Joie de Vivre Podcast

Peter Merholz interviews Chip Conley of Joie de Vivre Hotels about how they create unique experiences at dozens of boutique hotels around California. Conley describes a tool called “experience report cards” which seem akin to service usability in terms of quantifying the intangible:

Each of our hotels are graded twice a year by someone who goes out to each hotel and asks “how is it doing” on an Experience Report Card. The number one way that we get our stars and diamonds as hotels is from Mobil and AAA, and it’s based upon very tangible and in many cases very outdated definitions about what it takes to be a four star versus a two star hotel. Frankly, it has nothing about experience built into it.

For a boutique hotelier, we’re doing something that is very experience-driven. One example is that in every one of our hotels, within the first five minutes a person comes into the lobby the hotel is supposed to stimulate the five senses of the guest in a way that fits with the overall psychographic profile and personality of the hotel.

Just to take a step back, each of our hotels is based upon a magazine and five words. So doing what we do we have a touchstone for the personality of the hotel we’re trying to create. … So if you go to the Hotel Rex [based on the New Yorker] we would stimulate the five senses of a guest upon arrival in ways that would befit those words [artistic, sophisticated, literate and clever], as opposed to the Phoenix Hotel, which is based on Rolling Stone and as a fifties, Rock and Roll hotel is funky, irreverant, cool and young-at-heart. So how we address the taste buds of a guest with something sitting on the front desk at the Phoenix would be different than it is at the Rex. But in both cases they’re supposed to do that.

Now do they do that perfectly? No, this Experience Report Card has 40 points on it. No hotel of ours has ever made 40. We don’t get it perfectly, but we leave it up to the staff and the general manager of the hotel to evolve their experience for their customer in a way that is actually befitting the five words that define the hotel.

One thing that jumps out at me (besides the fact that he only lists four of the five words) is how Conley drifts back and forth between the idea of service and experience during the interview. He even frames their service offering as a “product” once or twice. He gives a tip of the hat to Pine and Gilmore, so it’s clear he understands the distinctions. It’s a good example of how service design as a term is actually a little fuzzy.

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