Whose Best Practices?

Whose Best Practices?

By Lee Cockerell

Lee Cockerell is a management consultant and former executive vice president of operations at Walt Disney World. From The Customer Rules: The 39 Essential Rules for Delivering Sensational Service (Crown Business). ©2013

The best copycats don't just imitate—they pay attention to everything around them, spot the best ideas, and then find a better way to apply them.

Despite what your third-grade teacher might have told you, copying is not cheating, at least when it comes to business. Unless what you are copying is trademarked or legally protected in some way, there is no law against taking another business's ideas and adapting it to your needs; if there were, some of the best innovations on the planet would never have come to be. In fact, not being a copycat is cheating—it's cheating yourself. Think about it this way: As soon as one of your competitors installs a better service system or invents a faster way of doing things, they'll eventually start stealing your customers, and before long you'll be wishing you'd copied them when you had the opportunity. So stay closely tuned to everything your competitors are doing, and don't hesitate to take their best practices and run with them.

The hotel industry is a great example of one that thrives on copycatting. Every major hotel chain now has express check-in, express checkout, preorder breakfast menus, flat-screen TVs, exercise rooms, frequent-traveler awards programs, and other new amenities. If you remove the company's name and logo, you can usher a frequent traveler into any major hotel chain, and chances are she won't even be able to tell which one she's in. Each of those innovations started somewhere, and now they're everywhere, with the chains racing to improve their versions before the others do. Nowadays, no hotel dares not to copy and build on a good idea, and the beneficiaries are the travelers who need a comfortable place to rest their heads.

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