What does the mini bar tell you about service design? A peep at how the hospitality industry could focus on customer experience.
By ASHWINI DESHPANDE
At some point, in some city, most of us have landed up checking into a hotel at an hour when one is too tired to order & wait for the room service, but could do with a tiny sip & snack.
All hotels know this. And so they have the mini bars! Yes. Those tiny refrigerators that hold juice boxes & soda cans and also the cookies & chips in the vicinity outside. And then there would the most un-miss able list of all the items with prices that look like you could have bought five of those in that money.
It seems Siegas, a German company, first invented a mini-refrigerator in the 1960’s. Some luxury hotels in US used the mini fridge in some of their suites. However, it was Hong Kong Hilton Hotel, which first institutionalised this idea in the mid seventies. It was based on a unique user & business insight. It made such sense to the guests that the hotel is supposed to have recorded 500% increase in their in-room beverage sales in just a few months. Every hotel followed suit and it soon became a standard fixture in all hotel rooms across the world.
Now, this solution has its own problems. Recording, tallying & collecting money against the sales has been a source of concern for most hotels. There have been various ideas to counter thefts or record consumption accurately. This includes weight sensors & infrared sensors. However, sensors can only record removal of an item from the fridge. They are not a proof of consumption by the guest. It is a fact that at the time of checkout, guests are always in a hurry. It becomes impossible for hotels to get the mini-bar checked before a guest departure.
During a recent stay at Icon Hotel in Hong Kong, to my surprise, everything from the mini bar was free and was replenished every day. It was a sheer delight, which the hotel possibly managed in less than 20 HK$ a day out of the 2000 HK$ they were collecting per room night. Just last week, my travel bag & me, we found ourselves at a luxury 5 Star in Mumbai. And the surprise? Yes! Not a pleasant one. The mini bar was empty!
Adonis Hotel, is a boutique hotel experience designed by Elephant, that focuses on the needs of travellers centered around business, journey & stay
Adonis Hotel pictures from www.hoteladonis.com
Well, this note is not just about mini bar. But about solving a wicked problem such as this one by using service design principles.
First & foremost, service design needs to be centered about users. Always.
Besides the core experience, service design must take cognizance of before & after scenarios. For example, if a spa experience is being designed, the team needs to look into how the service would be reached & booked, how the user would get there, how he or she would park & identify the outlet and what will be the residual memory after the user has left the spa. This may start with an app and end with a branded product range to carry home or a loyalty program that offers discounts or an exclusive blog; depending upon where the competencies lie and what seems most valued by the users.
This brings me to the other important factor of team competencies. Empathy towards the user is very important, but a service must be built with empathy to service giver as well. There is no point in designing an experience if the team cannot be trained & motivated to deliver it. Impromptu dance by Hard Rock Café staff resonates only because they are motivated to deliver it well, day after day. So the experience is best co-created with all stakeholders.
No matter where, people are bound to look for a tissue only after they wash hands. So sequencing of events & imagining every possible scenario from the users’ perspective is an essential component of building a great service.
And finally, it is important to have an open & experimental mindset while designing a service especially, if it has to be pleasantly differentiated. Indigo airline’s I O U notes are a great solution to take care of awkward anxiety of passengers towards balance amount from the food orders.
So, what does the mini bar tell you about service design?
Elephant is India’s Best Design Practice (ET-Brand Equity 2012-2014 ranking) with a multi-disciplinary experience of 25+ years having presence in India & Singapore and has been transforming brands, organizations & businesses using Design led Innovation.
ASHWINI DESHPANDE is a Visual Communication Designer, Co-founder & Director at Elephant. An alumnus of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, she is a prolific speaker at several international conferences & workshops on design. Ashwini has been a jury Cannes Lions, Design for Asia & Spikes Asia Awards. She is a subject expert on Brand Identity Programs, Package Design & Colour Trends and known for her highly effective work for Britannia, Paper Boat, Nirlep, Gillette and Daimler Auto.