Podcast: Customer experience is essential in process improvement

In this week’s podcast interview, Sally Toister, senior director of operational excellence and six sigma – US & Canada for Marriott Hotels discusses the importance of customer experience in the process improvement journey.


Sally Toister joins us from the OPEX Summit in San Diego where she shares that the organizations entire business is around customer experience.  She was taught the hospitality business and has adapted six sigma into hospitality.

From a process improvement perspective Sally is always balancing running a business and delivering on the customer experience.

She’s always finding the freedom within the framework that ensures that she’s speaking to the bottom line while ensuring an outstanding customer experience which establishes loyalty in the brand.


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 (The following is an automated and unedited transcript. Please be aware that errors may be present.)

Interviewer: Seth Adler

Guest: Sally Toister

Seth Adler:  From Marriott, Sally Toister joins us. First, some supporters to thank and, thank you for listening.

This episode is supported by ProMapp. Team engagement is the key to successful BPM. That's why ProMapp BPM software is simple, social, and shareable. With ProMapp, business teams find process information useful and easy to improve. Clients like Toyota, McDonald's, [00:00:30] and Coca-Cola Amatil agree.

Help your teams work smarter and safer every day. Go to ProMapp.com/pex to request a free trial. That's ProMapp, ending in two "p"s, as in process, and pex, as in process excellence. ProMapp.com/pex.

This episode is also supported by the Process Excellence Network. PEX Network is a global community for process professionals, business leaders, and executives, who want to improve their businesses through process and operational excellence. With a global membership of 130,000 [00:01:00] plus, and a burgeoning global portfolio of live events, webinars, and networking opportunities, PEX Network provides access to experienced process professionals and industry insider insight. Go to PEXnetwork.com for more information.

The Senior Director of Operational Excellence in Six Sigma in US and Canada, from Marriott Hotels, Sally Toister joins us from the OPEX Summit in San Diego where she shares that the organization's entire business is around customer experience. Her background is, obviously, Six Sigma practitioner. She [00:01:30] was taught the hospitality business, and has adapted Six Sigma into hospitality.

From a process improvement perspective, Sally is always balancing running a business and delivering on the customer experience. She's always finding the freedom within the framework. That ensures that she's speaking to the bottom line while ensuring an outstanding customer experience, which establishes loyalty in the brand.

Welcome to PEX Network on B to B IQ. I'm your host, Seth Adler. Download episodes on PEXnetwork.com, or through our app in iTunes, within the iTunes podcast app [00:02:00] in Google Play, or wherever you currently get your podcasts.

Sally Toister.

Sally Toister:  T-O-I-S-T-E-R. Toister.

Seth Adler:  It's like a combination between toaster and Toy Story.

Sally Toister:  Yes. Married into it.

Seth Adler:  Oh, she married into it. But the Toy Story thing, that's more recent than anything else, I would imagine.

What kind of last name is that?

Sally Toister:  It has Russian roots.

Seth Adler:  Okay, what's your maiden name?

Sally Toister:  Coleman.

Seth Adler:  Oh, that's so much easier.

Sally Toister:  [00:02:30] Yeah, right.

Seth Adler:  And then you just went into this whole thing.

Sally Toister:  Yeah, I went from camping equipment to Toister -

Seth Adler:  Exactly, I mean is there any relation? One would -

Sally Toister:  No.

Seth Adler:  Okay

Sally Toister:  I wouldn't be here right now.

Seth Adler:  I gotcha. I gotcha.  No matter how much you care about CX, right?

Sally Toister:  Right.

Seth Adler:  So, Sally Toister, thank you for giving us a few minutes.

Let's start there. You're a Six Sigma person, but I saw you on a panel yesterday, we're at the OPEX Summit, by the way. I saw you on the CX panel as though you really do care about the customer experience.

Sally Toister:  [00:03:00] Absolutely, I care about the customer experience.[crosstalk 00:03:03] Yes, our entire business is around customer experiences.

Seth Adler:  I was going to say hospitality, but I feel like your point of view wasn't hospitality-based. You know? It was yes, of course we're taking care of our customers, but it's not because we're a hospitality company that I care this much about CX. Does that make sense?

Sally Toister:  Yes, it does make sense.

Seth Adler:  So what am I talking about?

