There is nothing quite like traveling to make clear the difference between customer experience content and intent–content is the things we say and intent is the reasons for what we do.
I took a quick a business trip this week, and my hotel experience left me wondering if the brand’s leaders realize how easy it is for customers to detect the enormous gap between its content and intent. That gap is more important than customer experience professionals (CX) often realize, because humans perceive the difference between intent and content with great clarity.
For example, I recently was listening to calls at a call center, and I heard a customer service rep (CSR) tell someone expecting a free replacement that there would be a fee. The customer took a breath and was about to blow up when the CSR continued, “The fee is that you have to have a big smile on your face when the replacement arrives.” I cringed because the gap between content and intent was made embarrassingly evident. The script provided to the CSR encouraged her to inject false emotion into an interaction where the consumer merely wanted efficiency and professionalism. As customers, we easily discern the difference between a CSR reading a script and one who cares–in other words, between content and intent.
Which brings me to my recent travel experience. I checked into a very nice hotel, and the employees greeted me with the appropriate level of warmth and professionalism. They told me how much they valued me as a guest, but when I arrived at the room, I found a minibar with a 1.3-ounce can of potato chips for $4.50 and a 3-ounce candy bar for $3.50. Of course, if I had exited the hotel and visited the convenience store next door, I could have purchased these same items two-thirds cheaper. Not only did the hotel hope to gouge me on the price of the minibar items, it also adds a 20% “convenience fee” to the price. (How convenient of them!) And, to truly make me feel like an honored guest, the minibar has sensors, so if I picked up an item to check its nutritional value or ingredients, I would be charged.
I was told several times during my stay how much the staff appreciated me being a “guest,” but all I could do is think about the 90%-plus margin and theft-deterrent sensors in my minibar. The words of Inigo Montoya from Princess Bride came to mind: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Compare this lodging experience to one I had last year when the staff greeted me with equal warmth and professionalism but offered a complimentary cookie and bottled water. Or, to give this an even more contemporary spin, compare my recent hotel experience to my Airbnb stay last fall where the host welcomed us with a free bottle of wine and basket of local treats.
The difference isn’t in the content–in each of these lodging examples I was welcomed and offered snacks. The disparity in intent could not be more different, however; in two of these cases, the intent was to make being away from home more pleasant while the hotel this week intended to extract maximum revenue at an excessive margin from a hungry traveler too weary to walk a block to buy a snack.
We have all become so conditioned to ridiculous minibar prices that perhaps my example seems overstated, but brands serious about customer experience cannot accept the status quo as being sufficient. Brands that offer a status quo experience are at risk of falling behind as more innovative and customer-centric brands change consumers’ expectations. Complicated programmable thermostats were the status quo until Nest altered what consumers expect of a thermostat, and taxis offered an in-demand service until Uber made the status quo of standing in a gutter waving your arm at passing yellow cabs seem old-fashioned.
What the leaders of this hotel chain fail to understand is that the minibar is not a standalone experience. While they may view it as a separate profit center, to guests, it is one part of the overall lodging experience. I will not stay at this hotel again. Its content was good, but its intent was loud, clear and frankly unpleasant. The brand was so interested in selling me an overpriced $3.50 candy bar that it lost me as a $199-a-night guest in the future. My feelings about the hotel’s intent were only reinforced upon checkout when the formerly-welcoming front desk staff attempted to convince me that the double-charged $19.73 breakfast on my bill was just a single $39.46 meal I ate. So, the next time I’m in Chicago, I’ll stay elsewhere–at a hotel that treats me like a guest and not a wallet for the picking.
How can customer experience professionals ensure their brand’s intent matches its content? In my role advising Gartner clients on customer experience, I help companies start out with the right goals and metrics that consider both today’s needs and tomorrow’s loyalty and advocacy. If this hotel balanced its concurrent metrics (revenue) with appropriate leading measurements (such as likelihood to repurchase or recommend), their minibar problem might be more apparent.
Balancing the horizon of your customer experience metrics is one way to make sure your intent aligns with your content rather than working against it. Or, put another way, all the cordial greetings from bellhops and clerks can be drowned out by a single $4.50 1.3-ounce can of chips (currently available online for 82 cents each in packs of 12).