more and thinking expansively the kingdom is now great at reduction, slimming down and making do with less.

They've found the magic line where they can pass some costs on to customers even as they've learned the table stakes of the poke they play (free wifi, a loyalty program and social media presence). The sythe is not a very precise instrument.

Swung in a huge momentum arc the sythe cuts indiscriminately because it can and it must. This morning I discovered two tiny seemingly insignificant places Marriott's cutting has helped them even as they hurt their overall goal (customer satisfaction) - the soap and the towel.

I used to work for Procter and Gamble in the Bar Soap division back in the day. Soap is EASY to get wrong. Who cares if the soap sucks? Most hotel soap goes unused anyway so cost reduction seems like a win/win. The kingdom saves money on something no one cares about.

Except we do care. Almost the first thing you do in the morning involves SOAP. If that morning is the day you drive back home that means you start with soap and the soap becomes one of your last memories.

Then you jump out of the shower and grab a towel. Here is another place the cost cutting looks better on paper. Courtyard by Marriott will NEVER see how disappointing their towel is with its cheap rough feel after doing aerobic exercise to get their cost reduced soap to do nothing at all.

East of Eden our expectations are high. When paying several hundred dollars and $10 in parking to stay at an otherwise great hotel we want soap that lathers and a towel that hugs. Reducing these costs cuts into bone and its unlikely the bean counter that suggested those cuts or the vendors that are supplying the low cost and lousy products will ever be proven wrong ON PAPER.

Those cuts to supply soap that doesn't lather and towels that don't hug will look justified and righteous - like you found tiny insignificant things that don't impact your kingdom's bottom line. Problem is, if you were to stay in my West Village loft apartment while I was here thanks to AirBnB, you would find a hungry cat, soap that lathers and a towel that hugs (btw, I too have free wifi, free parking and am in walking distance to Duke).

Moral of our fable is don't ignore the "soap" and "towel" aspects of your business. Be aware always that there are other kingdoms that feel more like home. Stop the sythe before it ruins something that matters such as your ability to win hearts and minds.
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One of the best parts of grabbing dinner at +Pei Wei Asian Diner is that their napkins are thick and soft... again, a seemingly costly luxury - but it's one thing I always enjoy when I eat there.

Life is always about the little things.
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