Archives for category: Customers

I wonder what hotel energy bills are like. They must be astronomically high. All those airy, high-ceilinged communal rooms…

I’ve been staying in hotels in Dublin recently. When I check in evening-time the room is always toasty warm. I don’t know if it’s been on all day, since the last person checked out, or maybe the cleaner put it on when they finished preparing the room.

When I leave in the morning, to return later that day, the room is warm. It’s probably warm all day, unless the cleaner turns it off when they come in to clean, since it would be too hot to do all that work, before turning it back on as they leave. Or, perhaps, as you often see as you check out, the cleaner has the hotel room door open of the room they’re cleaning, to allow then to easily go to and from their supplies trolley, with the heat from the room seeping out into the corridor.

Presumably more modern or larger hotels take a more automated approach to central heating. But I wonder if they could automate it further. Perhaps they could ask guests their estimated check-in time when they book, or their estimated return time, and this could be programmed into a system which automatically activated the heating in their room 30 minutes before they were due in?

Either way, there must be huge scope to reduce energy bills without giving the guest the feeling that you’re scrimping on the finer things you expect from a room, like warmth and cosiness.

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I think there’s a kind of hotel room etiquette for regular travellers. I say for regular travellers because I refer to business travel rather than holiday travel, where I think different rules apply.

If you’re staying in a hotel room for a night or two, then I think a few unwritten rules apply. These are some of the ones I apply:

  • I get 4 pillows and 2 cushions on my bed. I need 1 pillow. I stack the other three pillows and the 2 cushions on a shelf, with a note on top saying ‘not used’
  • I get 2 body towels, 2 hand towels, 2 face towels and a bath mat in my bath room. In only use the body towel and the bath mat for everything. Seems reasonable. I make it obvious I haven’t touched the other towels
  • I sometimes take the freebie bottles of shower gel and the bar of soap, especially the ones I’ve partly used. I figure that’s OK. I can’t imagine they recycle the half-used contents to make whole bottles
  • I always tip the person that cleans my room when I leave, even if it’s only a couple of quid. My rationale is that everyone else in the hotel spends 2 to 3 minutes on me alone: the check-in/check-out person, the restaurant staff, the coffee shop person. The cleaning person probably spends at least 20 minutes getting my room ready. It’s the least I can do
  • I try and leave my room tidy. I don’t take the proverbial, nor do I subscribe to the argument that it gives them something to do if I leave it messy. If you had to clean 20 hotel rooms a day you’d appreciate some rooms taking a few minutes less, wouldn’t you?

Those are the main rules of hotel room etiquette for me.

I don’t watch much television. I don’t have the time or the staying power for box sets. I like to catch the occasional film and will watch most sport if it’s on.

When there’s nothing grabbing my attention, I will flick channels. I flick them relentlessly. I’m an inveterate flicker. And do you know what usually stops me and holds my attention? BBC Four.

BBC Four is a wonder. Its documentaries, especially the music-based ones, are extremely sticky for me.

The best compliment I can pay BBC Four is that it’s like the web. It’s a black hole. You can lose yourself in BBC Four for hours. I don’t know how many times I’ve promised myself 10 minutes of TV time before bed, chanced upon a 70’s collection of Old Grey Whistle Test clips of legendary bands or musicians, and lost a couple of hours. BBC Four tends to do themed programming, so if you find something you like, there could well be a similar program to follow.

Yes, on balance, I think BBC Four is the best television channel, possibly in the world, though I’m judging it from my limited sample size.

Perspective is such an important concept, both literally and figuratively. It’s how we see the world, both literally and figuratively. It colours our work and our play, down to every single micro-action.

I was reminded of the more literal sense of this recently as I contemplated the world from a high window, the same window from which I viewed booming Dublin. It’s like when you drive a lot and then on rare occasions you take a bus somewhere, sitting on the top level and seeing things you never saw from the ground.

You can see so much from high up. It informs your world differently.

Being high up gives you an advantage over those who don’t enjoy the same elevation. They can’t see what you can see. It puts you in a position of advantage, power or authority, because you can see more. Sometimes it gives you more respect than perhaps you deserve. It also comes with a responsibility. You must use that advantage, power or authority well, and not abuse it or people. To look down on people, or be condescending to them, that’s an abuse of your exalted perspective.

