16 November 2012

Young business travelers' technology needs

Over 15 years ago, the Delta Hotel chain in Canada sought to attract business travelers by being one of the first major hotel chains to offer business-oriented office suites. Notably, at the time, these suites included a computer which could allow business travelers to work on the road, instead of being “stranded” from the office in an era when laptops were costly and scarce.

Unfortunately, the designers of these rooms didn’t entirely understand the needs of their targeted customers or what being productive entailed to them (read details in "Close Encounter of the QFD Kind", a white paper PDF).  While the offices were fully furnished, the computers were not — they did not come with commonly used software packages, meaning the guest not only had to bring their own software disks with them but would also have to waste time installing the programs themselves, in order to get any use out of the computer besides Solitaire.

a young business woman using a laptop in the hotel guest room
Today, we consider an office space, complete with Microsoft Office® or Open Office® as well as access to a printer, to be standard in any hotel chain, but do these actually make us more productive?  Technologically speaking, these accommodations are obviously better than what Delta offered years ago, however they represent an even more grievous misunderstanding of customers’ needs than was found on the blank computers back then.

From a QFD perspective, these computers are seen as a feature, and although they’ve been tweaked and upgraded over the years (their performance level is higher than ever), they address needs that have already been met by much better alternatives, and fail to address newer needs that have been enabled by changing technology.

Widespread usage of laptops and tablets have made office suite computers unneeded, the prevalence of proprietary software and custom remote login systems have made them unusable, and the nature of the internet and shared computer usage have made them unsafe. Furthermore, the original underlying need for productivity has been joined by the needs for entertainment and communication, and in that regard there is very little opportunity for hotel offices to compete with gaming laptops, Facetime® or Skype®.

Rather than trying to meet these needs by offering competing features, hotels should be trying to facilitate the features customers already have that meet their needs.  Simply put, this means replicating (or besting) the connectivity customers have on their laptops, tablets and phones that they travel with.

For example, many hotels advertise access to broadband. Often these connections, however, perform quite poorly on technical benchmarks (bandwidth tests) and outright fail on customer benchmarks (ability to watch Youtube videos, play games or video chat and so forth).  This can be exacerbated by poor cell phone coverage, which may force a customer to leave the hotel in order to be reachable at all.  If there’s any doubt that failing to meet travelers’ needs of connectivity can affect repeat business, one survey found that nearly 60% of travelers aged 35–54 would consider a different hotel option if they had poor cell phone reception during their previous stay.

Kano diagram by QFD Institute
This actually falls into the 'reverse quality' category in the Kano model of expected quality vs. exciting quality. What is exciting quality for older generations of hotel guests (such as having free internet and computer access) has not only become expected quality for younger hotel guests, but also the poor fulfillment of hotel room TV and internet may even be reverse quality — that is, their existence dissatisfies!

Any hotel that’s serious about catering to business travelers must understand these needs, as well as other needs such as internet security, in a modern and changing context, rather than continuing to refresh old features.
Ken Mazur

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Microsoft Office® is a registered mark of Microsoft, Open Office® Apache Software; FaceTime® Apple Inc.; Skype® Skype.

  

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