Episode #133: How Small Changes Can Drive Big Impact, with Tom Peters

When it comes to customer experiences, oftentimes small is greater than big. In part 2 of our discussion with Tom Peters, we talk about the small changes that can have a big impact. Ultimately, it all comes down to execution, and the small courtesies that strike the deepest.

Tom Peters has written nearly 20 business books, and has been called “the Red Bull of management thinkers.” You can follow him on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/tom_peters

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PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Grad 
All right. Oh, man. Jimmy always gets me excited. But today, I’m even more excited because we’re back. We’re back with Part Two of our fabulous interview with Tom Peters, world famous author, of course, of In Search of Excellence and many other great books. Tom has a great frank attitude towards everything that’s going on in customer experience. And yep, we are talking to you, Subaru. And so, I want to pick this back up again. And I want to go to this Hilton story you have; there is a great Conrad Hilton quote which is, when someone he was with asked, I think on The Tonight Show, if I remember the quote correctly, what was his one tip to people in terms of running a great world class hotel? And the answer was. “Tuck the shower curtain inside the tub”. So, talk to me a little bit about why you included that story in the book. And what does “tuck the shower curtain in the tub” mean to you, as you think about execution? How people fix these connections?

Tom Peters 
It’s a couple things. Let’s talk about it. Way number one, and the argument I make, I come to your hotel, because of location, location, location. And you went out, you hired a famous Swiss architect, and it’s a piece of art. And that’s why I come. But in any business, in nine out of ten businesses, nobody makes money on the first transaction. You make your money on transaction 17, you make your money on the tweets that I do, after I come out, I come to your hotel for location, I come back to your hotel for the shower curtain. It is those little touches that are the ones that are the memorable things. And in the hotel example, it’s a double, double story. I come back for the shower curtain. But it also says the most important human beings on the hotel staff are the housekeepers. And the housekeepers are usually the least respected people. And the turnover is probably insanely high among housekeepers. The research says that in the course of a visit, statistically, the housekeeper makes more eye-to-eye contact with the guest than anybody else on the staff, which kind of makes sense. So, on every dimension, both from the delivery of the service to by who delivers it, the fact is that’s the two-cent candy. That’s what I remember, this place was really, really, ship-shape. And that, for all of us, that became ten times more significant during the pandemic. While you say you’re washing the damn toilets, but are you? And some hotels and other places, I didn’t do much hoteling but on two or three occasions, at some of them you really had the sense by a million little touches, that they really had made sure that everything had been wiped down.

Grad 
I’m a Lifetime Titanium at Marriott. I’ve stayed in Marriott Hotels more than 1700 nights, and I have only been a Marriott member for 17 years. So that’s about five years. So, I spent five of the last 17 years sleeping in a Marriott hotel. And they’re a great customer of ours at Sprinklr, a great, great customer, they use Sprinklr in all sorts of great ways. We had a conversation with them about a week or two ago, and they were saying that one thing that they’ve started emphasizing is that they’ve always been fanatical about cleanliness. But they’re doing it for the right reasons, and it’s good thing to do, and people will notice eventually, but they’re actually starting to highlight what they do so that people know it. Because now people ask you, “Could you please tell me how you do this? And what are your standards and procedures?” And so, you’re going to see, I think, some of the marketing dials that people are going to be turning will change a little bit as they emphasize things that people care about now for the first time. I think that’s fascinating. So, what hotels do you stay at? What’s your favorite hotel?