Sally Toister:  Well, it probably comes from the fact that my background is beyond hospitality. [00:03:30] I actually came into the hospitality organization as a Six Sigma practitioner, and was taught the hospitality business, and adapting Six Sigma into hospitality. So, I've been in Six Sigma programs since 1995, and adapted.

Seth Adler:  Oh, we're going to talk about that. That's exciting.

But, you gave a couple of examples of coming in and looking at menus and looking at the way folks kinda behave, [00:04:00] the way your customers behave and what they do and what you're willing to accept as a business, and what you'd like to improve.

Just take us through the thinking as far as the project that I'm talking about.

Sally Toister:  Sure. There's always a balance. We're a business, at the root of it we are a business, but yes, we are a business based on customer experiences. And so, there's always that balance that you have to have when you're looking at, from a process improvement and driving the customer experience. There has to be a balance [00:04:30] in the focus of the bottom line and delivering the business metrics that are needed, but as well as delivering outstanding experience for the guest.

That they build that loyalty and want to continue to come back and be with your company on an ongoing basis.

Seth Adler:  Make as many sales as we possibly can, but, this customer still has to have an outstanding experience.

Sally Toister:  Correct.

Seth Adler:  And so, what is the [VIN 00:04:56] diagram and where do they overlap, and where do they not overlap is what I [00:05:00] feel like you were saying, right?

Sally Toister:  Right. Exactly. And so, it's ... [inaudible 00:05:05] the freedom within the framework where ... the example I was giving yesterday around menu selection had to do with, we have a unique set of guests that travel and stay in our hotels for longer stays than normal.

So, you're talking about the people who are there five nights a week, seven plus weeks at a time, really living in your hotel vs a one-to-two-night stay. And so, how they live in the hotel is [00:05:30] different than if you come for a conference or if you're on vacation with your family. Menu selection is one of them.

So, from looking at it ... what we had was, we have a core menu program in which you'll find the same offerings from hotel to hotel within the same brand, and it's something that you come to know and love as a guest at the hotel. Your favorites are there.

It also has a business aspect to it. Looking at it from a food cost element. So, when you're staying with us five nights [00:06:00] a week, that menu can get a little tiring. So there has to be that balance of how do you meet the needs of that guest, but also meet the business needs of managing food costs and managing production and quality within the kitchen.

So, that's where we had turned it back to the associates and said, "Help us solve for this problem." Knowing that here is the business need but we want to create a unique experience for the guest, for this particular guest. And that was where we drew on the expertise of our chefs in the kitchen, and we also drew upon the expertise of our associates [00:06:30] that serve them every day. To come up with those opportunities.

Seth Adler:  So, one of the outcomes was, we can use these same ingredients, Sally, and we're going to give them a whole different thing. Right? That same guest. Okay fine, check the box.

I think that you shocked and awed the audience that was watching the panel when you talked about the other solution, which had to do with information. Right?

Sally Toister:  Right. [inaudible 00:06:53]the associates and providing ... yes. We also recognize that a guest isn't going to dine with us 100% of the time. Right? We're human. [00:07:00] So, drawing into the associates' part of it was that, "okay, well, we're going to create a solution for the in-house option to bring them and have them stay. But how can we engage the associates and have them talk about their favorites?"

So, being in a downtown market, it was ... there's always the touristy spots that you could go to, but let's give you the inside tips of where our favorites. If I was going out with my friends or my family tonight, where would I go and dine?

So, providing that little bit of insight created a connection between our [00:07:30] associates and our guests as well.

Seth Adler:  Your colleagues were very surprised that you were, in quotation marks, "giving up that sale." Why is it "giving up that sale?" Why is it not "giving up that sale?" What is this entire, kind of, the bigger CX picture around that appetizer that we didn't push. You know what I mean?

Sally Toister:  Well, and it's also recognizing the fact that we ... the business wasn't there to give up. They were already dining elsewhere. Right? So, it's [00:08:00] acknowledging the fact that we know they're not already there 100% of the time, and being realistic about that. Right?

So, it's one thing to say that we've lost and we're giving away the business. It's another to say it's going out the door. But, in essence, we're bringing business back by creating the unique menu options, and capturing that portion of it. And then, creating a stronger connection with our guests through the external.

So, all of that added together, when you're looking at the larger metric of loyalty, you're creating [00:08:30] that relationship with the guests that will continue on forward, and probably, ultimately, grow market share in the end. Because they'll choose you.

