J.W. Marriott’s approach to serving customers


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J_Willard_MarriottWhen asked about his approach to work during an interview, the late J.W. Marriott, Sr. said, “There aren’t these two opposites, work and play, one bad and the other good. It’s having a vision of the way things ought to be, and then making them that way.”

Keep in mind that Mr. Marriott’s “work” – from the time he opened his first 9-seat root beer stand in 1927 until his death in 1985 – consisted of serving customers. Having spent two decades with Marriott, I had an opportunity to see this philosophy manifest firsthand in the direct service of tens of thousands of customers.

Although I retired from the company in 2006, 21 years after his death, my customer service philosophy continues to be shaped by the founder’s words. Let’s examine just four of them from the quote above:

Work: Work is inevitable. (Drudgery is optional.) Work consists of what we HAVE to do. In the context of a job role, this usually means executing the job functions (duties and tasks) for which we’re paid by possessing job knowledge (WHAT to do) and/or demonstrating job skills (HOW to do it).

Play: Play consists of the opportunities people have to perform outside of their job descriptions, reflecting job essence, their highest priority at work. Too often, people view work and play as dichotomies – at opposite ends of a spectrum. Work, as defined above, is associated with what you HAVE to do in order to pay the bills. And play is seen as what you ELECT to do when you’re not at work. But this is a narrow and limiting definition of play.

Vision: Vision provides direction. It informs decisions. It answers the question of WHY employees do WHAT they do, HOW they do it at work. Companies that define and share a credible vision don’t just give their employees something to work on. They give them something to work toward.

Making: “Making” is a verb. It requires action. Before something is made, there is decision to make it – a decision born out of initiative and a willingness to expend discretionary effort in the moment of choice. Pro quarterback, Russell Wilson, made this point when he said: “Dreams don’t come true. Dreams are made true.”

Mr. Marriott was spot-on in observing that every job role consists of two parts: work (job function) and play (job essence). He also understood that a clearly defined, shared, and credible vision would drive constancy of purpose. Finally, he recognized that exceptional customer service doesn’t happen by chance. It happens by choice.

Photo credit: Marriott International

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.


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