Benchmarking Milkshakes and Hotels

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Coming back to Holland, after a 5 year study period in America, I was real curious. Would a McDonald’s vanilla shake taste the same in Holland as in the U.S.? And would the staff smile and great me just as courteously? I was excited to see if McD’s delivers a uniform experience/product, even outside the U.S.? Curious about my experience? Keep on reading..


The first major customer satisfaction survey that our agency conducted was at what was then called SAS Hotels, now Radisson Blue. We made calls all over the world to talk to the guests of this growing chain of hotels. The objective was to measure quality, to see if hotels were ‘up to standard’. In other words, ‘up to benchmark’. The term ‘benchmarking’ comes from the old days, where a carpenter would cut a small mark on his working bench to mark a standard size. This way every board could be cut with the same length. Hence the word: ‘benchmark.’

My hotel is different

The first thing they told us at SAS Hotels HQ was, all hotel-managers say ‘my hotel is different’, but don’t listen to them, they just need to conform to our standard! That’s what people expect from our brand!

So whether it is a milkshake or a bed, the ‘experience’ must be the same everywhere.

However, the hotel chain grew and grew.  Presently they run over 1200 properties. They kept on adding hotels and building new ones. Some situated in the city (like Berlin) some at airports (where they all used to be) and some (resorts) in exotic places. In other words: a basket full of apples and oranges. How do you compare that?

Not all Coffee is Cappuccino, but Cappuccino is definitely coffee!

We investigated the differences in the services offered at the various types of hotel and found that some services are similar such as ‘hygiene’. Hygiene is a good example for setting a certain minimum standard, a benchmark, for all types of hotel. However ‘breakfast’ is a different cup of tea. It has no use to prescribe that the ‘Full Monty’ must be served at all hotels as of 7 ‘o clock in the morning. That is simply an enormous waste.

Imagine staying at a Beach resort, how many people will be there so early?  But if you stay at an ‘airport’ hotel (owner of SAS Hotels was the Scandinavian airliner SAS) and you have to catch a plane at 6 in the morning (why always at such an ungodly hour?) then you’ll be real happy to grab a sandwich and a cup of coffee your way to the airport!

Important! Really?

We collected a lot of data. And based on these historic scores we developed a new type of ‘benchmark’ per aspect, achievable and useful for all types of chain hotels. This benchmark started out as a minimum requirement for items like “room” but also for ‘breakfast’. To get the proper, honest rating however, we would then apply a correction based on the (statistically derived) weight (importance to the guest) that was appropriate for each type of hotel, making a comparison between hotel performances possible after all.


So how about the vanilla shake at McDonald’s? I think they are in Holland less creamy (what’s wrong with our cows?) and I’ve stopped buying it. This Dutch Vanilla-shake is not ‘up to my benchmark’. And that’s a good thing. Because after my return from the U.S.A. I’ve lost at least 10 pounds! (Talking about benchmarks..)

Jan Mulder, Market Researcher and founder at Market Vision

Jan Mulder leads research activities at Market Vision. Jan founded Market Vision in 1996 after obtaining marketing experience at one of the first Personal Computer companies (Kaypro) and getting legal experience at Fokker Aerospace and Fokker Space.  His current experience is based on a more than 15 years of research in the hotel industry with hotel chains like Radisson and Novotel. Jan also taught research at Windesheim Flevoland for five years. Jan lives and works in Amstelveen, near Amsterdam, Netherlands. Jan holds a B.A. from the University of Puget Sound and a M.Sc. from the University of Oregon.