Seth Adler:  There you go. But you called loyalty a metric. Are we talking about net promoter score? What are we ... how are you making loyalty a metric, I wonder?

Sally Toister:  So we actually, in the case of the time of this project, we actually utilized a composite score based on three answers on the survey that led to what was loyalty. So, [00:09:00] likely to recommend. Likely to return. Those type metrics on the survey that then became our consolidated loyalty score.

Seth Adler:  Okay. You like metrics, I would imagine.

Sally Toister:  Sure.

Seth Adler:  You're a Six Sigma person. I mean, the whole thing is metrics, how do we make it a metric, right?

So how did you ... where did your belt journey begin?

Sally Toister:  So, my belt journey began back in 1995, actually. I'm [00:09:30] one of those unusual people where I'm actually putting my college degree exactly where it was. My degree was in Business Analysis, Production Operations Management.

Seth Adler:  Look at that. Where?

Sally Toister:  Texas A&M.

Seth Adler:  Okay. Aggies. Go Aggies. Right?

Sally Toister:  Yes Aggies.

Seth Adler:  Are you from Texas?

Sally Toister:  I am. Born and raised in Houston.

Seth Adler:  In Houston. 713.

Sally Toister:  Yes, it is, now 281.

Seth Adler:  Oh is it?

Sally Toister:  Expanded area codes, yes.

Seth Adler:  I see what happened.

And then how did we make the decision to go to A&M?

Sally Toister:  So, I do have [00:10:00] a couple of family members who have gone there, and my brother actually went there. Being on campus, I just fell in love with the campus lifestyle and the history of tradition and camaraderie at Texas A&M.

Seth Adler:  So it's, what? Five hundred people per graduating class? No. That place is huge! Right?

Sally Toister:  Yes, it is pretty large.

Seth Adler:  College Station if I'm not mistaken.

Sally Toister:  Yes, that is correct.

Seth Adler:  So, when did you realize that you were going to do this wacky thing?

Sally Toister:  Of Six Sigma and prices or -

Seth Adler:  In school. [00:10:30] You said you got the degree -

Sally Toister:  Oh in school. Actually -

Seth Adler:  When did you find that as a major?

Sally Toister:  The pathway? Yeah.

Actually, you know, it was benefit of a great advisor. I actually was ready to graduate. I'd finished my fourth year, and my original degree was still in Business Analysis, but it was on an MIT track. When I started interviewing for jobs I was like, "I do not want to be programming for five years, this is not for me."

So I actually went back to my freshman counselor. I talked with her and she guided me to this ... at the time it was a new pathway [00:11:00] in business analysis. There were only twelve of us in the class, I think. Maybe fifteen? And she helped me find that map, and I invested another year in school, and got on the right track for me professionally. So, great educators.

Seth Adler:  Huge. Now, of course, mentors and educators and thank you, thank you, thank you. But that's a huge decision for that person who's a senior to make.

How did you reckon with that? Because I ... there was nothing that was stopping me from graduating in four years when I [00:11:30] was, you know, at that moment in time. What was it for you?

Sally Toister:  Again ... that great conversation with my advisor and helping me map out, to realize that I only needed to go summer, fall, and spring. Three more semesters, to finish off the degree. And I do, I remember, it's going to time me, but I do remember picking up the pay phone to call my mom. And say, "hey, this is where I am." And her response was, "Oh, thank goodness. That degree was so not for you."

And I had her full support. I was like, "why didn't you tell me earlier?" You know, and she [00:12:00] was like, "you needed to discover it on your own."

Seth Adler:  Exactly. She knows that if she told you, you wouldn't have listened and then you would've graduated anyway.

Sally Toister:  Exactly. So I ... again fortunate of great support. Between advisor and -

Seth Adler:  Parents.

Sally Toister:  And parents

Seth Adler:  And the whole thing.

Sally Toister:  The whole network.

Seth Adler:  Look at how much love you have in your life, right?

Sally Toister:  Oh I know, I'm so fortunate. I'm incredibly fortunate.

Seth Adler:  What was that first job out of school, then?

Sally Toister:  Yeah, so first job out of school, actually, I was ... I was involved in college with an organization called ISEC, which is an international group that focuses [00:12:30] on exchanges. My first job out of college was actually at Guinness in Dublin, Ireland, as an intern.

Seth Adler:  I've done that tour.

