smith+co on
customer experience
Shaun Smith
  • By Shaun Smith
  • Sep 26 2013

So what are the the top 10 most irritating things about your customer experience?

To help you answer this question, let's first take a quick look at hotels. They've been around ever since Joseph and Mary encountered their over-booking problem at the Inn, so we might reasonably expect that, by now, hoteliers might have figured out what guests really want.

However, a recent feature by the Sunday Times found that despite all the investment in improving services, hotels all too often fail on the customer experience. So why is it that as brands get more sophisticated in their technology and more innovative in their attempts to dazzle us, they fail to deliver a great experience? It all comes down to basics - those fundamental things expected by guests but often forgotten by brands, in their eagerness to launch the next big thing. These basics may not have the WOW factor loved by creatives but, when ignored, they can just be the final straw needed to make customers switch brands. So for all you hoteliers out there, here’s my top ten list of basics that inspired this blog. And lest you think that the problem lies solely with hotels, it doesn’t; I challenge any brand not to have their own top ten things that irritate their customers. If you’re struggling to find out what they are, I offer a few tips at the end of this blog.

The hotel guest experience: my top ten irritants…

1. The pillow epidemic

Job one for a hotel is to provide a great night’s sleep. Beds are for sleeping in, so why do hotels insist on hiding them under so many pillows that you spend 10 minutes removing them, then finding somewhere to put them, all the time whilst building a level of irritability that puts paid to any chance of a restful sleep. Feel like pulling your hair out? Perhaps that’s why London’s W Hotel features ‘KEEP YOUR WIG ON’ pillows on its beds.

2. The non-drawing curtain

Yes, those fancy curtains that look great but don’t close properly. You are woken at dawn by a blinding shaft of sunlight focused precisely on your pillow. Of course, if you are a druid and like to worship the sunrise this could be of significant benefit. However for most of us, the only sacrifice we wish to make is to swap the chintz for a blackout curtain that does the job properly.

3. Confusing light switches

On the subject of hotel designers who think function follows a long way behind form, let’s turn our attention to the burning issue of light switches. I like to think I am reasonably intelligent person so why is it that I am so often defeated by the small task of turning the light off when I am ready to sleep? There is always one light that stubbornly remains lit what ever you do. It is usually the furthest from the bed so you have to get up, unplug it and then stub your toe in the dark trying to find the bed again. And now of course hotel designers are using remote panels to control everything in the room, including the lights, leading to even greater complexity. High-end hotels are the worst. When you switch on the light the toilet flushes.

4. Theft-proof hangars

Believe it or not Mr Hotelier, if I can afford the outrageous price of your 5 star hotel, I probably don’t need to steal your hangars so why do you insist on making me climb inside the closet to hang my clothes because your fiddly theft proof hangars are impossible to attach unless you are directly below the rail? When I do eventually manage to hang my suit, it inevitably falls down in the night because the hangar-end no longer fits securely into the slot.

5. Short leads

Whilst we are talking about contortionism, thanks for providing me with a kettle, but why is the lead so short that I have to make tea on the floor? I know the Japanese guests quite like this but for most of us it is rather inconvenient. It’s either that or balancing it precariously on the TV in order to use the TV socket. The problem then is that when the kettle boils water spurts over the TV that promptly blows up when you turn it on. This ends any plans you may have for watching dodgy movie channels that night.

6. Noisy air conditioners

Have you ever been woken in the middle of the night by the sound of an Airbus A380 engine spooling up next to your bed? You leap out of bed to get out of the flight-path only to find that the noise isn’t from an Airbus after all but the Aircon. So your choice is to stay awake and be cool or, sleep (sort of) and sweat. Still, according to the research, customers like a choice…

7. Free WiFi….that isn’t

Some hotels promise free wi-fi but when you come to use it you find that the free period lasts just long enough to download your emails but not long enough to answer any of them. To do that you have to buy internet access at outrageous rates. According to the recent Sunday Times report, Hilton are among the worst offenders and charge up to £20 a day for wi-fi access in their rooms. What is even worse than the inflated charge is the inconvenience caused by the charging policy because it requires that you sign in and register to use the Internet every day of your stay so that the hotel can bill your room. Why can’t more hotels be like CitizenM and make your stay easy as well as fun?

8. Noisy housekeepers

You hang the ‘Do not disturb’ sign outside your door in the hope of recovering from jet lag before that very important meeting the next morning. Unfortunately the Filipina housekeeper decides to park her cart right outside your door and chat loudly with her colleagues whilst vacuuming the corridor outside your room at 6.00am

9. Boring art

Have you even noticed the terrible artwork that hotels hang in their rooms? Where do they get it? Do they advertise for bad artists or buy a job lot from the local art college? Maybe it is designed to give you something existential to think about whilst you wait for the aircon to turn off or the housekeeper to finish the vacuuming?

10. Electronic key passes

You struggle to your room with your bags only to find that the key card doesn’t work and you have to carry it all back down to reception again while they reprogram your key. Even if the key card does work then it won’t by the time you have finished dinner because, of course, you absent-mindedly put it in your pocket with your mobile phone thereby wiping the card’s memory. You only discover this as you go to use your room key to operate the elevator to go to your swanky executive floor at night. The other problem is that you need to put your key in that little slot by the door to operate the lights so you fumble in the dark and drop the key card which you manage to flick under the bed as you grope for it and so have to return to reception to get another. What’s wrong with a good old-fashioned key that opens doors?

Now it’s your turn to find out your customers’ top ten hates.

Here are some steps that we use working with clients that you can use for yourself:

1) Map out your customer journey from the very first touch-point to the very last. 2) Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Walk through their experience of your brand and critically examine all the touchpoints where the product, the technology, the design, the people and the processes either add value to their experience or frustrate them. It’s important to actually experience it for yourself. Sitting in the comfort of your office will not reveal the fact that your product is hard to use. 3) Where you identify frustrations, chances are, they’re not unique to your brand. And therein lies the opportunities to differentiate from your competitors who are equally bad. Think about what you can do to make the experience simpler, easier, more fun, value-adding and most importantly, more intentional in delivering your brand promise. As Gav Thompson (Director of Marketing Innovation at O2) puts it:

“What we look for, are what we call ‘the piss-off factors’ (the things that piss customers off, the grievances they hold against the industry) that we think we can do something about”

So how about doing something about the top ten things that piss off your customers? For more on designing your customer experience, take a look at our CEM guide. Shaun Smith speaks and consults internationally on the subject of the customer experience. His latest book BOLD- how to be brave in business and win co-authored with Andy Milligan was published in April 2011 and was awarded ‘Business e-book of the year’ for 2012 by CMI.