 

I wrote in a recent post about how folk don’t tend to use handkerchiefs much any more. I was reminded of this recently when I went up to Dublin for a meeting. I had over an hour to kill before my meeting in the heart of the shopping district, and I’d forgotten to bring one of the umpteen handkerchiefs in my bedside drawer, so I decided to spend a small part of the hour fixing the problem.

My brief was simple: buy one funky-patterned hanky. Easy.

I went into a very reputable department store full of snazzy concessions. It was the closest store and the best fit I felt. After looking around in vain, I asked a salesman, who, after a bit of confusion between a hanky and a pocket square – a new term for me, the posh bit of silk that sits in your outside breast pocket – said they didn’t sell hankies. At all.

He sent me across the road to a department store that sold them, he said. I went to it and it sold two types, in packs of 7 only. Not singles, 7 or nothing. I then went to 4 other stores and the odd thing I noticed was that at each store the staff weren’t sure where the hankies were; a sure sign that they don’t flog many of them. What do folk use instead? Also, the hankies were all super dull designs, or plain white, and in large packs.

With about 10 minutes left, I realised I shouldn’t have done this on a whim. I should have planned it, googled ‘single funky handkerchiefs Dublin’, and made a bee-line for the right place.

In the end, with 10 minutes to spare, good old M&S came through for me with packs of 3 relatively funky hankies. Not a great fit to my requirements, but the best of a bad lot.

I wonder if I should open a shop for custom single hankies. Nah, folk don’t use them any more.

I think we often take ordering systems for granted.

Where would we be with a directory that didn’t alphabetise the entries? With a reference book that had no index? With a long street lined with numberless houses? We’d have to learn another way of finding things, more random, and vastly more inefficient and time-consuming.

We need systems that provide us with patterns by which we can navigate our way through the world.

Take the estate I live in. It’s a collection of 90-some houses of different shapes, sizes and colours. It’s a lovely estate. The only problem is if you have to find a particular house for the first time.

Most streets or houses have a sequential numbering system, or maybe even on one side or odd on the other. Either way, you can find your way around without barely giving it a second thought.

On our estate the numbers are jumbled. Some parts are numbered even and odd. Some parts are even only. Some parts are odd only. Some are numbered sequentially. Then there’s a block of 4 houses which were added late into the construction phase, also numbered sequentially but with no relation to houses on either side of them.

When someone asks residents where a certain number house is, generally they don’t know. Our house doesn’t have a number on it, it has the number spelled out in letters. Because we can.

It always makes me think how much we rely on ordering systems.

Just when you thought Ryanair were getting better and becoming a little more customer intimate – not too much mind you, because that would cost money, ask the pilots – Ryanair pulls what it probably considers to be a master stroke, and what passengers will feel is a low blow they can’t do much about.

We booked a family holiday a few months ago, towards the end of last year, paying for 2 check-in bags and planning to carry a cabin bag each, and a small bag to fit under the seat in front of us. There was no mention that I saw that the regulations were about to change.

A couple of weeks ago we started to get emails about a change in cabin bags, effective shortly and before we actually take our holiday. From this date, unless you have priority booking you can only bring on one bag that fits under the seat in front; you can’t use the overhead storage at all.

WTF! I went back and checked my original confirmation email and there’s no mention of a new cabin bag restriction. Ryanair has gone back to its policy of only one cabin bag, except that now it has to be smaller than before. Clearly pesky customers have been using all the overhead storage and that will not do.

As always, what’s at stake here is the principle. I’ve written before about how Ryanair competes primarily on operational excellence – and this is about operationally squeezing the last cent out of passengers, making them pack even lighter and still avoiding baggage check-in, thereby guaranteeing Ryanair comfortable flight turnarounds – rather than product leadership or customer intimacy. Presumably they’re allowed to hide behind small print that says ‘we can change the terms any time we like’, but to enforce it from the date of travel, rather than the date of booking, when they’ve got pre-booked passengers over the proverbial barrel, is petty, inconsiderate and will probably net them an extra few hundred grand.

Why do they do it? Because they can. For now.

With advances in technology, the cost to produce sensors has come down and so they have proliferated. There are so many devices that have sensors: machinery like our cars, appliances like our dishwashers, security systems and so on. This is only set to continue with the Internet of Things, with billions of connected sensors.

The thing with sensors, though, is that they’re very good at sensing. They’re sensitive souls.