Sally Toister:  Yes, so have I.

Seth Adler:  That's quite a place. I'm sure you have. My goodness. What did you learn from the Guinness Brewery, which has been going for hundreds of years? Right?

Sally Toister:  It was actually really fascinating. So, my internship was actually in IT, because that's where my first major was, I guess you could call it. I had [00:13:00] finished up assignments ... they had me for the summer earlier and I'd mentioned that I had this bug for ... really enjoyed my process improvement course that I had in college, and they had ISO 9000T.

Seth Adler:  Oh yeah. Big time at the time.

Sally Toister:  Yeah, big time at the time. So they let me go for a couple weeks over and hang out with the ISO 9000 team at Guinness, and it was absolutely fascinating. Got to do quality testing at 7:00 AM, which was fun. I think it was a joke on the Americans to have us doing the testing at that time.

[00:13:30] I really got more exposure there. So when I came back after that internship ... I actually started dating my now-husband while we were in Ireland together. He was still in school in Boston. I said, "you know what? I'm going to it three weeks, and if I find a job, I'll stick around." And, fortunately for me, I was ... unlike in Texas where there's a lot of us coming out of the schools. Up in Massachusetts the degree was an unusual degree.

Seth Adler:  You were [00:14:00] unique in the Northeast.

Sally Toister:  I was very unique. I was unique in the Northeast. And I landed a job that had me as an operations supervisor. That's where I got my green belt training. Actually a company that was primarily owned by GE. So they did their -

Seth Adler:  Okay. That makes all the sense in the world.

Sally Toister:  So they did the green belt training, and as soon as I got ... I was raising my hand going, "me, me, me." You know.

Seth Adler:  So you were hooked.

Sally Toister:  I was hooked from 1995 on.

Seth Adler:  I got it. Absolutely. Then when ... did you stay with that company to get the black belt, or did you get that somewhere else?

Sally Toister:  I [00:14:30] transitioned before I got the black belt there, and then I got my black belt certification at the next company I was at that was here in San Diego.

Seth Adler:  What company was that?

Sally Toister:  At the time it was called ... well it's WIS International now. It's a company that takes physical inventories for retail companies.

Seth Adler:  Oh wow.

Sally Toister:  So, we used Lean as a competitive differential. There are only two national companies, so we offered the program up for free, with our retail partners. We would run Kaizen events with them [00:15:00] and helping them save money on their inventory processes with the goal of growing market share for us.

Seth Adler:  This is pre-Amazon days. Right?

Sally Toister:  Pre-Amazon days.

Seth Adler:  This is pre-retail apocalypse, is what is upon us. Do you have thoughts about that, being that you worked for an inventory company that serviced retail organizations?

Sally Toister:  You know, it's an interesting ... everybody still needs to count stuff. They still need to know what their product is in-house. So it's still a thriving business but also you [00:15:30] have to think about diversification. So there are other things that you can count. There are other things that you can participate in, adapting those skill sets to other markets.

So, at the time I left the company, that was one of the things they were looking at. What other industries can these skillsets be used in? Is there an opportunity to participate with census-related items? Are there ... where else and what else can be counted? That's opportunity there. It was growing.

Seth Adler:  That's where they're going. As far as retail itself, do you have [00:16:00] any thoughts? No. You're a hospitality person, right?

Did you jump to Marriott at that point? Because you've been there for -

Sally Toister:  At Starwood, yes. At the time ... Starwood in ...August, 2005 I went over.

Seth Adler:  So Starwood, you're an original Starwood person.

Sally Toister:  I went over, I started with Starwood and to the Six Sigma program and then -

Seth Adler:  We're here at the Westin, so this is home.

Sally Toister:  Yes, this is home.

Seth Adler:  This is not an adopted home, this is the real home.

Sally Toister:  And in fact my real first home was Starwood, it's just across the street at the other Westin.

Seth Adler:  Look at that.

Sally Toister:  Yes, so it's really home.

Seth Adler:  In the Gaslamp District, [00:16:30] if I'm not mistaken.

Sally Toister:  Yes, the hotel, yes the Westin San Diego Gaslamp.

Seth Adler:  Okay, alright. So, Starwood and Marriott are two different organizations. Not anymore. But what I mean by that is they felt different. When I heard the news that they were going to be the same organization, it was surprising to me.

