Benchmarking: Why You Have to Look Far Afield

By Shlomo Maital


   As academic director of Technion Institute of Management (TIM), I helped organize about 25 international benchmarking trips for senior Israeli managers. We visited other countries – China, Taiwan, Finland, Switzerland, Estonia, UK, U.S. – and benchmarked great global companies and their leadership first hand. The learning was immense, far beyond what was possible in a classroom.

   On one of our trips with a global high-tech firm, we held a workshop in a Mariott Hotel in South Boston. We sent our managers out of the classroom, in pairs, to benchmark hotel service. (The bar was a highly popular venue – everyone wanted to benchmark it). There was great resistance. What can a high-tech software company learn about customer service from a hotel? Is there any similarity at all between hotel services and software?

     The experience was enlightening. The teams came back with valuable information and learning about customer service. The hotel was running 13 events simultaneously, and all ran smoothly without incident. When one of our group asked the concierge where he could buy a tie, because he had forgotten to pack some, the concierge removed his own tie and gave it to him (for keeps!). THAT is great service.

   Writing in the New York Times, April 8, p. 17, Sydney Ember describes how Conde Nast, a publisher, learned from a luxury hotel. Bill Wackerman, VP and publisher of Conde Nast Traveller magazine, interned at the opulent Carlyle Hotel. “We need to learn better service,” Wackerman said. “We have got to get back to that human touch to understand, because that is what really is the key to driving success.”

He is so right. Don’t let the impersonal Internet/smartphone connectivity fool you. They put walls between you and your customer. Break them down. You have to have some face to face, as in the hotel business.

   There is a powerful lesson here. All good companies benchmark. One company I worked with had a firm rule, set by the CEO – benchmark ONLY firms within our own industry. What a dumb rule!   You learn nothing from firms in your industry, because you are all watching one another and copying one another. You are all Bobbsy Twins, same DNA.

     Escape your industry. Roam far afield. Benchmark other industries, as different from yours as possible. Only then will you learn unusual ideas, that can give you a unique strategic differentiator.