When was the last time you felt truly noticed? Think about it. We often go about our days in a haze of auto-movements and reactions, without being truly visible to the people and brands around us. But for me, there is one place where I am noticed, always noticed—my local coffee shop.
Yes, there are a million (only a little exaggerated) places to go and get coffee. Yet, I am loyal to one. They know me when I go in, their prices are low, the coffee is good, and most importantly, when I forget my wallet in a pre-caffeine haze, they tell me just to pay them the next time I come in. The staff has set up a relationship of trust, and it's one that I reciprocate. It's taken some time to build, but the outcome is worth it for both sides. The business will get paid for the coffee over and over—I will keep coming back, and I will tell my friends how amazing my coffee shop is.
The paradox of choice
Hospitality can mean many things, but for me, it means being truly caring, trusting, and investing in customers. It’s hospitality that makes businesses strong and helps eliminate anxiety created by the paradox of choice—the overwhelming amount of options that customers are faced with on a daily basis.
It’s hospitality that makes businesses strong and helps eliminate anxiety created by the paradox of choice—the overwhelming amount of options that customers are faced with on a daily basis.
Many products and services succumb to commoditization and set standards that erase any possibility of a point of view. Not having a POV, coupled with the paradox of choice, make it hard for business to differentiate and succeed. As psychologist Barry Schwartz points out in his TED Talk, this paradox has many effects, one of which is escalated expectations. “Adding options to people's lives can't help but increase the expectations people have about how good those options will be. And what that's going to produce is less satisfaction with results, even when they're good results." Less satisfaction means less customer engagement and fewer dollars for businesses competing in the marketplace.
The cost of engaging (or not) with a customer
Acquiring customers is great, but once customers are in the door, money and time must be spent on retention. A Gallup report states, “Our data reveal that a customer who is fully engaged represents an average 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth compared with the average customer. In stark contrast, an actively disengaged customer represents a 13% discount in those same measures.”
So how do businesses engage well with customers? Once the product or service is delivered, and even when it’s a great product, what makes us want more?
There’s no place like home, except someone else’s
Companies like Airbnb would not be half so exciting, and successful if it weren't for the experience provided by superhosts to their guests. I remember staying at an Airbnb with my mom in New York, we rented a room, and the host, who was from Italy, served us real espresso (no instant powder, thank you very much) and Italian wafer cookies. These are two things that make caffeine lovers very happy. When he found out we were interested in modern art, he told us about pieces in his own collection and recommended places we should go beyond the well-known museums. He didn’t have to do this; all he had to do was give us a room to stay in at the agreed upon price. And perhaps some fresh towels.
That visit was two years ago, and my mom and I still talk about it. And we recommend this apartment to anyone we know going to New York.
Thanks to the host’s hospitality, he set the standard for Airbnb and enticed us to be loyal to the brand.
Why having standards isn’t enough
Airbnb did not always have well spelled-out hospitality standards. But back in 2013, when Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality joined the company as head of global hospitality and strategy, he made it a point to set up guidelines. Conley took his years of experience in the traditional hotel industry and applied it to this new form of hospitality. Conley spoke to Skift in 2016 about how he helped teach the company, and its hosts, to up their game. One way is for the host to be transparent and describe accommodations the way there are, not how they would like them to be. “Being that specific and candid, that whole transparency creates trust,” he said. “At the end of the day, Airbnb is a platform of trust.”
Another of the recommendations by Conley is to play to the five senses. By that, he means that guests should feel like they are staying somewhere where the decor, and personality matches their own personality. This is achieved by hosts creating accurate descriptions of their properties and using descriptors that allow customers to get a clear picture of what they are getting. If I search for a guest cottage with a modern feel and easy access to a downtown area, then that's what I should get. And then some. The next step is, of course, the delivery.
One of the reasons guests love Airbnb is because it has that non-sterilized feel that some hotels emit. The small touches from hosts—having fresh coffee or treats available, or a list of recommended local spots that only a real local would know—make a big difference. It shows the host cares and is invested in the stay and experience.
Hospitality isn’t just for the hospitality industry, products need to jump on board too
It’s no secret that products can create a following; Apple has proved that time and time again. Companies like Apple have adopted hospitality principles. They know that the marketing and messaging that are used to promote a product should transition into the customer’s experience after purchase. The product becomes more than a functional piece; it’s a way of life. It’s the way something feels in a customer’s hand, the way it integrates into their day. It's the desire to make a repeat visit. And the customer service team should become an extension of the brand and extend the same hospitality as a hotel or Airbnb superhost.
The marketing and messaging that are used to promote a product should transition into the customer’s experience after purchase. The product becomes more than a functional piece; it’s a way of life.
Another company that transcends its operational function is Nike. Tinker Hatfield, Nike shoe designer, and Mark Smith, Creative Director of Innovation, say that one of the things that make their shoes so successful is the attention to the customer. Everything they design is with the customer in mind; aiming for innovation, delivering functionality and incorporating the brand promise, but beyond that—it gives customers something that transcends any other shoe, the product provides real benefits, both tangible and intangible.
“As an architect, you should be inspired by the people because they live in the building you create. When it comes to our field, we are obviously inspired by the athletes. Michael, with his energy and interest was, and still is, a massive inspiration for me. Same goes for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul. So our advice is, put the people into perspective and try to create something that benefits them.”
And after all, isn’t that what the best type of hospitality does? It creates an environment where the customer is put first and given a reason, above and beyond delivering what was promised, to keep coming back for more. And with that, I’ll take one more cup of coffee, please.