Before we get to that, take us back to when you started at Starwood. Give us a sense of the culture of the organization.

Sally Toister:  Just in general, or from a Six Sigma [00:17:00] standpoint?

Seth Adler:  Both. First, in general, then Six Sigma.

Sally Toister:  Sure. When I started in 2005, first of all, it was for me, right? As an operator, and as a guest of hotels, I was absolutely fascinated by the many villages that happened behind back of house to make hotels run.

It was ... Never seen someone geek out in the laundry department like I did the first time I saw laundry operations in hotels.

So it was really fascinating [00:17:30] to see. At the time that I joined there was a lot of branding initiatives going on within Starwood. So, Westin, Westin, Sheraton, W Brands, we all had our focus, our three words, our commitment words. Understanding how do we deliver culturally to that for the guests and incrediating those unique experiences, journey mapping, understanding who our customer was.

Then, from a Six Sigma standpoint, we're about four years into our maturity [00:18:00] of our program. Shifting from a largely grassroots initiative to more of corporate-driven initiatives, and aligning with the partners along with branding. We have this new approach, we know who our guest is, we know how we have to service our guest. How do we design and build the processes behind it to support that and deliver of it.

So that was a lot of the culture at the time when I started. So, very fascinating. And being over at Westin Gaslamp, it was really easy. We knew it ... our mantra was [00:18:30] have the guest leave feeling better when they arrived. So, what are the processes that we need to put in place so that the associates could deliver on that promise every day?

Seth Adler:  Give us just a quick one so that we understand exactly what you're talking about because, when I check in, I know what to expect. I'm the guy that puts down the credit card and my driver's license before you ask, right? Your front of ... your check-in. No, but ... [00:19:00] I know, I know what experience I'm about to have. How are you going to make my experience possibly better?

Sally Toister:  Right. And that's ... and it's really anticipating your needs, is what the focus was. So in understanding those different customer journeys and the different mapping that we have. We know you're the business traveler, probably, coming in, you're ready to get to your room as quickly as possible, get settled in. You really don't, really, want to have a conversation with me. So, it's covering those basics, how was your travel? How was [inaudible 00:19:26] Get you processed as quickly as possible.

Right? Different guests [00:19:30] might come in, they're there with their family, they want to know what tours might be available the next day. So, it's really educating that front desk agent of how, and again this is more from that customer experience standpoint, how to differentiate the guests and how to create their journey from the beginning.

So we had a lot of personas, cards, that we would have and educate out to our associates to how do you identify which trip personas, what we called them. And then, what are processes that you would want to do?

Knowing that you probably [00:20:00] don't want to come and have a long, leisurely breakfast in our restaurant. But you may be more inclined to want to know what our fitness hours are. Fitness ... so understanding and recognizing not to say "Hey, brunch is served tomorrow from 9:00 AM." Like,"Great, I'll be out the door at 6:30." Right?

But you may be interested in a running map, or you may want to know how to access the fitness center. Those were types of processes that we put in place at the time to really help understand and translate to the trip persona.

Seth Adler:  And then, much more recently, Marriott says " [00:20:30] we've got a good idea. Why don't we, as far as family is concerned, become a family?" Right?

How much did that change things? Because this is a family business. It's a huge family business, but the Marriott thing is family, or am I mistaken? [crosstalk 00:20:49]

Sally Toister:  No it's family, and you know the mantra there is you "take care of our people and our people will take care of our guests." So, it's all around that process and I think from a Six Sigma standpoint, it was a [00:21:00] natural draw. Because, we're focused on solving the paying points of our guests, which falls right in line with that "take care of our people and our people will take care of our guests" philosophy.

We've hit the ground running coming over. Merged as one. I think there was a ... we always kept that iron curtain pretty tight against our competition. So, it's been fun to open it up, and expand the offerings. It's been very well received. Early on with adoption of wanting [00:21:30] to learn more about, "How can I be a better business operator through the use of process improvement tools?"

Seth Adler:  Sounds like the overlay really did fit very well. What process improvement tools did they have that you're like, "Oo, new toolbox!" Right?

Sally Toister:  Marriott, a few years ago, launched into Covey's Four Disciplines of Execution. So they have, all of their hotels have that. And we're now rolling that out to the Starwood side. When we started evaluating the programs, [00:22:00] we realized what a perfect marriage it was between the two. Because, the discipline of the process and designing aligned with the discipline of, "Here's my wildly important goal, the one I'm going to focus on." The gaps of both programs aligned perfectly.