Tom Peters 
Well, I’m not traveling the way I used to. I’ve always been a Marriott fan. And I think it was my second book actually had a Bill Marriott endorsement on the back cover. And I think he was their Head of Marketing, there was a guy by the name of Roger. And we became close friends, and he came to my seminars and so on. And I remember when Marriott bought Ritz Carlton where I had stayed a lot, I said to Roger, obviously I won’t repeat this because this is a family program. I said, “You just bought the Ritz Carlton. They’re great. Don’t eff it up”. And I don’t think they did. But here’s the high-end version, which is the perfect example. I stayed at the Four Seasons. And I come in one time, I think this was in London, and remember with the early days of the mouse, if you wanted the mouse to work well, you put it on a little rubber? There was a little rubber mat under it, remember those? So, I come into the Four Seasons. And there, next to the desk is one of those little pads. And it says, ‘Tom Peters is back at the Four Seasons’ or, ‘Welcome, Tom’. Well, we’re not on video. But if we were on video, I saved the damn thing. How the hell much does one of those things cost and bought in volume, probably no more than a dime apiece. And that little, teeny effort was worth its’ weight in gold. It was a symbol, and incidentally, going way, way, way, way, way back, if you go back to Search of Excellence, I think the customer service chapter starts with a Four Seasons story. I’m a lot older than you are. But it was staying at this Four Seasons, Washington, DC. and when Bob and I checked in, they knew our name. I mean, that was the early days of information being available, and they knew our name. And they said, “Welcome back”. Yeah, and there wasn’t a long spiel about we …  whatever, but that was the earliest use of that stuff. And a) we went, “Holy shit” and b) we used it as a big story in a book, and I was just ….and here I’ve got to this point, and to everybody you’re selling to etc., etc., this is better than anything that’s great, and in my opinion, it’s better than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This is Henry Clay, the Statesman: ‘Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart’. That is your business plan. I just love that. It’s just fantastic. And then there’s another one by Van Gogh, which is related, not as good as the first one, ‘Let us not forget that small emotions are the great captains of our lives’. And what I’ve been writing about forever, which is a variation on that, is back in the 80s, when the Japanese started beating the shit out of us in the automobiles, we had a measure of quality and it was called TGW (things gone wrong). And literally, among other things, when you bought a car, you got the list of your problems, and so on and so forth. And it was important, and it worked. And it was a good measure. And so, I flipped it. And I said, Today, probably starting by the year 2000, we do a pretty decent job on quality. I’m not interested in TGWs, I’m interested in TGRs, which are things gone right. You know, the little, teeny touch that just enhances the experience. The late Clay Christensen wrote about disruptions and so on. My symbol, you know, Pete who’s got a slightly more technical background, put it on the cover, you know the greater than sign? Okay, my symbol is S is greater than, greater than, greater than B. Small is greater than Big. And that is the lesson that I try to teach every single living human being. It’s the small stuff.

Tom Peters 
I just was writing something and I stole something from Peter Drucker and it was something like ‘strategy is parameters, execution is professionals’, but the execution is, you know, and think for god sakes, if you’re a sports fan or something like that. I had a neighbor (I lived in Palo Alto) and I had a neighbor whose name was Bill Walsh. Now, the late Bill Walsh, he was the Hall of Fame coach of the San Francisco Forty-Niners. And Bill was a detail person. And when he got together his coaching staff, the coaching staff was each issued a book. And it was taking any position and breaking it down into about 80 or 90 parts. What’s the foot pattern? What was that movie with what’s her name?  It was a Michael Lewis book. No, not the Moneyball one, which is important too. But the one about, I think, it was a black kid in the South was pulling guard….Anyway, this was like the Walsh thing.

Tom Peters 
You know, this young man, to become a pulling guard learned 500 things. And it made neurosurgery look like small change. And it was all those teeny, little bits of execution. And relative to the customer thing I’m talking about, those TGR’s, whether it’s the candy, whether it’s the mouse pad, you know, whether it’s the USAA guy who is happy to talk about whatever. Just screw big, I have zero interest in big. Relative to your clients, for example, one version of that, and yes, I’m old, but I don’t think this is an old remark. I said, “I am quite sure technology will turn the world upside down in unimaginable ways in the next 20 years”, which is what we all write about. But guess what? First, I got to make it to tomorrow morning. And technology is not going to turn the planet upside down within the next 24 months. I mean, advances will be made, and the advances will be fast. And some of them will be significant, but focus on taking what you’ve got, and making it a teeny bit better every day and those small touches and try to make it through the end of the day. If you have a great day, that’s life. And I just get nauseated when I hear words like strategy, disruption, you know, it’s all bullshit. What isn’t bullshit – look at it this way – I’ve done some podcasts for the book, and yours is not the first one. But the point is, I’ve been doing professionally whatever I’ve been doing for about 50 years, I’ve worked very hard, tried to do my best and so on. My entire life on Earth as a human being for the half hour we’re together is, I’m doing this with video. I know it’s going to be an audio transition, but I’m looking at you. My whole life is making this half hour as good as I can possibly make it. That’s all I care about.

