Steamboat Springs Steamboat business executives would do well to emulate the management team at Harley Davidson, in Roger Dow's view. And his recommendation has nothing to do with twin tailpipes.
"To me, Harley Davidson represents the benchmark for customer loyalty," Dow said. "I have yet to walk down the beach and see somebody with a Marriott or Steamboat logo tattooed on their arm."
Dow, senior vice president of global sales and customer advocate for Marriott International, earned a hearty laugh Wednesday from an audience of almost 300 attending the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.'s fourth annual Airline Summit. The crowd was made up primarily of local business and government leaders. It also included 58 executives representing the airlines that serve Yampa Valley Regional Airport during ski season, Steamboat Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth said.
The Ski Corp. has already begun planning next winter's airline program.
Dow was speaking about the need to form strong relationships both with employees and customers to achieve customer-service goals.
"Customer satisfaction is a very fragile commodity today," Dow said. In an era when customers want to dictate when, where and how they will engage your services for free, customer enthusiasm might be a more realistic goal than customer satisfaction, Dow suggested. Enthusiastic customers can offset the 1-, 2- or 3-percent discounts being offered at competitors' Internet sites, Dow said.
Building enthusiastic customers begins with building a strong foundation of values and company culture, Dow added.
"Values and culture are what separate Vail from Aspen from Steamboat," he said.
Dow is a fan of the adage, "If you take care of your people and you take care of your customers, your business will take care of itself."
Those insights are among eight Dow developed in a book he co-authored called "Turned On," which details his approach to building profitability in a customer-oriented team.
Another of Dow's insights is the constant need to be prepared to act quickly on changes in the marketplace. Once you achieve success, never grow complacent, Dow cautioned.
He likes to pick on "Sports Illustrated" magazine as an example of a highly successful enterprise that got caught snoozing.
"We can never allow ourselves to become the Sports Illustrated of our industry," Dow said.
When ESPN started a 24-hour sports television network, SI wasn't paying attention, Dow said. Today, there are several ESPN cable channels and an ESPN magazine, all of which target SI's core business.
A similar lesson comes from the demise of the Howard Johnsons family restaurant chain, which has dropped from 1,500 restaurants in its prime to just 22 today.
"They didn't see the two-income families coming and the rise of fast food," Dow said. "They had all the best locations. They should have been able to adapt and dominate the industry. But when we wanted something different, they told us to go elsewhere, and we did en masse."
It's important to listen carefully to learn what different customers want from their experience, Dow said. And beyond that, it's important to ask them the right questions about their satisfaction with your business.
Dow, who happens to own a vacation home in Steamboat, said there are some important lessons in that message for Ski Town USA. The pace of professional life has accelerated to such an extent in the new century that people considering a vacation in Steamboat are seeking a simplified experience, he said. It's all about convenience.
"People who want to come here -- their world is churning -- they just want to get away from it," Dow concluded. "Simplify."