So, it's exciting to see where we're going to go with that alignment and marriage of those two programs to say, "okay here's our one wildly important focus area," and instead of throwing darts at what we're going to do to move that, Six Sigma's now bringing in the process tools of it to say, " [00:22:30] We've identified with that leading metric is, now let's use the discipline of Six Sigma to target improvement to move the needle on that metric."

So, it's an exciting opportunity.

Seth Adler:  There you go. And, any process improvement executive knows it really doesn't matter what we're doing as long as we identify the metric, as you just said. It's about the process of getting it done. So we don't need to worry about brand.

And then you have, how many brands?

Sally Toister:  Thirty. We have thirty brands.

Seth Adler:  So what ... explain [00:23:00] that ... right? So if I'm a customer, experienced executive, and I'm really focused on the brand, and that means a lot to me. Or, I'm a process improvement executive and the brand doesn't even necessarily matter. Here I am with thirty brands, you know -

Sally Toister:  Right. So, our structure, the way we have it on the Starwood side, and again, is just slowly moving over the first year into the Marriott side. But, we have our Six Sigma community comprised of green belts and black belts that actually sit at the property [00:23:30] level. So, green belts, it's an additional skillset to your core operating role and responsibility. And then a black belt is a full time, dedicated position that sits on the executive team reporting in to the general manager.

We have those that are larger hotels, or more complex hotels. That's where that position sits. So, what's nice about that is the community of Six Sigma sits where the work happens. It's really at the Gemba. Right? It's where our guests come and operate. So, [00:24:00] where it's direct alignment with the general manager, it's really focusing on what those core values are for that hotel, regardless of brand. Because even within the brand, say, this Westin that we're at here has different challenges than a Westin in a suburban environment, or Westin Resort environment.

So, by arming them with the tools of, "This is how you adopt it into be a better operator," it's really helping them to achieve their overall business metrics and their overall goals and we say [00:24:30] driving operational excellence. So you use the tools of Six Sigma to drive operational excellence at your hotels.

Really it is brand agnostic, the way that we have it set up and operate in the structure. And when we see those resources pop over to a new brand, it's not about learning how does this align with the brand, it's, "How do I draw upon the tools to solve my current business problem that I have today?"

Seth Adler:  Which happens to be this brand's "whatever".

Sally Toister:  Correct, or this hotel within this brand.

Seth Adler:  Even better, as you, [00:25:00] as you corrected me the first time ... I'm still staying on the brand, and you're, "No, it's down to the hotel level."

Sally Toister:  It's down to the hotel level.

Seth Adler:  Down to the property level.

Sally Toister:  Correct. It's the challenges of a 250 room Courtyard is going to be much different than an 1800 room Sheraton in New York City.

Or, even within a brand. A Sheraton in New York City's going to be way different than a 400 room Sheraton in a suburban market.

Seth Adler:  I tried to discuss disruption [00:25:30] through retail with you earlier. We didn't take that. You know where I'm going. I'm going to Airbnb, right?

So, what are the conversations that you have as a process person? Because, I don't ... you're talking to a kindred spirit. I'm not a fan of the Airbnb offering. I ... but we don't have to talk about me, let's talk about you.

Sally Toister:  I'm not a fan either.

Seth Adler:  Well, sure. But [00:26:00] what are you doing within process improvement to make sure that we prove out, "Here's what we've got which you can't necessarily get there?"

Sally Toister:  One is you always ... number one you have to understand who your customer is, right? So, within our program, Six Sigma's traditionally looked at, or operational excellence continually looked at, continuously, not continuously, frequently looked at as a cost-cutting initiative.

Seth Adler:  Not the way you talk about it, by the way. You [00:26:30] don't ... cost cutting doesn't seem to be first on your mind in anything that you've said.

Sally Toister:  Right. No, and that's where I was going, is that we take the large look at, "How do we drive revenue?" "How do we grow a market share?" "What do we look at it?"

So, aligning it from that standpoint, yes, cost is going to naturally come with it. So it's understanding, one, who our guest is ... yes, the why's, go to the toolbox. Why are they selecting Airbnb? What is [00:27:00] it that is driving them to that? What are those features? It's obviously flexibility, it's obviously some features that account for, some of it could be price.