Grad
Yeah, stay in the moment …

Tom Peters 
COVID-19, etc, etc. Yeah, it’s the in the moment stuff, but it’s in the moment stuff that best can totally be translated into the business experience, which is precisely what the hell you’re talking about. All of life has been leading to this morning’s conversation. And that’s an honest statement. That’s all I got. All I’ve got, relative to the things I care about, all I’ve got is this effing half hour with you. And frankly, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a good guy, which I think you are, or you’re a jerk. This is the half hour.

Grad 
Right, right. I love the way to think about that.

Tom Peters 
I think that’s what we’re trying to do with the software and so on and so forth. Make that next micro action memorable.

Grad 
Yeah, it applies to personal relationships too. My girlfriend and I do lots of things and there’s lots of things that we’ve done together, and I’ve done for her, but the thing that she tells her friends, is that I bring her coffee every morning. That’s the thing. I was like, “That’s it? Really? Is that all?” No, that’s not all. That’s not all. There’re other things, you have to deliver lots of other things as well. But it’s a way it’s, it’s one of those like, you know, there’s this word micro aggression. We need an opposite word for that, like, this micro. It’s a micro, I don’t know micro benefit, micro pleasure, or micro something, I’ve got to come with …. Okay, I’m going to play with this a little bit more, because I think you’re onto something huge. And I love the hotel business ….

Tom Peters 
I’m not sure we want to use the word micro. I agree with you, but we want a richer word. I mean, maybe you name it for what it is. It’s a coffee cup moment. That’s a lot more memorable than, you know, or it’s a shower curtain moment. But make it real, you know?

Tom Peters 
Something else that’s huge. You guys write a lot of code. I am not interested in what you are saying to me unless you will demonstrate to me that 40% minimum of the people writing code are women. Everything you write touches women. There’s a woman who wrote a book, which made me nauseated because I lived in the valley and I think her name is Emily Chang, it’s called Brotopia, I think, and the book is breaking the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley. But what she says relative to Facebook at one point, and this is a really key word, she said, “If 30% of people writing code at Facebook had been women, there would have been a different sensibility to the code that was written”. And I think ‘sensibility’ in that sentence is one of the most powerful words in the English language. But if you’re doing something like this, women are more attentive to these cues. You and I run through them with without a thought. But, you know, I remember you and I were talking about hotel rooms, I was reading something about cleaning hotel rooms. Women’s number one attention piece in a hotel room, which is brilliant, in retrospect, is the channel changer, the control thing for your TV, because that’s the goddamn thing that everybody freaking touches over and over and over again. And whether it’s pneumonia, COVID, or whatever else it happens to be. And I don’t know whether its women involved or not, there are a couple places I’ve been – hotels, where the little box had been put in a little plasticized thing and the plasticized thing had been stapled, which is to suggest that we had paid attention to the sanitary nature of that.

Grad 
The only time I’ve ever seen that was at a Best Western near Mount Shasta; there is kind of log cabin type of hotel and not super high end. But we went in the room, and they had special controllers that were already micro bacterially protected or something. There were no raised buttons; there was this clean surface; it was easy to clean. And they put it in a bag, sealed it and they said we sterilized this thing before we put in the bag and it was a game changer, I must say, because I’m always covering everything in Purell when I get into a room, and I have Lysol spray – spray everything down and stuff like that. But it was really nice to see somebody had done that. So, I want to give you one last hotel quote and I’m going to wrap because, and by the way, the book you’re thinking of, or the movie you’re thinking of, is the Blind Side. Right? Okay, so, here’s one of my favorite hotel quotes. I’m a big fan of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. And I’ve stayed there many, many times. And I love the history of it. There’s a book, not a book, there’s a story from Gourmet magazine called ‘The Night at the Waldorf’, which is an incredibly romantic story about someone named Bud Enns proposing to his bride and how the Waldorf made it very magical. And because it was Gourmet magazine, obviously there’s a food piece to it, but you can walk through, but it’s under renovation now, but before they closed the Waldorf, you could walk the halls of the Waldorf and relive that story and be looking at the same walls and the same staircases and stairwells that he looked at. But when the Waldorf was built, it was called Astor’s Folly. It was William Astor and George Boldt who built the hotel and sometimes they called it Boldt’s Folly sometimes they it called Astor’s Folly. And back then it was very common, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, to call something like ‘insert name’ Folly. There’s this bridge in Toronto that connects the two sides of the city that without that bridge, the city wouldn’t exist, really, that was called Whatever its’ names Folly, it was a very common thing to do as a way of mocking someone’s ambitions. And so, William Astor has built this hotel next to his residence, it’s called Astor’s Folly, and he was the first hotelier to put rugs in the lobbies, which we kind of take for granted now. But no one had ever put rugs in a lobby before. And so, someone came to him once and said, “Aren’t you worried that the rug is going to wear out?” And William Astor had one of the most brilliant replies I’ve ever heard, and he goes, “Am I worried the rug is going to wear out?” He says, “Hmm, no, I think I’m more worried that it may not wear out”. Aha, I love that …

