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When Design and Customer Experience Conflict

“Tell me why you chose this place,” I said to the colleague I met at a hotel during an otherwise successful trip to Baltimore. “I always like the Kimpton properties,” she answered. “Why, did you find something wrong?”

There was a twinkle in her eye as she spoke. She knew I was about to critique various aspects of the hotel experience. But when I enumerated the customer experience challenges, she agreed.

Displeasures Disclosed

“There’s no deadbolt on the door, and as a New Yorker, I’m just not comfortable with that,” I said. “And you can’t shower without getting the floor wet and using extra towels.” We agreed that it was awkward not to have a shower door or other covering. Maybe the designer was happy with the bathroom’s minimalist look, but we both felt more exposed by it. And, worst of all, we both felt stupid leaving a puddle on the floor despite our best efforts to keep the shower spray trained within the half-enclosure.

“There’s no coffeemaker in the room!” my colleague chimed in. “How can you claim to be a business hotel with no coffeemaker? Yes, they say you can call and they’ll bring it right away, but who wants that?” I piled on: “It means the guest doesn’t have control. You have to rely on a staff person before you’ve had your coffee — and think about how you look and how much to tip when they bring it. Too much to worry about!”

Misunderstandings Multiplied

hotel-service-bellThen I related the other experiences that had confused me because they were second nature to the staff, but not obvious at all to a first-time guest. This was one of those metropolitan hotels where the check-in desk is not on the ground floor. A sign near the elevator directed guests to take an elevator to the hotel’s actual lobby, but it was lettered in a small, demure font, so it was too easy for a weary traveler — in this case, me — to miss it. And despite the rolling bag I had in tow, showing that I was a newly arrived guest, neither of the two uniformed staffers at the ground-floor door mentioned the elevator.

Once I got to the lobby level, the front desk clerk didn’t explain during check-in that you had to insert your room key into a slot in the elevator panel to access your room floor. Since I also didn’t figure it out on my own, the elevator automatically returned me to street level. Twice. I had to go back to the front desk and confess my incompetence. The desk clerk apologized, but I still felt like a ninny, and wasted some precious time.

Styling for Satisfaction

Overall, the stay was fine: The toiletries were very nice, and the bathroom lights permitted comfortably dim illumination at night. The sitting area in the hotel lobby was comfortable and appealing. Every staff member I spoke with was unfailingly pleasant, and best of all, I accomplished everything I wanted to while I was there.

But as a guest, I shouldn’t have had to work as the hotelier’s collaborator by figuring out how to use the facility’s basic services. Confusion and complexity are anathema to the weary traveler, regardless of how stylish or deluxe a hotel might be. Lodging experiences should be as frictionless as possible, or the struggle to settle into a facility will outweigh a guest’s satisfaction.

Onward and upward,


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