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My Hotel Light Switch and the Three Easy Questions to Ask About Customer-Centric Innovation

By Augie Ray | October 07, 2019 | 0 Comments

Marketing Strategy and InnovationTechnology and Emerging Trends

I checked into a hotel late last night after a long evening of travel. When it came time to go to bed, I was unable to locate the switch for the lamp over my desk. I spent five minutes testing every switch, feeling the underside of the ledge over the desk, and searching behind curtains for hidden switchplates, all in vain. Finally, I made an awkward call to the front desk to ask how to turn off the lights.

The response from the front desk sounded unsurprised and well-practiced. Look for a white button on the desk she told me. This is the magic button that controls the desk lamp:

This puck operated the lights in my room.

Maybe I should’ve realized this was a light switch. Perhaps not. What I do know is that I am far from alone. The front-desk clerk shared she gets several calls a night from frustrated guests asking the same question. “There are no instructions,” she added, demonstrating a firmer grasp of usability concepts than this hotel chain’s innovation team. (How many guests, I wonder, go to bed with the lights on because they’re too embarrassed to ask.)

This left me pondering why so many brands get innovation so wildly wrong. Just 3% of users who enable Alexa or  Google voice apps are active users a mere two weeks later, and 75% of downloaded mobile apps are opened only once. When your brand makes investments into innovative customer experiences, is that the kind of adoption and success you seek?

The problem with too many innovation efforts is that brands focus on the tech, not the customer. By failing to be customer-centric in their thinking, brands end up with “solutions” that do nothing important for customers, leading to depressed usage and disappointing KPIs. It may be fine to pilot new tech simply to gain knowledge, but wouldn’t it be better to achieve that same knowledge while simultaneously creating something customers want?

Customer-centric innovation requires answers to three fundamental questions before committing to development:

  1. Does it solve a customer problem? If it doesn’t solve a problem for customers, few will see a reason to try and adopt your new app, product, or feature.
  2. Is it intuitive to find, deploy, and use? Ditto for new concepts people cannot find, understand, or use.
  3. Does it decrease customer effort or improve the customer’s life? Finally, if the solution doesn’t offer benefits to your customers, why would you expect it alter satisfaction or perception of your brand?

Those simple questions help you to understand if your innovative ideas are potential customer-centric hits or wasteful misses. So, does that special button on my hotel desk meet these goals?

  • Does it solve a customer problem? The wall-mounted toggle light switch was invented in 1897, and it’s been providing a simple solution to people’s on/off needs for over a century. I’ve never considered turning off the lights a “problem,” but this innovative solution made it one.
  • Is it intuitive to find, deploy, and use? The fact people need to ask for assistance to do something they’ve known how to do since they were five years old confirms this unique switch is a misfire. “Innovations” should not frustrate customers and raise your costs.
  • Does it decrease customer effort or improve the customer’s life? This innovative lighting control option did not improve my experience–it wasted my time. But, even if I’d figured it out immediately, it still wouldn’t have improved my life or decreased my effort. It just isn’t that difficult to use a light switch!  Now, if this hotel wanted to provide a voice-controlled room where I can turn off lights, close drapes, change the temperature, lock the door, set the alarm, and control the TV without leaving the comfort of my bed, that would be an effort-reducing, life-improving innovation. (And yes, some hotels are piloting this concept.)

Why spend a dime on a new way to turn on and off lights that solves no customer problem, is confusing and confounding to use, and adds nothing to your brand’s customer experience? I won’t avoid the hotel chain as a result of this experience, but neither did it endear the brand to me. This was an investment that, as far as I can tell, did nothing to help the brand or the customer.

Ask those three customer-centric questions to acid test your innovation ideas. If you can answer yes to those questions, then your idea is much more likely to lift your customer satisfaction, loyalty, and brand advocacy.

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