Let me give you three examples. Firstly, 20-odd years ago I had a company car and it was a German make, complete with loads of sensors and a computer diagnostic panel under the bonnet. One of the sensors kept picking up a signal that a tyre needed replacing, when it didn’t, and flagged a warning light in the dashboard. What did the engineer do? The path of least resistance; he disconnected the sensor so that I would need to check manually for tyre tread, which defeats the purpose of investing in a better car with more technology. Incidentally, the panel was also prone to letting in rainwater, which also made for occasional trips to the car doctor.

Secondly, about 15 years ago I took delivery of another shiny company car, compete with an alarm system that would sound if someone tried to move the car. It would even sound if someone tried the driver’s door-handle. On my first day with the new car, I parked in the company car park, which was separated from a busy road by a low wall and, above it, a robust hedge. Every time a truck went past on the main road at speed, the displaced air would travel through the hedge, rock the car slightly, and activate the alarm. The car went back to the garage to be desensitised.

Thirdly, as I write this post, our brand new shiny integrated dishwasher – it was installed a couple of days ago and completed its first run yesterday – is currently out of action and awaiting an engineer. Of course, as a snugly integrated appliance it’s a bit of a bugger to get in and out so you want to minimise these kinds of events if you can. A sensor has tripped a warning light, and an error message. Sensitive thing…

By how much will this kind of event be multiplied when we’re well and truly in the IoT era?

I’m sitting on a train which is theoretically on its way from Galway to Dublin. I have a 2 o’clock meeting in Dublin, and then I’m back home on the train. I’m coming in just for this meeting, but my train is due in 2 and 1/2 hours before my meeting, so I’ve arranged to meet a couple ex-work pals for lunch. I’d decided on the train because my back is a bit sore and I could also get some work done.

The lunch appointment time is just passing now. We’ve been stationery for about 50 minutes. Ever since we rolled over something hard and metallic about 25 KMs outside Dublin, trundling to a stop about a kilometre further on. The on-board wifi is taking a terrible beating.

There are emergency response teams on the scene, presumably for both the incident and our train. I’m not sure if I’ll make my meeting, or whether we’ll eventually roll into Dublin and I’ll hop on the next train back to Galway, which will probably be delayed.

On Twitter Irish Rail has announced the suspension of all services in both directions due to a ‘tragic incident’. It is what it is. You can’t legislate for this kind of thing. You can’t manage away all of these possibilities and percentages. But when you have any single point of failure you run the risk of running into problems which inconvenience thousands of people.

I’ve written about the unreliability of public transportation for work-related meetings on numerous occasions. This is, of course, extremely traumatic for anyone directly affected by the incident. But for those of us indirectly affected, what it all boils down to is the usual: the loss of two important and related factors, namely time and productivity. This meeting I’m supposed to be attending is a dry-run for the real thing I’m running in 2 days time, for which I was also going to take the train. Decisions…

Ah, email, the scourge of modern lives, both work-based and social-based. It’s no wonder that the young are not embracing it as a communications vehicle in anything like the numbers that the older generations have.

Emails can represent both a time-suck and an intrusion into our daily lives. If you’re like me and you subscribe to suppliers’ mailings, or have simply bought something from a company which has your email address, you’ll know what a chore it is to wade through email subject lines from organisations you don’t want to unsubscribe from, in case the occasional email provides something of use to you.

Email has its problems. A large percentage of knowledge and intellectual property is buried in email, often not archived or indexed properly, and it can be difficult to find and retrieve. That’s not particularly efficient. Email intrudes on a regular basis, with a ping here and a ping there, and business gurus are lining up to tell us to ignore 80% of our email and do our necessary email work in batches so that we stay productive.  Businesses are soon to be subject to the EU General Data Protection Regulation, which places more stringent requirements on those companies that collect and use data on us, like our email address. Here’s a nice summary by a marketing automation provider on GDPR implications for companies that email their customers.

Email marketing has been trending down for some time, as search engine optimisation / marketing and social media have been trending up. By 2020, according to Forrester and CMO, email will account for only 2,5% of our digital marketing spend.

It’s not all bad for email though. For example, a couple of years ago I called a couple dozen customers of a client of mine and asked them what their communications preferences were, both as prospective customers, and as active, ongoing customers. The overriding preference? ‘Email. Yes, I get loads of them, but if you send me one that I know I need to read, from looking at the subject line, I can leave it in my inbox and get to it when I’m ready.’

So it seems that, at least for non-millennials and business folk, the hugely prevalent mechanism that is email is still the best of a pretty bad lot when it comes to written communications.