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Knowing our Customers: Stop Icing the “Non-Cake”!

Iced cake with fruits and cream
Image Credit: © olhaafanasieva – #101935485

As regular readers of this blog will know, I travel a lot with my work. Travel inevitably involves living out of a suitcase, and staying in hotels a lot. Or rather, returning to a hotel after a long day at a client site ready to fall in to bed to recharge for the next day.


Now, the curious thing about hotels is how many seem to have been designed based on what the hotel industry thinks travellers want, as opposed to what they actually want. Plenty of very logical and plausible sounding ideas have been implemented presumably in order to enhance the customer experience. In recent years, it’s all about the scatter cushions; I lose count of the time I’ve checked in to find the bed adorned with a range of pillows and approximately 27 scatter cushions that have been thrown on the bed like confetti.


OK—perhaps I’m exaggerating (maybe it was only 17 cushions), but I’m sure I’m not alone in putting scatter cushions very low on my priority list. Yet, someone somewhere presumably thinks travellers want them—and have made the assumption that they are the priority list.   It isn’t just cushions, there are many other aesthetic items that most travellers probably won’t even notice that hotels seem to fixate on.


It seems ironic that the same hotels often fail on seemingly basic and pedestrian but very important items. One example: many hotels have a distinct lack of accessible plug sockets.  If you’re lucky there might be an isolated socket that you can just about reach if you pull out the desk (trying not to break the furniture as you do so). Now, I suspect most guests have something to charge overnight (e.g. a phone)—and with no or few sockets it is a game of plug socket roulette (I’ll unplug this one… oh no, that’s the side light. Doh!), which is never fun after a long day travelling.  It’s not just sockets—you may well have your own example or frustration from a stay at a hotel.  Aesthetics are great, but if the basic needs aren’t met they aren’t “the icing on the cake”; they are more like “icing…. with a severe absence of cake!”.  That can only lead to frustration for the customer.


I realise, of course that scatter cushions look great on the photoshopped picture that goes on the website. They look lovely on they stylised pic that goes on the corporate Instagram feed. They help sell the room.  However, if the basics aren’t up to scratch the customer will be frustrated when they visit.


What This Means for Business and Business Analysis

As BAs we act as trusted advisors to our sponsors and stakeholders.  We have a duty to facilitate and challenge, to deliver and remain curious. We are empowered to tactfully ask questions and ensure that change initiatives are strategically aligned and will enable the creation of both customer and business value.  In doing this, we need to know what customers actually value. We need to understand their priorities, what drives them, what motivates them and what frustrates them.  Accepting of course that there might be different types of customer (a family on holiday staying at a hotel will have different priorities to a business traveller), and it is important that we understand this variety and how our organisation intends to manage it (which might, sometimes, involve targeting only certain types of clients).  We do this whilst analysing and understanding a whole range of stakeholder perspectives.


It is crucial that we advocate the customer, and work with our stakeholders to understand what types of research have been conducted (or need to be conducted).  Great questions to ask can be “is this a priority for the customer?” and “what would the customer say if they knew we were doing this?”. Kano analysis can be useful and illuminating.  It’s also important that we are bold enough to surface the cold hard facts and focus on exposing root causes.  Yes a “customer loyalty card” scheme might sound a plausible way of driving up retention—but if customers are complaining about poor service, let’s address that first.  Getting the basics right is an underrated improvement opportunity that is often tricky but immensely valuable to both the customer and the business.


So, by all means, ice the cake. But only if there a cake there in the first place!


What are your views on the topics in this post? Do you have any tips, perspectives or anything to add?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.   Please add a comment below, and let’s keep the conversation flowing! 

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About the author:

Adrian ReedAdrian Reed is Principal Consultant at Blackmetric Business Solutions, an organisation that offers Business Analysis consulting and training solutions. Adrian is a keen advocate of the analysis profession, and is constantly looking for ways of promoting the value that good analysis can bring.

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6 thoughts on “Knowing our Customers: Stop Icing the “Non-Cake”!”

  1. I have also spent a lot of time in hotels over the years and I agree – start with your customers and their requirements. Also – talk to your staff – particularly those in direct contact with your customers. They know a lot about requirements – possibly more than your Marketing Manager or PR Consultants! The people in “low level” low paid jobs are too often ignored.
    For BAs – this is where your skills in Stakeholder Analysis and Fact Finding come into play.
    I agree about the scatter cushions and the power points by the way – another of my particular irritations as a customer has always been the tea bags! Why do you supply just two or three tea bags for an overnight stay? Actually – as a BA – I have a pretty good idea why – and I think you may be wrong. BAs – comment below if you have any ideas about the reasons behind “Two Tea Bag Thinking”.

    1. Hi Steve, thanks for the comment. I completely agree, speaking (and engaging with) people who actually *speak* to customers is so important — they often know the *real* problems and needs (and often have good ideas over how they might be solved too).

      Thanks again, glad you liked the article 🙂

  2. Why do they put armchairs in hotel rooms? I must have spent several thousand nights in hotel rooms, and cannot recall ever sitting in the armchair. It’s only use has been to hold my briefcase until the morning. I would happily put the briefcase on the floor if it meant I gained usable space in my room (and at the same time removed yet another toe-stubbing obstacle).

    What I value is electrical plugs, Adrian mentioned these, and a decent desk lamp. Not the pathetic 4W job that casts a warm glow and looks good in the brochure. But something bright enough to work and read by.

    I believe that if hotel room designers actually travelled, and spent nights in hotel rooms, and tried to work in one, then the room contents would be quite different. As it is, the room designer is a proxy for the customer. This in my humble opinion, does not work well. Unless product owners and customer representatives (or whatever name they have) spend a lot of tine with real customers, then the results are guesswork. Hence scatter cushions.

    James Robertson

    1. Hi James,

      Thanks for the comment, and I completely agree about armchairs!

      I thought that your suggestion “…if hotel room designers actually travelled” is a really interesting one. This could (perhaps) highlight the importance of observation and shadowing as BAs. Actually understanding the environment that our stakeholders are in, is so important but easy to overlook!

      Thanks again James, hope to catch up soon… Adrian

  3. Great blog – thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree with your points on the scatter cushions and plug sockets … I never can understand why all hotels don’t have a plug socket next to the bed or on the desk … so much so that when I did travel a lot, I used to target my hotel stays to the places I knew had accessible sockets.

    I think that it shows an opportunity to spread into user needs analysis in a number of different sectors. Our anecdotes here show that hoteliers are still thinking about ‘What would I want’, or ‘What do I think my customers want’, rather than taking the time to go and do some solid research, and improve the proposition for the core customer base.

    1. Hi Richard, thanks for the comment. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the article.

      You make a really good point–that hoteliers are designing the hotel *they* would like, even though they aren’t a “typical” traveller (if there is such a thing!).

      I think so many processes, services and business systems are designed without sufficient customer focus and insight… a great question to ask (I find) is “Who are our customers & beneficiaries” and “what would they say/think of this” 🙂

      Thanks again for the comment Richard… was really thought provoking!

      — Adrian

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