Are You a Victim of the “Groundhog Day Effect”?

It was like I was playing a bit part in Groundhog Day, the classic Bill Murray movie in which he lives the same day over and over again.bill-murray-groundhog-day-iata

I walked into a Marriott hotel and, for a moment, I wasn’t sure which one I was in. On the wall was the portrait of the founders – always in the same pose and gazing over all they had created. The color palette throughout the hotel was the same. The menu in the restaurant was the same. The toiletries in the bathroom were, you guessed it, the same.

I could have sworn I was in the same hotel just the week before. I was experiencing the “Groundhog Day Effect”.

I get it. The hotel industry, just like our own, believed for years that the path, to profitability and efficiency, was standardization. More than that, they believed that their brands were tied to reliability and consistency of experience. And they were probably right.

But things have changed. Standardization and consistency are so last year.

The Death of Standardization

Today, Marriott has changed its tune. The company is truly co-creating value with clients – value that can change by hotel, by region or by demographic.

  • They are actively involving local staff in creating ideas that make each location unique, just like the cities in which they operate.
  • They are actively examining how their next generation clients behave, how they think and what they want, in order to transform the experience.
  • They are broadening their definition of how they support their clients, from providing a hotel room to facilitating new and unique experiences around the world.
  • They let you connect with a virtual concierge to customize your preferences for your room. Fluffier pillows anyone?
  • Their ‘travel brilliantly’ campaign actively invites clients to submit ideas to make their stays more of an experience, like the example below.


Mariott knows that quality standards should, as the name suggests, be standardized. But they also know that the experience needs to be personalized to reflect the people they serve. And they’re not alone in driving the change to personalize the client experience. Apple is another good example.

Not long ago, I reached out to Apple with a question about my iPhone. The experience was not only supremely effective, but they found a way to engage me personally. Yes, they asked how I wanted to communicate (a phone call please). Then, they managed my expectations by telling me my phone would ring within two minutes (and it did). It was the last piece that struck me. When I picked up the phone they told me someone would be with me momentarily and asked me to select the genre of music I wanted to hear while I was waiting. They personalized the experience.

Does Your Client Experience Feel Like Groundhog Day?

We’re all guilty of creating a groundhog day-ish experience, in an effort to create consistency. We define processes for: the number of meetings and contacts clients will receive, the on-boarding and review process and even the way we educate and appreciate our clients.

We standardize with the best of intentions but we need to ask ourselves some important questions.

  • Do our clients feel like they are experiencing the same thing year after year?
  • Do our clients feel like the experience reflects their personal preferences?
  • Do our clients feel like they are part of the process of defining what an extraordinary experience is?

Can We Personalize Financial Services?

It’s true that we lack the scale of Mariott or Apple. However, we need to look at these trends and ask how it will impact our client relationships in the future. And, as smaller businesses, we need to strike a balance between personalization and efficiency.

What that means is that we need to standardize processes while leaving room for personalization. So how might that play out in our world?

  • Tap into employee discretion. For example, Jack Thurman, CEO of BKD Wealth Advisors, once shared with me that they have a defined budget to ‘appreciate’ each of their best clients. However, employees can use their discretion and look for clues as to what each client would find meaningful.
  • Standardize the quality but not the experience. You can set a baseline for certain aspects of the experience, while leaving room to make it meaningful for each client. For example, you might determine that clients need to see you at least two times a year. Let them choose if that’s face-to-face or via web meeting.
  • Limit choice. If you have 200 clients, they may have 200 different opinions of what you should provide, so limit the choices and allow them to customize. For example, you might identify four different educational topics you’ll tackle in a year. Let clients choose which topics are of interest and even how they’ll receive the information. This is closer to mass customization than personalization, but it’s a big step in the right direction.
  • Surprise them. Don’t forget how powerful it can be to stray off course from the norm in order to alleviate the groundhog day effect. If you send the same reports, hold the same meetings and run the same events, take a moment to surprise your best clients. For example, send a gift out of the blue.

Getting Started

So how can you get started? Here’s a quick action plan.

  1. List all the routine processes in your business. Those might include: on-boarding a client, conducting a client review, running an event or sending performance reports.
  2. Pick one process and break it down into its component steps.
  3. Look for opportunities to personalize some aspect of that process in a way that is both meaningful to the client and realistic for you. For example, you could invite clients to help you craft the agenda for an upcoming review meeting.
  4. Execute on that one idea.
  5. Pick your next process and repeat.

Thanks for stopping by,

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3 Responses to Are You a Victim of the “Groundhog Day Effect”?

  1. Joel May 23, 2017 at 2:44 pm #

    Thank you for your post. One correction: “Marriott” not “Mariott”

    • Julie Littlechild
      Julie Littlechild May 25, 2017 at 8:54 pm #


  2. Janice Cackowski May 23, 2017 at 3:08 pm #

    Excellent article … very thoughtful. Thank you for making us think outside the box on occasion!

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