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Defining Luxury for Today's Business Travelers


As a business traveler, it is interesting to find how often our needs are not well understood in the hospitality industry. On a recent site visit for a future Symposium venue, we couldn't help but feel a gap between how the hospitality industry defines luxury and what how business travelers define it.

At The Hotel

For example, U.S. hotels have embraced a PillowsGoneWild theme in an attempt to emulate luxury. image - pile of pillowsUpon entering the room you are greeted with a mile high pile of pillows on top of the bed awaiting your discrete selection. But before you can lie down for a good night's sleep, you have to handpick one pillow by squeeze-testing each of them for their fluffiness.

Most travelers, uncaring or unaware of the interior designer's intentions, merely shove the excess pillows off the bed. Those that got tossed on the dirty floor are scooped up by the housekeepers the next day who must replace each pillow cover. If you stay more than one night, this annoying exercise is repeated nightly.

So let's analyze the customer needs here:

Another common annoyance in hotel-defined luxury is the high-end toiletries such as oat meal soap and herb infused shampoos. This is especially odd when the hotel also encourages laundry water-saving by asking you to use the same towel for several days. What's the connection? Usually the high-end soaps and shampoos are not hard-water compatible and so require longer, hotter showers to get the soap scum off. Why can't they give us a simple deodorant soap and dandruff shampoo? And, while many of us are willing to pitch in for the environmentally friendly initiatives, hotel bathrooms typically do not offer means for us to participate. Those towel hooks on the back of the door are never adequate for drying bathtowels. Why can they provide s a 'real' bathtowel rack or bar wide enough to actually dry towels between use?

What are the customer needs for the toiletries?

How about the work-space? Notice how desk and chair heights still reflect an era when we wrote on paper using quills. In this computer age, desks should be lower and chairs higher and firmer (that's where the interior designer can make good use of those extra pillows). There should be electrical outlets in an accessible place that allow more than one device to plugged in, even if you have plug adaptors from other countries.

There should be space and a proper surface for a mouse, sufficient light to see documents, and maybe a view of the TV to entertain when the late emails get boring. And of course, once we adjust everything to our liking, the wonderful housekeepers revert everything back to the standard layout the next day, and we have to repeat our personalization.

Customer needs?

Dining Out

A five diamond restaurant with a renowned chef sounds great until the price exceeds our business per diem allowance or the pace of meal is so slow that it kills the rest of the evening when we need to catch up with email and other work. Now, try listing the dining customer needs from a business traveler perspective.

So, what is luxury?

"An amusing irony is the way certain amenities start to disappear as you reach the summit of the luxury scale," wrote Conde Nast Traveler magazine some time ago. Indeed, the basic needs such as internet access and a bucket of ice can cost dearly in luxury hotels.

Historically, luxury was once limited to only a small group of the wealthy who could afford travel and hotels. As wealth increased across the population, the demand for material goods drove choice and quality. Over time, this pursuit of choice, quality, and satisfaction has expanded the definition of luxury. This revolution in the marketplace and innovation in new product development was a topic of the keynote at the 2007 International Symposium on QFD.

Many hotels spend a fortune in market research, trying to data-mine customer preferences and profile the next competitive offering. Dr. Noriaki Kano's well-known model of Attractive Quality Creation, explains that what was once exciting has now become expected, and so hotels and restaurants are constantly seeking or creating the next trend. image of attractive and negative quality studyBut don't forget, that Dr. Kano's model also includes negative quality, where the existence of some feature creates dissatisfaction and its absence creates satisfaction.

The pillow menu may be an example of this. At the beginning, both the industry and customers were wowed with so many pillow choices. But they rolled out luxury programs without consideration of what we call in QFD, the customer gemba. In other words, what was the customer behavior at bedtime, what was the housekeeping behavior in the morning, etc.? By not considering the actual site, we end up with what Dr. Akao, founder of QFD, calls "product-out" thinking rather than "market-in." For better, modern application of this concept, we suggest using the New Kano Model.

What QFD tools and methods might we use?

First, the hotel or restaurant should define and prioritize their customers and pursue their needs. Trying to be everything to everyone is too wasteful and expensive. The Customer Segments Table and AHP can help us with this task.

For understanding the customer gemba (both the guest and housekeeping are customers of the bedding decision makers), the Customer Process Model and Gemba Visit Table will help sort these out and capture narrative and behavioral data.

To translate the VOC (Voice of the Customer) into true customer needs, the Customer Voice Table is our tool of choice. And to prioritize the needs, the Affinity Diagram, Hierarchy Diagram, and AHP are an accurate yet easy to use set of exercises.

When it comes to creating those blockbuster solutions, if there are only a few high-priority needs, the Maximum Value Table can help define product and service capabilities and characteristics as well as track their implementation. If there are many needs, than the Comprehensive QFD matrices (including the House of Quality) may work best.

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© QFD Institute / Glenn Mazur  

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