Achieving Excellence: How to Truly Understand and Fulfill Customer Needs, Wants, and Desires.
By Mark Hamister, CEO, The Hamister Group, Inc.
Saturday, 23rd September 2006
My vision of how to lead a company has always been based on three principles: know your product; understand your customer; and don't accept mediocrity.

Knowing your product is the easiest of the three, although we all have encountered plenty of sales and management staff who don't. These people need to practice MBIWA (Management by Interacting and Walking Around) and understand their products from the front line. 

I advise my management staff to get out onto the floors, talk to people in every department, and learn how each part of the product works. I stay in my hotels as a guest and take my spouse with me for a woman's perspective. After learning every aspect of our properties, we then take great care to avoid falling into the trap of fixating on our products so intensely that we can't see them through our customers' eyes.

Most companies view customer needs, wants, and desires from their own perspective or try to guess at them.  This is unfortunately the case with people who know their products exceptionally well: they can't see them from any vantage point but their own.  Our team prides itself on asking customers what their needs, wants, and desires are.  We actively listen to our guests and base our product strategies on their responses. 

For example, we recently asked some of our extended-stay guests about their hotel expectations: they answered that they wanted a clean room, a pleasant bathing experience, a comfortable night's sleep, and a hassle-free, secure environment.  They also told us that we already fulfilled these needs.  So we asked what we more we could do to improve their experience.  These guests spend a lot of time away from their families.  What they most desired was a better way to have more contact with their kids—something that they didn't think we could do anything about.  So we installed a complimentary video-conferencing system and now sell (without profit) the corresponding equipment for their homes, if they do not have it already.  We ship it promptly to their home addresses, and they can now see and speak with their families every day.  We have received a very positive and grateful response to this new amenity.

Finally, we should never accept mediocrity.  Most people measure themselves against industry benchmarks—which are mediocre.  Truly great people find out what it takes to perform in the upper 10% of each industry metric and do whatever it takes to achieve those results.  Some time ago we realized that one of our assisted living facilities had lost its competitive edge. 

Our customers told us that they wanted more private rooms and more services, things that we could not provide in the building at that time.  So, in order to perform in the upper 10%, we decided to commence a $10 million renovation, the first phase of which is about to be completed.  We are building over-sized rooms with king and queen-sized beds, a 12-seat movie theater, a new recreation and IT center facing an inner courtyard and gardens, a luxurious new lobby, dining room, and ice cream parlor, a 20-bed memory care unit, and 15 independent living apartments. All of this cost us a large sum of money, but our goal was excellence and we were prepared to do whatever it took to achieve a superior result.

Listening to one's customers is the best way to make original service and product enhancements.  Differentiating your product is easier than you think if you always remember that your customers know what they want better than anyone else.  Ask them.  Then it's up to you to aim for the chopping block and achieve something great.

Mark Hamister is the CEO of The Hamister Group, Inc. and The Hamister Hospitality Group, LLC, a long-term care and hotel management company. The Hamister Group is actively seeking hotel acquisitions and management contracts in the United States. For more details, please see our web sites: www.hamisterhospitality.com and www.hamistergroup.com. Please feel free to send comments or questions to Mark at: chairman@hamistergroup.com.
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