Hotel Check-in

A recent comment about Marriott Hotels sparked the memory of a good idea from Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy. I avoided this book for a long time because it sounds like a philosophical treatise on consumerism. It’s not. Underhill talks about the science of shopping but throughout most of the book you could mentally replace “science” with “design” and be well on your way to reading an excellent volume on service design.

Here’s the bit about hotels:

Like lots of people these days, I spend roughly half my life on the road. The most problematic part of the hotel experience is always the same—you arrive late, tired, jet-lagged and looking forward to the shortest possible transition from the road to your room, where you can begin e-mailing, reading, writing, phoning or just ordering room service and a movie. Instead, you spend eternity standing in line when all you really need is your key, the rest of the transaction having been managed in advance over the phone or through a travel agent.

One hotel had progressed to using small, circular check-in islands in the lobby, where guest and clerk can sit side by side at the computer terminal. That’s a start, but some hotel is going to score huge points with business travelers by taking it further. There will be a check-in section of the lobby consisting of some comfortable easy chairs. When a clerk sees you sit there, she or he will come over with a portable, palm-size computer, a credit card reader, a room key and your choice of beverage, and the paperwork will be handled in a civilized way.

When I was interviewing with design firms during graduate school, by far the best hotel check-in experience was the Hotel Avante in Mountain View, California. I walked in and the clerk looked up, smiled and greeted me by name. Pleasantly surprised, I signed for my key and was on my way. That was over three years ago and it still stands out in my mind.




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