You cannot design an amazing customer experience with all the bells and whistles without a solid foundation. If you do not love your customers—let alone respect them—even your best design will disappoint and fall flat. This is true for Room 2406, and for the whole 24th floor for that matter, at the Virgin Hotel in Chicago.
When I checked in to the hotel, I was full of excitement. I have been a huge fan of the Virgin brand for years and was looking forward to the quirky Britishness that the Virgin Hotel in Chicago had to offer. While the hotel's lobby was designed consistently with the Virgin brand (I know from their airline whose check-in is as digital as it gets with touch screens and iPads), I was in for a rude awakening when I entered my hotel room. Loud music filled the room, vibrating the walls and all of its contents like a speaker box. And guess what? It didn't stop. I was confused because I was on the 24th floor of the hotel, so I couldn't understand where the noise would be coming from. My complaint to the hotel resulted in a lack of love and a simple discovery.
"Your room is right under our bar. That's where the music is being played," the receptionist responded calmly. The receptionist knew exactly what she did when she sent me to that room just a few minutes prior. She was probably expecting my call.
"Well, I can't sleep like this," I replied.
"I understand. The good news is that it will be over by 2:00 AM," the receptionist comforted me. "And by the way, you are not alone. Every room on the 24th floor is having the same experience," her comforting continued.
"Could you move me to another room?" I inquired with little hope.
"We are fully sold out tonight," was the receptionist's response. "Is there anything else I can do for you?" she tried with little conviction.
"Yes, I would like a good night's sleep," I desperately pleaded.
"Well, I can't help you with that," the receptionist stated.
The next day, I was duly charged $315 for that experience with no mention of my complaint or my discomfort.
I tend to be very forgiving if a bad customer experience is the result of one stray employee. On the other hand, I get really upset when the experience is designed to deceive.
Whoever decided to build a noisy club on top of the 24th floor of the hotel knew very well that every room on that floor would suffer for it every day and night! They knew that every guest would suffer as they lay awake in bed trying to fall asleep with no success until 2 a.m. every night. And yet, they still decided to sell those rooms at the Virgin Hotel without notifying guests in advance of what to expect or what they would be in for. This was a deliberate decision to deceive guests and take them for granted.
All the cool designs of the Virgin brand and hotel will not cover for the basic truth: The rooms on the 24th floor are not rooms that are suitable for guests to get a good night's sleep. Even the receptionist at the hotel knew that much. No Virgin spirit can cover for a flawed design.
I was utterly disappointed. Before this experience I held the Virgin brand to such a high standard. The free-spirited Virgin brand always represented the anti-establishment: do the right thing for the customer first and the rest will follow. Virgin has been known for innovation and creativity. The famous mantra of their founder, Richard Branson, was "Screw it. Let's do it!" But in front of me, I saw a brand that was greedy and took guests for granted by building hotel rooms that are uninhabitable and having the audacity to charge guests money for it. The old mantra seems to have morphed into, "Screw the customers. Let's do it!"
For the people who designed and developed the Virgin Hotel in Chicago, the customers are just a means to an end to make money. All bets were off, and all tricks were on. The foundation of every customer experience must be respect and customer love. If you do not love your customers, no matter how much design and creativity you throw into your customer experience, your true colors will eventually come through. Your experience will be, at best, lipstick on a pig: inauthentic and insincere.
Every customer experience that is designed to create emotional engagement must start with this foundation:
- What is our customer love?
- How would we express our customer love?
- What would we do in the name of customer love?
- What would we never do because of our customer love?
- How would we deliver customer love?
If you do not love your customer, the experience you create will show your true colors. You might as well give up on trying to deliver exceptional customer experiences and shift your strategy to price and discounting. That is the natural approach of commodity products and services that fail to create and deliver customer love.
So, before you rush to apply the latest innovation to your customer experience, in hopes to differentiate and create emotional engagement, ask yourself this simple question: "Why do you love your customer?"
As for the Virgin Hotel in Chicago, I sadly conclude that they do not. The best feature of the hotel was the set of earplugs they provided. Going forward, they will help me tune out the Virgin brand.