Austin McCraw

From the Westin to the Waffle House: Overcoming the pervasive challenge of company logic

March 22nd, 2016

I recently overheard an interesting conversation at a Westin hotel check-in counter. It went something like this:

“… and we’re energy efficient!” said the Westin receptionist.

“That’s great …” the customer’s hesitating response was only met with her static smile.

“So … What does that have to do with my room?” he added.

“Well, you will have to use you room card to turn the lights on,” she replied with the slight hint of an eye roll.

“Oh … ? How does that work? Do I have to have it on me or wave in front of the …”

“You put it in the light card holder. We are energy efficient.” she interrupted.

“To turn the lights on?” The customer asked with now his own slight hint of an eye roll.

“Yes, a lot of hotels are doing it now,” she replied, slightly defensive.

Trying to get her to break from her conditioned customer service pose, and make a slight acknowledgement of the absurdity, the customer joked, “Ah … well all the hotels I have gone to have these light switch things.”

He failed miserably at this attempt, obviously not cut out for comedy.

“We are an energy efficient hotel!!” She said again, but this time with two — yes, two — exclamation points.

“So … where is this card holder thing?”

“Oh it’s right next to the door.”

Surrendering, the customer said, “Ok, thanks for the heads up. I am truly impressed with your efficiency, but can I go ahead and get an extra room key?”

“Why?” she replied.

“Well, I need another one to keep in this light switch card holder you are so proud of.”

And yet again, the customer won. Or did he?


A customer rant

Okay, okay, I confess. I was the customer. And believe me, I love saving the environment. Shoot, I always hang up my towels when I shower at a hotel, and I even like the Westin. I stay there often when traveling. If I didn’t like them, I wouldn’t write this. What I hate is company logic. What we all hate is company logic, except when we are the company and not the actual customer. The Westin, in this case, has lost sight of its customer experience.

How so?

First off, I am a postmodern consumer — meaning my first inclination is that I don’t believe you. As much as I want to believe you care about the environment, I don’t. I do think you probably care about saving money. But with that said, you should know, as a marketer, I have much more empathy for you than your average customer does.

Now that that is out in the open, let’s translate. You are energy efficient! Woohoo! But it doesn’t necessarily follow not that now you can force me to sacrifice my customer experience to satisfy who you are. Wait a minute — what about that massive glowing and bubbling fish tank behind your front desk? What about the ten crystal chandeliers hanging above me?

It is company logic to think that I don’t see your willingness to be “energy efficient” when it only impacts my experience and not your ability to feature beautiful pictures of registration desk on your website. It is also company logic to demand, rather than invite me, to join you in your desire to be energy efficient. You do it with you towels; why not your light switches?


From Westin and Waffle House

You may say I am “being too harsh.” Well, don’t forget that I am the customer. And in the words of the great advertising giant Claude Hopkins, “I am the customer. I am selfish. I care nothing about your interests or profit. I want service.” Hopkins was being nice.

You say it’s the “Westin way.” Well I heard that exact same phrase year ago in another fine establishment: Waffle House.

The Waffle House


Anyone who knows me knows I love Waffle House. But if there is any company on the planet that is steeped in company logic, it is Waffle House. It has made a business out of company logic. The only reason I survive as a customer is that I drank the Kool-Aid of company logic for two years as a Master Grill Operator while in high school. For me, Waffle House is like a crazy uncle — he’s crazy, but I still love him.


Grape packets and overcooked eggs

Did you know that Waffle House does not let their cooks use tickets to keep track of their orders? Did you know that cooks have to either memorize or mark plates with grape packets, butter cups and pickles to indicate what kind of order has been placed? If the grape pack is vertical, it’s on order over medium; if it turns sideways, it’s a ham and cheese omelet.

It wasn’t long before I saw a massive problem: grape packets shift when in motion. And, based on the top secret code, a one-inch shift, completely changes how long I cook your eggs. So I naturally pushed for reformation:

“Hey John, I keep seeing our grill operators messing up orders because we are using grape packets to represent food,” I said to the store manager.

“I never have a problem,” he replied.

“Yes, but you also have worked here for 15 years. Doesn’t it seem like it would increase the odds of newer G.O.s getting it right if they could just read the ticket and not have to mark plates? We might even be able to get the order out faster.”

“You are probably right, but this is how it is done.”

“But, don’t you think it would make our customers happier and more likely to return if we were less likely to mess up their order.”

“Listen Austin, it is not the Waffle House way. You have to mark plates. Done deal.”

Waffle House, God bless them, is one of the few places to successfully institutionalize a poor customer experience. And yet, they still pull off a unique and exclusive value proposition. Unfortunately for most people, Waffle House’s strongest “only-factor” is that it is the only place open right now.


Create a customer, not a company

Listen, I get it. You have values, you have a mission. But the value or mission should always be to create the best customer experience. I know you have a “culture” — or a “way” of doing things. That’s great. Keep it. Just under one condition: We should sacrifice our company culture as soon as it sacrifices our customer’s experience.

Everywhere I go, I hear company logic. It’s not that we bad people, we are just bent people. Our natural disposition is to think first about our own interests. I am not asking you to change that. Just stop thinking that your interest are automatically your customer’s interests or that your “way” is the customer’s “way.”

I am not trying to pick on Westin or Waffle House alone. This is the story of most organizations. This is my story too. It is a constant battle, one worth reminding ourselves of regularly — the most successful business leaders are not those who focus on creating a company, but a customer.


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Austin McCraw

About Austin McCraw

Austin McCraw, Senior Director, Editorial Content, MECLABS From Web clinics to certification courses, Austin works behind the scenes to bring our research analysts’ discoveries to our audience in clear and creative ways. Before joining MarketingExperiments, Austin was the Promotions Director for a PBS affiliate in Gainesville where he was in charge of publicizing local and national programming. A graduate of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications, Austin specializes in new media and video production by day and producing family memories with his wife and two children by night.

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  1. Tracy Watkins
    March 29th, 2016 at 12:17 | #1

    You include several personal stories which can be entertaining but makes it hard to find your point. Is your point simply to tell us that company logic is bad??

    I agree that the Westin light scenario is a bit absurd, although the situation is difficult to believe unless the receptionist was new to the company. Typically, employees would go through a training before pushing new practices in the company.

    Regardless, I am disappointed that you only pick on two companies with elaborate stories rather than giving us tips on how we can avoid company logic. This blog post, ironically, appears focused on you and your personal company rather than your audience.

    What I enjoy about Marketing Sherpa Blog is the blogs that go above just stating something but rather, give me something to take away and apply to my own work.
    I recommend doing a part two of this blog with some advice or something else that would be helpful.

  2. Austin McCraw
    Austin McCraw
    April 20th, 2016 at 09:37 | #2

    Hey Tracy, I really appreciate the feedback.

    My goal was to use two silly experiences to remind us how common and easy it is for us to fall into company logic. To your point, I am just as prone, and need the constant reminder too. As I said in the piece, “I am not trying to pick on Westin or Waffle House alone. This is the story of most organizations. This is my story too. It is a constant battle, one worth reminding ourselves of regularly”

    A follow-up piece that is more how-to is a great idea. I’ll get working on it. 🙂

    Thanks again for the response.


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