Tom Peters 
Awesome. I just love that. I have one other Waldorf Astoria story but unfortunately it has a negative side as opposed to a positive side. And I wish I could remember the name of the other hotel because I want to give them the credit. My son was a rollerblader. One time my wife and I went to the Waldorf Astoria, and he wore his rollerblades to bed, for god sakes. And they were appalled that anybody would wear rollerblades in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria and made him take them off. So, this other place, it’s a middle-sized hotel, it’s not $2,000 a night, it’s reasonably priced. And I had been there a couple times. And so, the next time I went to the hotel, my wife was there with Ben. We went there, and Ben had his rollerblades, and they said, “Ahh! Come on in, see how fast you can make it to the other corner, over to the door of the dining room”. And I have always called it, and it goes back to the, you know, my version of the Astor thing, I’ve always subsequently called it the Roller Blade Hotel. And that is what you a) you remember and b) you tell every person in the world and see in today’s social media, you tweet it to a jillion people or whatever your platform is, those are the memorable things. And the important part, back to shower curtains or back to whatever we were talking about before, is you can name it. You can name it, it’s important to have it be the Roller Blade experience. There’s another key part, a million things we haven’t talked about. But the other really key part, and I think the Ritz Carlton was part of this – is giving the people at the front line the power to act.

Grad 
That’s where I was going a second ago. Yeah. That’s a problem.

Tom Peters 
Yeah, the Ritz Carlton, to the best of my knowledge and Horst Schulze is not running it anymore or what have you, and maybe it’s in the past, but there was a period of time, where any staff member from a junior housekeeper to whomever could settle a guest problem with something as high as a $1,000 certificate, and empowering employees, it’s worth its weight in gold.

Grad 
And this is the process failure that a lot of companies run into. I had a bizarre experience on Delta. I’m a Delta 360 flyer, so I fly Delta a lot, and I love Delta. But they do have a rule about cutting off when your bags can get checked. And it’s 45 minutes and not 45 minutes and 52 seconds, which is what it was for me. It’s 45 minutes. And I was literally seconds late, and the gate agent couldn’t get my bag on no matter what she did, couldn’t get an override. And the airport was empty. You could see the plane, like, it was like no problem putting the bag on. And the plane was half empty as well. But she just couldn’t do it. And ultimately, I ended up staying the night at that airport and had to fly out the next day. And what’s interesting for me is the level of frustration that she had. I was frustrated but you know, it’s like, it is what it is, I try not to get so super upset about things because life’s too short. But she tried so hard. And the company made it so difficult for her to do something that is so easy for me. And I’m a 360. So, you’d think that they could bend a couple rules to let me get on the plane. And what was fascinating is at the end of it because she tried so hard, I had these little certificates I get as a frequent flyer where you can give them, a sort of a, they get their own frequent flyer miles, it’s like a reward. And they register these, so I think there’s some kind of measure in the company of how many of these certificates you get as a measure of your customer service. So I gave her one of these and she picked it up from me and she looked at it, she’d been working for a while, this is not her first day on the job. And she looked at and she said, “Wow, I’ve never gotten one of these before”. Because she’s the gate agent, right? Because it’s the people on the plane, they get the gnarly. And I said, “Well, you tried really hard”, and she actually did a really great job of getting me booked into the TWA Hotel, which turned into an epic experience. So, it all worked out great. And then, and then she said to me, she said, “You know, I just want to thank you for not yelling at me”. Part of my heart just got crushed when she said that. Can you imagine having a job where you have to thank people for not yelling at you?

