Understanding Micro, Macro and Meta Experiences
A New Way of Looking at Experience Design
By Laurence Bernstein Managing Partner, Protean Strategies | June 28, 2015
The holy grail of guest experience execution is to have every guest remember their overall experience of the hotel as overwhelmingly positive, intensely meaningful and absolutely unique. Not only that, every guest must be so enthusiastic about their visit that they tell their friends how brilliant the stay was. And they are so attached to the experience that for the next umpteen months if they hear that anybody is travelling to our city, they will badger them to stay in our hotel (bear in mind that for the most part guests don't return to any single city all that often; but they have friends that visit and their friends have friends…and so on).
A number of years ago I worked in one of the great hotels of Europe (in Vienna). Guests who stayed at this hotel raved about it, and every high-end traveler to the city was told that this was the must-do hotel. Guests were ambassadors and spoke glowingly about the hotel experience: they never mentioned the frayed carpets, or the lack of air conditioning, or the slow elevators. They based their entire, invariably rave reviews, on a few outstanding services and amenities, and the generally good feeling they had about the place when they left.
In order for this to happen, the hotel had to orchestrate the guest experiences in such a way as to ensure the guest remembers those experiences that would lead to the response the hotel was looking for, and were not sidetracked by memorably negative experiences.
What exactly does this mean? As a modern day example, if a guest stays in a hotel and everything goes perfectly (immediate check-in, room is clean, service is fast and efficient, everybody smiles, shower works, internet works, and so on), he or she is likely at the end to say they had a satisfactory stay. If asked they would probably say the hotel was nice, or fine, or okay, and little else. If probed a little more, they would probably say they would stay there again. But, there is nothing they remember that is exceptional, or that would prompt them to rave about the hotel.
Now imagine that on the day they are leaving, at breakfast, a waiter inadvertently spills coffee on their lap. Now, no matter what happened before this event, the experience will be defined by the burning sensation on their legs, and when asked they will always tell the story of the careless waiter who "ruined their experience". Even if the hotel was the most flawless operation in the universe, they would have nothing else to talk about, because the only memorable experience – the only experience that stands out – is the burning coffee. In their letter to the manager they will say "this painful event ruined my entire experience of your hotel."
In reality, however, the coffee incident had no effect on the experience of the hotel (it happened at the very end of the stay, so it could not possibly have impacted the experiences that came before it). What it did affect is the way in which the experience of the hotel is remembered.
The moral of the story is that the way in which your service or amenities are experienced is in reality of no importance: it is the way in which these experiences are remembered that is of importance. And it is worth noting that during the average 2 day hotel stay each guest has around 40,000 discreet experiences (this according to Professor Daniel Kahnemann who has studied and written on experience, and who suggest that we constantly experience events at the rate of about 1 every 3 seconds). It might be interesting, the next time a guest checks out, to ask them to list the 40,000 experiences that have had over the previous two days. Chances are they will only be able to remember a very small fraction of these experiences.