Customer first vs customer knows best

The Wall Street Journal has an article by writer Kelly Spors entitled "The Customer Knows Best" which examines how the internet has enabled companies in diverse industries to easily find out what consumers think. The article notes that companies, particularly small businesses, "are using the Internet to involve customers in decisions on everything
from what to sell, how products look and work, how much they cost, and
even how the company operates, like what hours a store should be open
or how its floor space should be laid out." It goes on to quote an executive from a foundation that promotes entrepreneurship as saying that "Your customers might be better at designing your product than your
elite team of product designers, who might be hiding in an ivory tower
somewhere." 

The hospitality industry is probably a pioneer in consumers designing a product with former customers turned entrepreneurs like Kemmons Wilson and Cecil Day going on to start international chains Holiday Inns and Days Inns based on their experiences. More recently, user-generated-content is substantively about using customer feedback to tailor the hospitality experience both in operations and design. But even in design ideas both individual hotels and large companies such as IHG have taken to drawing upon suggestions from customers.  For instance, the newly opened MAve Hotel in New York City got its name from potential customers based on a contest. IHG's Innovation Hotel is touted as a "a showcase of some of our best ideas in sustainable tourism" and includes a "have your say" feature on its website where the company looks to "get your feedback on the innovation hotel" which they presumably will attempt to incorporate.

Nevertheless, as the Journal article notes, the approach has its drawbacks including "the risk that the crowd that provides input isn’t representative of the people who might buy the product (service) later on." It also could stymie innovation with entrepreneurs going along with a safe middle of the road approach to products, service and delivery. The hotel industry probably would have not seen a number of design ideas and products from the boutique concept to a focus on bedding as most of these owe their provenance to innovative ideas that came directly from entrepreneurs and managers from within the industry.

Ultimately, while putting the "customer first" in every aspect of service is de rigeur, it is probably infeasible to design and build a hotel on a "customer knows best" or democratic basis without sacrificing innovation to a substantive degree.

Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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