And then partnering, because we part ... because we bring a skillset to the table. We're not experts of any particular discipline, we bring that partnership to our sales team. And say, "okay, we understand that these are the driving factors of why a guest might be selecting Airbnb. This is why we know that maybe they're not selecting us. How can we apply those tools [00:27:30] to make a shift within recapturing that market share?"

"Do we need to streamline our processes so our response times are higher, that we can close a booking window?" It's not that we're booking six months out, maybe, for a group to come and stay with us, but it's six weeks out that we have that flexibility.

So, it's really, "How can we partner with them, bring the tools to the table to solve for capturing the problem of why guests don't book with us?"

Seth Adler:  I get the sense, because I'm not a [00:28:00] black belt, or a green belt, that -

Sally Toister:  You should be.

Seth Adler:  Well, this is my point. There's you guys, and there's everybody else. Is that a fair thing?

Sally Toister:  Well, it's interesting -

Seth Adler:  You're either Six Sigma or you're not, type of thing.

Sally Toister:  There is that perception that's out there.

Seth Adler:  I'm saying to you have that perception?

Sally Toister:  I don't know if I have that ... we bring a skillset to the table, right? I would never assume to be able to go out and sell a million dollar piece of business. I can't do [00:28:30] that -

Seth Adler:  Cannot do it, right.

Sally Toister:  So that's not my skillset. But, I appreciate those skillsets in the same way the Six Sigma, and ... we partner together. To collectively, when we bring all the skillsets together is what really drives operational excellence and customer experience. When you look at that all together. Because we need each other to solve for that, and to capture it for business.

Seth Adler:  Which is part of the process to begin with.

Sally Toister:  Correct.

Seth Adler:  Right? We need these people and those people.

Sally Toister:  Correct.

Seth Adler:  Alright, so, there you have it, [00:29:00] right? There you have all the people, there you have all the process, there you have all the product, and we continue on to tomorrow. Right?

Sally Toister:  Yes.

Seth Adler:  So I have three final questions for you. I'll tell you what they are and then I'll you them in order.

What has most surprised you at work along the way?

Sally Toister:  At work?

Seth Adler:  Yeah. What's most surprised you in life? And then, on the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's gotta be on there. Which we'll get to.

Sally Toister:  Oh, my Lord. I needed these questions yesterday.

Seth Adler:  What's most surprised you at work?

Sally Toister:  [00:29:30] I would say surprising me at work has been the openness and willingness in such a ... in the hospitality environment, for structure around process. I guess what I mean by that is that it's really easy in the environment of hotels to do whatever is needed to service every guest. And that can lead you down a rabbit hole of doing ... and, in [00:30:00] effect, maybe not being able to properly service another guest because of that issue.

In the Starwood environment, and in the Marriott environment, the welcoming-ness of structure and process, knowing that structure and process sometimes has the perception that it takes away from being able to service the guest. And in this environment, it's embraced and understood that it enhances the guest experience.

Seth Adler:  Let's remember that Ritz-Carlton is under the Marriott banner, right?

Sally Toister:  [00:30:30] Yes, and it has an out ... we have an outstanding Ritz quality program.

Seth Adler:  Let's take that tangent for a second. As far as the process excellence, as far as the Six Sigma aspect of Ritz-Carlton, what can you let us know?

I know you're an originally Starwood person, but do you have any insight on the brand as far as -

Sally Toister:  It's all around. The program on the Ritz-Carlton quality program side, the global product, it's centered around servicing the guest. It's all, ladies and gentlemen servicing ladies and [00:31:00] gentlemen.

The quality program is aligned to how do you continuously make sure that happens? They do follow a lot of the Lean Six Sigma principles, and partner with hotels on areas and looking at metrics, of which metrics are we falling short on that enable us to service a guest? And they do do something very similar to what we do, and we have great partnership with that team, and alignment with it.

They, right now, are playing in the arena of the brand. With thirty brands there's lots of love to go around. [00:31:30] We can't tackle it all on our own. So the Ritz quality team is primarily focusing on our luxury brand segment. And our program focuses on the rest of the brands. But we definitely have strong core alignment between each other.

Seth Adler:  Yes, and you're saying, they'll go above and beyond, you know, ladies and gentlemen servicing ladies and gentlemen. They'll go above and beyond and do really anything and your point is, yeah, but there's a Six Sigma backbone there too.

