Amazing service or distinctive design – What will customers pay more for?

I’ve found that time away helps me renew, refresh and clear my mind. I’m recently back from a week-long “vacation” where my husband and I took both sets of our parents away together to celebrate big milestone anniversaries that they each had in 2016. Partially insane, partially adventurous, our trip was a welcome blast of family-time, animal sightings and fresh air in the mountains in the U.S. West.

On this trip we had the chance to stay at two incredible properties that gave me the inspiration for this post. Our first stop was an exquisitely decorated three-bedroom residence in an authentic mountain-western designed boutique hotel. The second, an expansive suite in a larger luxury resort. Although both were stunning, when considering them side-by-side they offered a good contrast of a property with great differentiated design against one that was well designed, but offered impeccable service.

Hotel A: Imagine stepping into a Restoration Hardware catalog or showroom. Every room was nicer then the next, with great views. Our suite included a giant den featuring a super-soft leather sectional big enough for an army to watch the 80″ screening TV, a self playing baby-grand piano, authentic local art and Sonos digital music integration across every room. Beautiful bedding, spacious glass enclosed and stone tiled showers and high quality amenities made the bedroom experience impressive. An elaborate wellness center and gym was steps from our room (and it was really impressive – even to my standards!). The owner invested in design, product and technology, and it showed.

Our check-in was efficient, and on the two instances I needed help the team member I spoke to was polite. One day, walking past the reception desk to the gym, the two team members present lifted their heads up only after I said “hello” as I walked by. We didn’t receive a welcome note, a personal greeting or any form of memorable service whatsoever over several days.

Hotel B: Well appointed finishes and modern locally inspired design contributed to our breath being taken away as we stepped into our suite for the first time. Once again, our sleep experience and bath amenities were top notch. However, the constant engagement from every team member is what made the experience stand out. The genuine friendly conversation, discussion about where we were visiting from, interest in understanding about our trip (including the anniversaries for both sets of our parents – and our crazy plan to take them all away together) was constant. Each team member encounter ended with a version of “what else may I help you with?” The little surprises and delights, such as a bookmark being left by housekeeping to replace the dollar bill I was using to keep track of pages, or a glass cleaning cloth adjacent to my glasses on the nightstand, were icing on the cake.

Why are my two experiences relevant, or further, why keep reading this article? It’s simple. My strong belief is that across price-points simple service and guest experience delighters can exist. Differentiating premium design is a starting point to delivering memorable guest experiences – but it’s not enough. A commitment to training, a focus on ensuring teams understand what personalized hospitality is, and creating then delivering memorable guest experience touch-points do matter.

In my example one property put significant investment into design and finishes, with the other focusing on training and service experiences. My view is that training and differentiated service experiences can’t be overlooked and must work hand-in-hand with great design. Inspiring service makes me want to tell a story, write a review and tell others all about my stay. As a result my experience is deeper then just a physical stay – it’s emotional.

Does it matter to the bottom line of the business as well? YES!

  • Gallup spoke to 13,500+ people and found that across all price segments guests they found as engaged, being emotionally connected to the brand or property, drove a financial premium.
  • Cornell Center Center for Hospitality Research found that increased guest satisfaction scores through social review sites is correlated to higher rates.
  • Using my case study of hotel A vs. hotel B, I was willing to pay a higher room rate at hotel B (over its competitors) because of its reputation from online reviews. Looking back and having experienced the property first hand I’d pay a premium again on a future trip, and recommend others do the same.
  • Service related premiums stretch beyond room rates only and impact on-property outlets as well. We decided to eat a big family dinner at the premium restaurant in hotel B on our last night of the trip – and not at the equivalent premium restaurant at hotel A – because of the experiences we had up until our last nights at each hotel.

In wrapping up this article I encourage you to think about this simple question…  are new destination resorts and lifestyle hotels constantly investing in service experiences that matter to guests?

With infinite booking channels, complete transparency in choices, many new lifestyle hotel brands and access to highly customized and personalized stays through AirBnb and others – experience matters more than ever. As an example, when creating EVEN Hotels we knew we couldn’t build a generic experience that was trying to be something for everyone… Or we’d be nothing for everyone. EVEN Hotels has a passionate following and has generated incredibly high guest review scores because of a distinct experience, which features modern natural design coupled with highly personalized service that inspires guests.

My view is that brands and properties that deliver consistently distinct experiences stand out, build emotional connections with guests and outperform competitors.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What’s your perspective?