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Roger Dow, senior VP at Marriott, likes telling this story. I heard it from Don Peppers when I visited Don a while back.

A few years back, Ritz-Carlton was the only hotel company with a working system for recognizing returning customers and their preferences. Dow asked his IT people to come up with something that would give them a fraction of the ‘customer recognition’ capacity of the Ritz-Carlton hotels: just enough to enable a clerk at the check-in desk to say ‘Welcome back’ to a guest because the computer tells them that guest has stayed there before.

The IT team came back a few weeks later and said they could do it for $1.3 million and it would take 18 months. Dow went ballistic. Shortly after, he was visiting a small mid-western Marriott. As he approached the check-in desk, the clerk smiled warmly. ‘Welcome back, sir’, she said.

Dow dropped his bag in astonishment ‘What did you say? I’ve been trying to get our IT people to make that work for months. I didn’t tell you I’d been here before! And you don’t know who I am….’ he blustered.

The check-in clerk, thinking she had done something wrong, explained: ‘Well, you see, when the bellboy picks up the luggage from the car, he says to the guest: ‘Is this your first visit?’

You must have said ‘no’. Because, when he puts the bag down next to the desk here he winks at me. That’s code. It means you’re a returning guest, so I say ‘Welcome back, sir…’

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