Sally Toister:  Right, right. And they do have that as well, but yes.

So that's been the surprising [00:32:00] part, the welcoming-ness to it and the adoption. It's always surprising to me ... I shouldn't say surprising, it's very heart-warming when you go and visit hotels and you have associates coming up to you and talk about how much easier their jobs have come because they've adopted the Six Sigma principles.

Seth Adler:  How great. Isn't that like the point of living almost?

Sally Toister:  It is. I was on vacation at one of our hotels, a personal vacation. The chef came out of the kitchen. He had taken green belt training five, six years ago, and talked [00:32:30] about how, to the day, he still, he'll look at a line and say, "How can I do this better? How can I get the food to the guests better."

That will bring a tear to my eye.

Seth Adler:  There you go.

Sally Toister:  That's what makes it all worth it, and rewarding in the business.

Seth Adler:  What's most surprised you in life?

Sally Toister:  Let's see, in life. That's a really tough question. Probably the fact that I'm actually doing what I did in college. I mean how many ... it's that I was fortunate to find that passion [00:33:00] and I've stuck with it and continued to grow, and really embrace it. It's a lifestyle, I can't turn it off. The tools come both at work and they come at home, and I have a really organized [five-s 00:33:14] garage.

But it's really ... I think in life, I was very fortunate to find a passion for what I want to do so early.

Seth Adler:  You mention on vacation you can't turn it off. Are you able to even, like, if you [00:33:30] need a towel on the beach, it's always there, isn't it?

Sally Toister:  It doesn't even matter if it's in hotels. We were standing in line at a road stop on a road trip. Standing in line for fast food for lunch, and it was taking way too long. My husband just turned to me and he goes, "This is driving you completely nuts, isn't it?" And I said, "Yes. Why is that guy on that side of the line?"

So it's -

Seth Adler:  Now, will you jump in?

Sally Toister:  No, because that would be embarrassing.

Seth Adler:  Okay, so -

Sally Toister:  But yes, I would, I mean I have been known to fix some things that have crossed my path [crosstalk 00:33:59] and changed signs or moved something.

Seth Adler:  [00:34:00] You will do it, right?

Sally Toister:  Oh yeah, I will, but I won't be like ... I'll try and not draw attention to myself.

Seth Adler:  I think that I'm with you. I think that I might be somebody that should go through this training, and I'll tell you why. Because I very much appreciate ... I host a podcast on it, and I'm the most impatient person there is. My girlfriend, when she sees me getting impatient, tries to calm me down. And it's good, you know, gives me a look. But, we're in line [00:34:30] for train tickets, and it's one of the automated tellers, right? And so, I'm in the back of the line, and everyone's doing it wrong. The first person does it wrong and it takes them five, ten minutes. The next person does it wrong. And it's obvious we're in the vacation line, people who don't do this. So, what I did, I went to the front of the line, and I just started to interview the person. "Where are you going?" Okay. "Round trip?" Okay. And [00:35:00] I'm just doing the thing. "Okay put in your code, I'll look away."

So, I literally became -

Sally Toister:  You have a natural tendency towards it, it sounds like. Yes.

Seth Adler:  So I gotta get into that.

On the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's gotta be on there.

Sally Toister:  One track, one song? You mean like a song, song? Like -

Seth Adler:  Yeah, so it doesn't have to be the perfect song. It doesn't have to be the most appropriate song. It doesn't have to be, you know, anything in particular. But, on the soundtrack of your life, we've just talked about a fair amount of [00:35:30] your life, there's probably a few songs that should be on the soundtrack. We just need one of them.

Sally Toister:  You mean like, "I Will Survive?"

Seth Adler:  Oh sure! That'll work. Gloria Gaynor, I believe. Right?

Sally Toister:  Yes.

Seth Adler:  Yeah, that's good.

Sally Toister:  Yeah, that would be up there.

Seth Adler:  Alright, let's take that one.

Sally Toister:  Okay

Seth Adler:  Sally, I very much appreciate the time.

Sally Toister:  Thank you so much, I appreciate it.

Seth Adler:  And there you have Sally Toister. When you're looking at the larger metric of loyalty, you're creating that relationship [00:36:00] with the guest that'll continue on forward, and probably grow market share in the end, because they'll choose you.

Very much appreciate Sally and her time. Very much appreciate you and yours.

Stay tuned.