The Hotel Industry Needs to Change. Fast!

What’s a hotel anyway? Is it any more than a well done up shared space?

With new business models in place these days, the hotel you visited last time may have moved to a new brand license. So the Radisson becomes a Crowne Plaza, which in turn might be another brand from one of the big brand franchises.  There is an absolute lack of distinctiveness and the way the large aggregator networks seem to be operating; it seems we might have something akin to the economy class flying syndrome. Nothing distinctive, as rooms are fought or lost at a specific rate. The experience is then nothing to write home about.

While the hotel industry has seen significant changes, there is one thing that has not changed. It is the need to have a place to stay when visiting another city. In fact travel for work or leisure has only seen a significant upswing and most people book hotels either through the travel aggregator or some corporate desk. People also expect much more from their travel. Increasingly people are looking at alternatives that provide the uniqueness of the city in the staying experience as well. Think Airbnb kind of places.

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Move Fast. Fix Things

This post is about two lessons that I learnt fairly early in my career. They are part of the title.

Two decades ago, a prospective client spoke rather condescendingly at my suggestion to evaluate digital tools in some processes that we were discussing at the time. The research, he said, hadn’t identified the areas we were defining as possible problem areas in the process. To say he felt strongly for the study would be an understatement. He went on to describe how he and the company had spent almost two years on another product’s research. He insisted that this was vital in getting the name, messaging and other intonations right. He said this was done to ensure the product’s success in the market. Around the same time, we worked on another assignment with someone who was considered to be a very tough taskmaster. There were enough warnings, by others, to tell us that this may be a very tough project. My experience was delightful. It left a very vivid memory of what I learnt and also of the gentleman with whom we worked. He believed in the details as much as much as the big picture. His anecdotes, the walkarounds in the brand stores, focusing on the team while insisting on ensuring there was progress. Much later, I realised he practices what Tom Peters describes as MBWA, i.e. Managing by Wandering Around.

These days, it is unfathomable to take two years to finalise names and the related research around it. It probably was unthinkable back then too, and this person/company prioritised too much on what he called “˜the research’. It is telling that the company had to sell this brand and later got purchased by another company.

Why am I writing about all this? Well because of some recent interactions on what constitutes insights, intents and anecdotes. Plus, I came across this HBR article, and there were some twitter interactions on this link. Further, there is the task of building on intents and how they help to address the customer’s job-to-be-done.

So let’s start with a hypothesis. If a brand’s net promoter score is 20 and a statistically valid survey states that the experience is “˜somewhat better’ what would you do? Sit back or find things to improve? If the study has similar multiple-choice questions that address aspects of brand perception, will you find the insights to move or fix things? Does it give you strategic or tactical ideas on the direction to be taken if the survey mostly reiterates that things are somewhat better?

There is a perception that this is an Armageddon kind of a situation for retail. I tend to disagree strongly. The HBR article also suggests talking to customers and moving fast. It is imperative for any retail company not to spend time looking over their shoulder. Instead, get a mindset to think outside-in and move. Most organisations get various kinds of reports and insights but rarely do you see them being put to use to solve problems that a customer faces. An insights platform that integrates processes and highlights what may be an emerging customer experience issue. From an insights perspective, here is a starting point

  • What are they searching on your website/app/bot
  • Is there a method to tap questions being asked by customers in your stores/social platforms
  • What are the searches that led people to your site
  • What are they mystery visit feedback and reports telling you
  • What are you finding in your internal process reviews
  • Have you implemented heatmaps and what can we can infer from this

Is there a complete and integrated diagnostic of the above and mapped to opportunities in your journey map? If you pick up some of the intents and recreate the customer journey in the store and then connect what the team is selling. Bring the power of text mining to find compelling insights that are actionable. Some organisations have started to work on connections as described above, but there are others who have not actively considered this for a large number of reasons. My question for the non-believers is, Do you need the help of an occasional multiple options questionnaire to find ways to improve your customers’ experience?

I will close this note by again quoting Tom Peters, and he says WTTMSW. It means Whoever Tries The Most Stuff Wins. The competition certainly seems to be moving fast.

Retail is here to stay. Experience Needs Imagination

A social media update announcing the coming retail apocalypse is now a routine occurrence. News articles about this issue are relatively common as well. The impression created is that new players hungrier for success are stomping all over brick and mortar. At the same, these new companies are not just online but are also opening stores and designing unique data-driven experiences. 

If done thoughtfully, automated services and bots can be a nice convenience. People want to have a more straightforward experience. Besides, there is enough to show that people like to socialise. We crave company and connections. For a long time, it was convenient to go to malls and traditional stores. These places provided the convenience of everything under one roof. You could also spend time with family, friends and celebrate occasions. Technology has upended this equation a bit. It is somewhat more convenient to order or manage requirements via websites, voice assistants, apps and bot. The robot hotel did end up creating vast amounts of work for the few humans that were part of the project. 

Retailers, however, need to rethink the offer and experience. Traditional thinking about space optimisation needs to be reinvigorated, and customer journeys need to redesign. I am very optimistic about the changes taking place. New retail requires fresh imagination, and it can be exciting to imagine and implement this brave new future.  Store formats and services will go through a transformation primarily driven by the question, what can the store do more? A new connected customer experience that builds on a data-rich environment but brings the core values of human empathy in service delivery. 

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Thinking about the Unpolished Dal and FMCG Brand Experience

Many years ago, an engine oil major, a much-loved brand in India worked with us to answer an important question, ”What next?“ Why? Because each new car brand was endorsing their own or partner engine oil brands. Also, the experience had changed from one where a customer went explicitly to get the oil they wanted to one where the car company just changed the oil whenever the car went for service.

This company went out to create a very successful direct servicing connection with their customers.

It is now time for FMCG brands to think about customer experience of their products. The kirana (grocery) store in urban Indian markets is slowly disappearing. Indian shoppers are increasingly ordering online, driving the brick and mortar kirana store to rethink their business models. There are several reasons for this. First, the grocery retail in India forms 60% of the total retail market. Secondly, it is a hyper-local business.  Preferences for fruits, vegetables, ingredients and other goods vary according to locality, even in the same city. Thirdly, grocery has another added charm; these are essential purchases with high repeatability. However, there is more, it’s a high margin business for online retailers if they can capture the customer base and introduce private labels.

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Thinking about the Electric Vehicle Customer Journey

The electricity business worldwide is at the centre of changes brought about by new technologies and rapid merging of multiple business verticals. These changes are increasingly apparent in India as well. This transformation which involves substantial enhancements in renewable capacity, the push towards electric vehicles (EV), electrical charging stations, storage, new software-driven experiences and above all the changing face of the utility.  

Filling it up vs charging  

Most automobile companies have announced plans for EV’s and the market is expected to expand for these products. In the push towards electric vehicles, there is considerable excitement over the need for electric charging stations which will power these vehicles. There is much to be done since at present EV charging stations in India stand at just a few hundred. This space is likely to see considerable action in the coming years as the EV infrastructure will need charging sites for various uses. Offices, multiplexes, residential complexes are the possible places where these are expected to come up soon. It will change the current car fuelling paradigm where fuel is only available at petrol pumps. There will broadly be two kinds of charging, trip continuation charging and destination charging. Destination charging will be done at the end of a journey and will be at homes and offices and will utilise lower voltage AC charging to deliver energy into the vehicle. Trip continuation charging will be done at the service station and will involve fast charging. The more significant challenge though is behaviour change. How will consumers adapt to charging a car vs filling fuel?  

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