User experience – Are you staying at your own hotel?

It was a luxury hotel – right down to the name, Shangri-La. It had every amenity. Every item radiated luxury. The staff was fabulous – well-trained, dedicated to satisfying your every need.

So why am I having such a bad time?  Why would I never come back?

For one thing, there are just too many buttons. Everything is a dimmer, a timer, a something or other.  Each switch plate (and there are at least four or maybe even five in one modest sized room) has four buttons.  Each button has tiny letters, next to impossible to see in the dim light that I seem to have programmed by touching one switch. All I want is to turn the damn lights on.

I can’t make the coffee maker work.  It’s new and luxurious, but of course, it works differently than every other hotel.  I look for directions – always a last resort with me.  I mean – who can’t run a coffee maker? I find something about the kettle. It’s a warning about the  kettle or the shower – apparently the steam can set off the smoke detector. Useless information. What I need is to figure out how to make the coffee maker run.

I find the directions. I follow them. It won’t power up. Probably one of these light switches controlling the power, I’m guessing. But once again, it’s too dark to read the tiny writing. Is it not working?  Or do I not have power. Finally in frustration, I pick the thing up and take it to another plug-in across the room. It works. Go figure.

I make a decaf. Where are the cups? Not beside the coffee maker. They have to be somewhere.

Finally I find them. They are in a drawer about the mini-bar where the wine is. I look at the red wine. That would be better than decaf, I think. I wonder how much it is? No price. No card.

I guess that it will be in the binder by the phone. Nope. Maybe it’s the luxury hotel thing – if you have to ask the price you can’t afford it. I’m assuming that whatever it is, I can indeed afford it. I may take some grief for the expense, but – whatever. I open it and forget the coffee.

I watch some TV. Thankfully, there is a card with the channels beside the TV. The fact that the remote control is easier to use than the light switches should tell you something.

In the morning, I wake up and shower. I’m an early riser – I like to prepare in the morning. 5 o’clock and I’m up.

At least I now know how to make coffee – that’s a plus. So I make a pot and hit the shower while it brews.

The bathroom is luxurious. Great robes. Great towels. The light is a little strange – that mixture of low light and intensity when it shines off the hard surfaces. I wasn’t about to argue with the light switch dimmer. I get enough light to see and walk in.

I notice a sign on the side of the shower. It’s white on light green. In this light it’s next to unreadable and I don’t have my glasses on – I came here to shower. I take it into the separate stall where the toilet is. The light is brighter there – I have no idea why. Still can’t read the white on light green. Who cares.

The shower can apparently do anything. Its controls require a degree in engineering. There is a diagram but I don’t have my glasses on. This time I get them. This is important. I still can’t read what’s there.

I’m not making this up. I cannot figure out how it works. Maybe it’s just too early. Finally, I get some water going. I get in the hot shower and relax.

Then something strikes me. Didn’t I read something about closing the bathroom door by the coffee maker last night. It can set off the smoke detector?  It’s five in the morning – if that smoke alarm goes off, it’s not going to make me any points with the neighbours. But I’m wet, I have shampoo on my hair already. So I rush the shower.  I dry off and get dressed.

At least the coffee maker works – but by this time, I’ve had enough of this room. I’m going to find somewhere a little simpler with some light and I’ll have coffee there.

I am ecologically conscious. Before I leave the room I reach over to turn out the lights in the room. I hit the switch. The drapes open.

I shake my head. I leave the room.

As I wander down the hall I wonder how they could have gotten this experience so wrong. It wasn’t for lack of trying.  The way they’ve trained the staff – the amount of attention is almost “creepy.” Three people in the restaurant all wanted to know how my meal was.

Likewise the amount that has been invested points to a management that wants this to be a first-class experience. Everything was first rate.

Could it be that I’m the wrong type of customer?  I can’t imagine that. I’m a baby boomer – late middle age – who else could afford to stay here? I think I’m pretty typical. I don’t know may people my age whose eyesight is getting better with age. I don’t know many of us who like reading directions. Nobody I know tells me their memory is getting better with age.

In fact, I’m betting that most of the senior management of this hotel are my age or even older. And I wonder. Have any of them every stayed in this hotel?  If they have, did they have separate instructions? Did they have a special tour first? Or were they so involved in the design that they knew about everything before they arrived? Or have they stayed here a lot and gotten used to it?

I tried to imagine how they could not have spotted the things that annoyed me so much.

It occurs to me that somehow, some way, something is conspiring to keep them from seeing the world through the eyes of a customer – at least this customer.

And do I tell them? Nope. I just won’t stay there again. Nor will I recommend the hotel. And they’ll never know.

But before I throw stones I try to ask myself – what can I learn from this?

I started to wonder what it was in our user experience that I was missing. Am I looking at our business through the eyes of our customers? How much have I gotten used to? What is it that’s keeping me from seeing what might irritate our customers?

I think of the multitude of excuses that I can think of. There’s not enough time. There’s not enough budget. We project what we want and what we’re used to and not what the customer needs. Errors in design are made by young designers who don’t see things the same way as the older audience that we have to cater to. Errors in design are made by older executives who don’t see the younger audience that we have to cater to. The list goes on and on. Each one an easy trap.

Even instructions and so-called “change management” can be a trap. We always assume that better instructions are the cure for everything. Is the need for instructions an indication of the failure of our designs? I think of what Sheila Jordan, an SVP at Cisco Systems said to me in a recent interview. “If you have software that can be used without instruction and it gets a useful response, you don’t need change management.”

In the end, I realize there are an infinite amount of ways that we can be blinded. Where we need to start is with the realization that we have to be incredibly vigilant.

User experience is critical. If I’m any example, customers don’t always tell us. They just leave us for another alternative. Even though we have all the right intentions, we might be blind to relatively simple things that negate all the good work we have done. In my hotel example, the amount that it would have taken to fix the problems was minuscule in terms of the design budget of those rooms. In my case at least, the amount spent was wasted.

So we have to ask ourselves – am I encountering our products and services as the customer does? Maybe I’m blind to what others see as obvious flaws in our services.

Am I staying in my own hotel?

Jim Love
Jim Love
I've been in IT and business for over 30 years. I worked my way up, literally from the mail room and I've done every job from mail clerk to CEO. Today I'm CIO of a great company - IT World Canada - Canada's leading ICT publisher.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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