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Customers lose in the cola war

“I’D like a Coca-Cola please,” I said to the waiter. “Will Pepsi be OK?” he replied. “No, I don’t like Pepsi. I’d like a Coke,” I said. “We only serve Pepsi products,” he stammered. “Does anyone ever ask for a Coke?” I asked. “All the time, but we only serve Pepsi.” “Could you run down to the 7-11 and get me a Coke – they have plenty over there?” I asked with a smile. “We only serve Pepsi. Do you want a Pepsi?” he commanded. “No, I’ll have iced tea,” I said. Think about that dialogue; it happens tens of thousands of times a day. Someone wants a Coke and the restaurant only serves Pepsi. Or someone wants a Pepsi, and they only serve Coca-Cola. Either way, half of their customers are disappointed. Hotels are the same. Coke or Pepsi. One, or the other. Never both. Hotels brag about their service: “We’re the greatest, we serve the best, 100 per cent satisfaction guaranteed. We treat our guests royally (er, as long as you don’t want a Coke, because we only serve Pepsi).” Here’s the truth. Coke and Pepsi are at war. They offer ‘incentives’ to huge accounts to get the business, and sell their product exclusively. It’s referred to as ‘the cola wars’. And it’s bitter. Hilton – Coke. Marriott – Pepsi. Hyatt – Pepsi. Starwood – switched from Coke to Pepsi. And Las Vegas is one huge Pepsi zone. Forced loyalty. Contracted loyalty. And my question is, why? Answer: Greed, evolution of business practices, profit incentives, and fierce competition have created this mish-mash. Supermarkets and convenience stores sell both. They get it. Give the customers what they want – choice. Why am I so insistent on ordering Coke? It’s the drink I grew up with. I’ve been drinking Coca-Cola for more than 55 years. My grandfather’s motel had a Coke vending machine. For 10 cents you could get a large, ice-cold bottle. And as kids we’d check the bottom of the bottle to see what city it came from – a geography lesson. Today, the small glass bottles of Coke are the official drink of my company, Buy Gitomer. I don’t like Pepsi. Personal preference. When customers visit our office, they are always offered food and drink. If they refuse I ask: “Are you sure? We have those little Cokes – ice cold in glass bottles.” They always say OK – then often talk about the quality, or a personal Coca-Cola memory. For me, Coke isn’t just a drink, it’s a memory – especially Coke in an old-fashioned glass bottle. I’m sure it’s the same for others whether it’s Coke or Pepsi; it’s what you grew up with. Well, I have the Coke-Pepsi answer, and neither company wants to hear it. I’m suggesting a revolution and a revelation to all hotels and restaurants – serve both. Let the customer have a choice and let them have what they want. Give the customer what they want – there’s a concept that might just work. What choices are you offering to your customers? Are they always asking for things you don’t have? Or needing services you don’t offer? What are you doing about it? How is it affecting their loyalty to you? Should you be offering more choices? Don’t you think if Marriott said: “We’ve decided to give our customers the choice of what they want, so we’re offering Coke and Pepsi”, they could get their way with both vendors? And have a marketing advantage? Well, Marriott may not be a good example, it took them eight years to realise that Westin’s fluffy beds were cleaning their clock; and that fluffy beds were what the customer wanted. I’m issuing a wake-up call to hotels and restaurants and sandwich shops and pizza parlours. Tell the Coca-Cola guy and the Pepsi-Cola guy you’re going to serve both brands or you’ll buy nothing. My bet is that they’ll still be more than happy to sell you. Give the customer what they want. Maybe they’ll come back. If you want my formula for loyalty, go to www.gitomer.com, register if you’re a first time visitor, and enter LOYALTY FORMULA in the GitBit box. By Jeffrey Gitomer

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