Explaining the power of customer expectation: stories of splashing sinks, free tea and broken curtains!


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Last week was as manic as they get for me. Prague, Oxford, London and Copenhagen were all on my itinerary in a mad, exciting and fruitful five days. Despite all the travelling I do these days, I am still someone who gets excited about travelling to places I have never been before. I often do not get much chance to see the sights and experience the culture, but I do get the opportunity to eat nice food, stay in good hotels and travel with well known operators. In my experience, the prospect of travel creates a nice equation – especially when put in the context of customer experience – the equation is as follows:


Even when travelling for the purposes of work, we all feel that sense of excitement and anticipation. Both of these emotions build a level of expectation that presents a challenge for the organisations we interact with – the challenge being that it is their role to try to meet it!

Last week I had very high expectations of three particular organisations – the W Hotel in Leicester Square; Scandinavian Airlines (SAS); and the Admiral Hotel Copenhagen. The question is, would they be able to meet my expectations or not? If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will be aware that I do have high expectations. I do not consider my expectations to be too high – rather I feel that my expectations represent the minimum that customers SHOULD expect as given.

Let me start with the W Hotel in Leicester Square. If you have not heard of W Hotels before, they are part of the Starwood Hotels empire. Starwood boast the Sheraton and Le Meridien brands among their portfolio and are well known for delivering very good customer experiences. W Hotels are intended to provide customers with ‘iconic design and contemporary luxury to set the stage for exclusive and extraordinary experiences’. Sounds good does it not?! Here is the full blurb (promise) from their website:

Escape to where iconic design and contemporary luxury set the stage for exclusive and extraordinary experiences at W Hotels® Worldwide. Retreat to surprising, sensory environments where amplified entertainment, vibrant lounges, modern guestrooms and innovative cocktails and cuisine create more than just a hotel experience, but a luxury lifestyle destination.

Having browsed their website, my expectation equation kicked in to gear. My levels of excitement and anticipation were pretty high. It is not surprising when you consider what I had read and seen on the website. As I approached the brilliantly located hotel on the corner of the genuinely iconic Leicester Square in London, I could not wait to see what lay in store.

There is no denying that the hotel is very different. It looks and feels more like a nightclub than a hotel. The word I would use to describe it is ‘cool’. Cool does not come cheap however – and as I checked in, my excitement and anticipation monitors remained high. I found my bedroom down a very dark (or seductively lit) corridor. Outside my bedroom I found a tray with a used glass on it. Not what I expected to greet me in the coolest of cool hotels. The fact it was still there four hours later was disappointing.

The seductively dark (and dingy) corridors at the W Hotel

The seductively dark (and dingy) corridors at the W Hotel

Whose glass is this?

Whose glass is this?

Inside the bedroom I was greeted by more cool…….and a sink in the middle of the room! Yes, at the W Hotel, the sink(basin) is on an island that doubles up as a desk in the middle of the room. The toilet and shower are both hidden behind mirrored doors. The design of the room was excellent and very very cool. A huge kingsize bed sat on a shag pile rug in front of a large plasma screen TV. Peeking out of the window I could just see Leicester Square itself – not bad. However, cool does not necessarily mean that this room met my expectation.

Turning on the tap (faucet) to wash my hands, my anticipation and excitement monitors started to decline. Whilst the sink and tap combo look great, it is doubtful whoever designed it, or anyone in management from W Hotels has ever tried to use it. I was immediately covered in water. However hard or soft I turned the tap, you could not use the sink without getting covered in splashing water. This meant that the floor of the bedroom was also soaking wet. Not good design.

The offending (but cool) W Hotel sink

The offending (but cool) W Hotel sink

There were other design issues. The shower was in an enclosed cubicle – I could not put the shower mat outside the door as I was then unable to open the door. I could not put it inside the cubicle or it would get soaking wet. This may seem like a pretty minor issue to you, but to me it is an outcome of poor design. Once again, the floor of my bedroom was wet.

When I add in the fact that free Wi-Fi was limited to two hours and that I was asked for ID (my passport or driving licence) on arrival (something that I have not been asked for in a UK hotel for the last three years), the W Hotel had eroded a significant chunk of my anticipation and excitement monitors. The reality is that all I will remember from this cool hotel is that it was a very expensive way to get a wet suit. Its coolness was not enough to meet my basic expectations. It fell a long way short of exceeding them. The ultimate result is that I will not stay in a W Hotel again.

W Hotels were not the only brand to fail to meet my expectation last week. I was excited to fly to Copenhagen with Scandinavian Airlines (SAS). Having heard and read a lot about them over the years, I was anticipating and excited to see what they had on offer. I expected it to feel a somewhat better experience than other airlines. To cut a long story short, I should have known better. A couple of weeks ago, I asked a room full of European air travellers if any of them had felt ‘good’ about their flight in the last 24 hours. Not a single person put their hand up! The reason for this is that few (if any) airlines are able to offer an experience that is better than anyone else.

My flights with SAS felt just the same as any other short haul airline – no better and no worse. However, the fact that my flights were in excess of £500 meant that the experience actually felt far worse. Even free coffee and tea (excitedly promoted by the cabin crew) was not enough to leave me feeling disappointed. The result – why travel with SAS when I could have flown with Easyjet at a fraction of the price.

A free cup of tea is not enough to save SAS from failing to meet my expectations

A free cup of tea is not enough to save SAS from failing to meet my expectations

Although my flight to Copenhagen was not as good as I expected, I was anticipating a recovery on arrival at my hotel – the Admiral Hotel Copenhage. Having reviewed the website, I was excited about staying in the stunning and beautifully restored 18th century warehouse on the waterfront in the heart of the city. Again, the price led me to set my expectation in the very high category.

Once again I was disappointed. Although the design of the hotel was good, the design of the rooms was less so. My room was split level – the bedroom nestled on a mezzanine floor above a lounge area. It looked nice, but was not very functional. The stairs were precarious – fortunately I did not need the loo in the middle of the night – I would be amazed if previous guests have not injured themselves. The desk was situated so close to the stairs that I could not pull the chair out properly to sit behind it. I ended up sitting at an angle. Additionally, the plug sockets by my bed did not work and one set of curtain blinds were broken. When you add in the fact that breakfast was not included in the already high price of my room, my excitement and anticipation had ended in disappointment. Once again, the result is that I will be finding alternative accommodation the next time I visit Copenhagen.

The Admiral Hotel Copenhagen - looks nice, but beware the stairs!

The Admiral Hotel Copenhagen – looks nice, but beware the stairs!

The moral of all of these stories is simple. If you fail to meet the expectation(s) of your customers you risk never seeing them again. If you set an expectation that is high – you need to be able to live up to your promises. Luxury hotels like Claridges have the authority to use the word luxury because they excel at delivering experiences to their customers that address every minute attention to detail. Their customers would expect no less. This principle is exactly the same for any brand – luxury or not.

So if you want to assess what the expectation of your customer experience is, consider your own personal levels of anticipation and excitement when interacting with a company. How do you feel when you order a new pair of shoes online?; or a new smartphone?; or presents for the kids?; how do you feel if what you receive is not quite what you expected – either the product or the service? Failure to meet customer expectation can be fatal.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ian Golding, CCXP
A highly influential freelance CX consultant, Ian advises leading companies on CX strategy, measurement, improvement and employee advocacy techniques and solutions. Ian has worked globally across multiple industries including retail, financial services, logistics, manufacturing, telecoms and pharmaceuticals deploying CX tools and methodologies. An internationally renowned speaker and blogger on the subject of CX, Ian was also the first to become a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) Authorised Resource & Training Provider.


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