Tom Peters 
I’ll tell you a related story which has to do with you as the customer. I was speaking probably in Texas and the noon speaker, she was out of office, was Ann Richards. And I don’t remember what the topic was, but I will never forget this one as long as I live and you triggered it with the airplane. Mechanical delay, flight gets canceled or hugely delayed and at the gate in her example, which may not be as much the truth today, but it doesn’t make any difference, there are 40 people in line trying to get their flight changed. And she said, “Finally, you work your way up to the front of the line”, she said, “here’s what you must remember. There are 7 billion people on earth. And at this particular moment, Brad is the only one of the 7 billion who can help you”. And she said, “Take that attitude in”. And it’s exactly right.

Tom Peters
Yeah, I had your experience just a few days ago. We have a really lovely restaurant, and I was doing a pickup order, and it was Mother’s Day, and for the first time in a year and a quarter, whatever, they were crowded. And, needless to say, they got a little behind, which is very understandable, and so on. People, that staff, were really busting their butts to make things happen. And there were a couple other people had pick up orders behind me, and they were grouching, and complaining, and every time a staffer went by, they said, “Is this thing making any progress?” And I did just the opposite. I said, “God, it’s nice to see people back”. I said, “You guys are busting your ass”. I said, “My life is not going to change if I have to wait another 15 minutes”. I said it because that’s what I do. So, you know, 10 minutes later, this is exactly your point, they bring the bag out and they hand me a $100 gift certificate. And then the guy said, “and by the way, I tossed in a quart of clam chowder”, and their clam chowder is the best in the world. And it was all because of what you were talking about – two people grouching
relative to your woman in the airport. All I had done was, you know, what did I do? I had scored well on the “don’t be an asshole.”

Grad 
The exact same thing happened to me, there’s a place near me called Lindburgers and they make amazing chicken wings, like amazing chicken wings. And I went in, I placed the order and I said I’ll come back in, like, 45 minutes and get it and she said, “Oh, okay, great”. And so, I came back about an hour later, gave them an extra few minutes. And that’s all I did. And I said “Hi, how’s it going?” She goes, “Yeah, your order’s ready”. Okay. Fantastic. Awesome. And, you know, I gave her a nice tip. And she said, “I just got to tell you, you’re my favorite customer”. And I’m like, “Oh, okay, thank you” and she said, “You’re like the first person today that didn’t come in here, place the order and then stand here and yell at me to get it to them, to get it to them, to get it to them, to get it to them. You placed your order, you left, and you came back a little bit late and gave me a little extra time. I just love that you did that”. And she gave me a bunch of extra sauce and some coleslaw and stuff like that. But yeah, it’s just, just to your comment about the small things, sometimes the small things are really small things. It’s like, to your point, just don’t be an asshole and helps you stand out from the rest of the rest of the crowd.

Tom Peters
Exactly and the slightly better one than the asshole language you and I are using is that ‘courtesies of a small and trivial character, are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart’

Grad 
Yeah, that definitely has the language better than we do right now.  I’m going to get that and post it somewhere. I think there’s something huge there. So, Tom, this has been amazing. I’ve learned a lot. It’s been a real honor to have the time with you. I think we’re both running late for our next meeting. So, I’m going to wrap now but I want to thank you. For anyone who’s been listening, Tom’s new book is called Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism. It’s an outstanding book. It’s really well researched, there’s a ton of stories in it. It’s got a lot of callouts. It’s a great read, but it’s also something you can consume in little bits. I actually got the hardcopy version of it because there’s some really nice illustrations and just the way it’s put together is quite beautiful. But it would be easily consumable on a Kindle as well. So, Tom, good luck with the book, and thanks for being on and I got so much out of this. You’ve given me a lot of great fodder for the next few weeks as I think about what we do at Sprinklr to encourage people to create small acts of kindness, which is a wonderful way of thinking about things.

Tom Peters 
Yeah, absolutely. Well, listen, the pleasure has been mine. I have enjoyed the exchange immeasurably. It’s been good fun. So thank you.

Grad 
Well for the CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn and Tom Peters and we will see you  … next time.