the hotels, restaurants, hospitals, stores and other places we enter are immediately and constantly telling us how we should feel about the place. And each place has a distinct personality, often inadvertent, that shapes how we act and feel about it. From Montessori to flight schools, the power of the senses to accelerate learning and enjoyment (or not!) is dimly understood.
Just as directors “storyboard” a movie, TV show, advertisement or photo op for their candidate, leverage your opportunity to optimize an experience by making every moment count. And, again like creating a memorable movie, manage the sequence of moments your guests or customers will experience, from the climactic opening scene, through the end.
Imagine entering a hotel to see lively conversations at several tables and others sitting in comfy chairs, intently working away at their computers whilst sipping a glass of wine. In short, you’ve stepped into another version of the “third space” between home and office that Starbucks used to tout as the role of their cafes in creating community.
In the hotel version of this more comforting public space, you may have stepped into the “Great Room.” At least that’s what the CEO of Marriott International, Bill Marriott, hopes you will feel when visiting his remodeled hotels.
In fact, he is literally banking on it as a fresh way to differentiate his chain from the competition. Last month he touted his company's hotel lobby of the future during a luncheon with travel journalists at the San Francisco Marriott.
By now most every major hotel chain is exploring ways to make their rooms, restaurants and public areas distinctive in ways that travelers value – and comfort, coddling and community seem to be key feelings they hope to evoke.
Marriott describes his "Great Room," as the new lobby for full-service. His main aim is for the business traveler-serving hotels to be experienced as a gathering place, with food service from snacks to full meals so that people will linger. Different areas within the lobby will designed to encourage people to interact with others at various levels of intensity, say one-on-one or in larger groups.
To make this grand change, Marriott worked with the legendary consulting firm IDEO, “whose experts literally followed business travelers as they went about their days and conducted interviews to gather information that typical survey research cannot reveal.” Yet, though they followed in the tracks of guests, they did not propose changes that reflected the step-by-step “paths” that guests often take. Thus they cannot maximize the value of the behavioral insights they gleaned from their anthropological work.
In short, here’s the missing piece of work to create, not just a Grand Room but a Grand Hotel Stay – as the guests experiences it. And I’ve seen several owner/managers of public spaces overlook – whether it is hotel, hospitals, churches or sports arenas. Rather than simply devising an overall look and feel and then arranging specific areas of activities, first storyboard the experience. Mr. Marriott: be even more successful by getting more specific. Consider not just the “zones” in your hotel but the moments.
Why? Because, just as one reacts to a movie or an advertisement as a consequence of the sequence of scenes so, too, a hotel guest reacts to the hotel, in part, by the sequence of moments they experience. For example, if one does not see an attractive architectural feature, say a beautiful entry door, and/or a door man (he is still usually a man just as the maids are still mostly women) who steps up to assist, then this “first impression” will dampen the effect of even a “great room.”
In one article it was noted that, “after updating guestrooms and bedding, lobbies are next on the list” yet a more efficient, successful way to revamp a hotel is to storyboard the whole experience, then, “first things first” know where to start making changes for maximum value/effect – as the guests feels it.
From the first smell to the tastes, the thickness of the carpet “islands” of comfort, flattering lighting and reflections where guests pause to the “looking back” scene they see upon departing, consider this. Are the sequence of emotional moments (and all are emotional in some way) are you building or diluting the sense of being welcomed and cared for? Have you multiplied the number of "feel good" moments? After all, the ultimate goal is that guests tarry and return to the great room, enjoy themselves, spend more and attain bragging rights to tell others about “my” hotel stay.
Years ago, my friend Mark Peltier, owner of AromaSys, demonstrated that just by scenting certain spots of a hotel, he could improve guests’ overall praise of their hotel stay. Now he’s scented, not only most of the major hotels and casinos in Las Vegas, but is scenting several hotel chains including the Marriott and Starwood.
Yet even Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore, in their trailblazing book, The Experience Economy, while touting the importance of differentiating your consumer-serving place by creating a more exciting experience, neglected the crucial "last mile." That is explaining exactly how to create it, by storyboarding an experience that reinforces your brand personality. And they advocated generating more excitment which is great for casinos and sports arenas, yet not for other places, say hospitals, for example, where generating more excitement is not a plus.
Imagine if managers of consumer-serving venues took a more integrated approach, storyboarding not only scent but involving all of the senses. From the opening scene that pulls people in, makes them feel recognized and respected through the moments of calm, collective gathering, climatic “special” moments about which they could brag, to the closing scene as they stepped out of the door – with an unexpected “thank you” that came to them within 24 hours after leaving.
And storyboarding is not that difficult to do. Earlier, I described how meeting planners could storyboard their conference to make them more meaningful and memorable - and here for other places.
If you manage a hotel or other consumer-serving space here’s how to start. Take a video camera and two colleagues and start where you first have line of sight (and smell, sound and feel) of your place. Talk about what you see as you follow the main “path” that most people will take to enter your place. Will many drive in?
Our goal is to notice, on a continuum of positive to negative, what the sequence of moments may feel like to your prospective guests or customers. What’s confusing or otherwise irritating? What provides an unexpected delight? How many times do people feel recognized, coddled, offered the chance to comfortably engage with others?
After you’ve continued through the main paths that guests will take, from entry, to check-in to first entering the room and the room within the room (bathroom) keep talking about what you see, smell, can taste, touch and hear. Continue out to visit the great room, from example, then later to return to the room, visit the meeting rooms, check out, and leave.
Then gather together your team that helps you operate your venue and view and listen to the video together. Transcribe the sequence of moments. You’ll be gratified to see how many less-than-positive moments can be made better with small, inexpensive changes – and how many positive moments can be made much better.
In advocating this change in mindset I suggest that it is as obvious as it is radical.
Be among the first to do it in your kind of venue. Make the big change from innovating by zones, from guest room to Great Room, Mr. Marriott. Instead start storyboarding the total experience your guests (and staff) can most enjoy. It is as obivous as it is radical (to be the first) for retailers to stop selling products (lined up on shelves by product category) and start selling the situation. Stage the displays and provide photos of the actual situations for which customers are most motivated to buy your products.
Mr. Marriott, the first goal of a hotel is not necessarily to create a Great Room but for guests to feel they were treated as great people whilst they were there. That’s when they will return and brag about “my” great hotel.
I’ve worked with managers of sports arenas, hospitals, stores and yes, Mr. Marriott, I’d be honored to work with you on storyboarding the experience guests might have at your hotels. You do so much well in innovation and quality, it would be an honor to do my small part to make your good hotels feel great to your guests – so they do talk about “my” great hotel experience.