I just want to close the curtains!! Can you take customer experience innovation too far?


This is a building in Glasgow. It looks like any other ‘modernish’ office block in the UK. This is not an office though. This building is a hotel – a new hotel in Glasgow called CitizenM. I had the pleasure (or at least I think that is what it was supposed to be) of staying in this hotel a couple of weeks ago. It is my experience of staying there that is the subject of this blog.

If you have not heard of CitizenM hotels, I had better explain a little more about them – this is what it says on the homepage of their website http://www.citizenm.com/

citizenM is a new breed of hotel now in Amsterdam, Glasgow and London, and coming soon to New York, Paris and a city near you. citizenM welcomes the mobile citizens of the world- the suits, weekenders, explorers, affair-havers and fashion-grabbers looking for boutique hotel accommodations. So if you travel with an open mind, a love of free movies on demand and free WiFi, come in and take a room tour. The inspiration hungry: meet citizenMag, our lifestyle magazine. The gung ho: jump straight to reservations.

‘New breed of hotel’ – well they have certainly got that right! The first impression on entering is very good – it looks exceptionally cool. Bright colours; gadgets; quirky seating areas; fantastic furniture and lighting – it is definitely different. It looked like the 1960’s had crashed into 2012 and created a whole new style. I actually became quite excited at the prospect of staying the night (which is not what I usually feel on turning up at a typical hotel when on business). So why am I writing a blog about a fab looking hotel in Glasgow?

I am writing this blog because, as many of you who read my blogs know, I am rather interested in the customer experience. The customer experience represents a journey – an ‘end to end’ journey. The experience I had at the CitizenM hotel in Glasgow surprised me – especially as my first impression was so good – but regrettably my first impression was very different to my last.

Let us start at the beginning. The reception at CitizenM is…..different. It looks a little like the check in at an airport these days – a series of self-serve computer terminals. Now the problem with computers is that they are not very personal. They do not say hello with a wide beaming smile. They do not give you a warm feeling on entering an establishment. They are efficient and effective though……..if they work. I was asked (by the computer) to enter my name or reservation number. I could not retrieve my reservation number from my phone (I could not get a signal and had not yet logged on to the hotel’s free wi-fi), so entered my name. The response – ‘name not recognised’. I did this three times before scratching my head. ‘Help’, I muttered meekly. Despite reception being a bank of computer terminals, there were two staff on hand (thankfully). They could not understand what the problem was either. Eventually, one of these ‘people’ discovered that my name had been entered incorrectly into the system – they had missed the ‘g’ off the end of’ Golding. This nice chap asked me to re-enter my name missing off the ‘g’ – it worked. I was to be known as Mr Goldin for the remainder of my stay.

I eventually checked in and entered the elevator – slightly less excited, but intrigued to see my room. And what a sight it was. Not the biggest room in the world, but definitely one of the quirkiest. At one end was an enormous bed – literally filling the space ‘wall to wall’. There was a weird bathroom on the left with a huge shower that had a floor to ceiling glass wall into the bedroom area. The sink was not in the bathroom – but in the bedroom itself (slightly odd), and that was about it.

I was told at reception (by a person, not a computer), that everything in the room was electronic – to be controlled by a ‘touchscreen Moodpad’. The ‘Moodpad’ was basically a large remote control. I found it sat in the cradle by the enormous bed. Now I do not mind using a remote control – we have all been using them to control our TV sets for years. But when the remote control will only work when it is in its cradle (that is nailed to the table by a bed), it can be a little irritating. That is what happened in my case – every time I lifted the Moodpad out of the cradle, I was met with a ‘low battery’ warning. Because I could operate nothing in the room – and I mean nothing – without using this thing, I had no choice but to contort myself or get on the bed to do the simplest of things.

The low battery on the Moodpad was only the first issue. I wanted to do something quite dramatic – I wanted to turn on the lights. Now in the good old days, we were able to turn on the lights by exerting a huge amount of energy to ‘press a switch’. It is a complicated operation that requires lifting up ones arm to apply pressure to a switch on the wall. On doing so, white light would fill a room, or put the room in darkness. I have never had an issue with the experience of turning a light on or off. CitizenM felt it was an experience that needed innovating!

Once I had figured out where on the pad to turn on the light, white light is not what I got. The entire room was illuminated with coloured light – all the colours of the rainbow – fading in and out of various parts of the room. My shower was green – above the bed it was blue. I thought I was either dreaming or hallucinating. All I wanted was a light on – to see. I did not want a disco. Could I figure out how to get the simplest of things like white light – I am afraid I could not.

I am probably sounding very ‘uncool’ at this point – or a little bit of a killjoy. The lights were very nice – my children would have loved them. But are they really necessary? If I was on a romantic weekend break with my wife – they may have been appreciated. It was not only the lights that caused me some angst.

Next I wanted to close the curtains – or blinds in this case. In my house (obviously a very outdated one) – I walk up to my window, reach out my arms, and pull said arms together. It is an operation that takes milliseconds (although in truth I have never timed it). Again, my friends at CitizenM felt that this experience needed innovating. You could close the blinds, by using the Moodpad, or by pressing two buttons on the wall. The problem is that to close the blinds, you had to keep your finger on the button until they had reached their final destination – you could not press the button and watch as the blinds closed automatically like you would in your car. A simple thing like closing the blinds took about 15 seconds – yes I did measure it – 15 seconds wasted – although in total half a minute of my life (because I had to open them again) was lost on a completely pointless bit of innovation.

You are probably starting to realise that the initial joy at entering my hotel had waned by now. I was starting to think longingly about the Premier Inn and Travelodge – they may not be fancy, but at least I can turn on the lights and close the curtains without any bother!! To avoid rambling on and on about my problems with CitizenM, turning on the TV was yet another mind-boggling exercise that was overcomplicated by the Moodpad. My Moodpad had been renamed the ‘BadMoodPad’ by this stage.

There were other issues. When designing a hotel room, and the experience a guest might have within it, it is useful to walk through the journey a guest would. When entering a hotel room, it is very common for a guest to want to put their luggage somewhere. CitizenM did not think about this – the ‘floor’ was the only place I could put my suitcase. It would also be useful to have space next to the sink to put your wash bag – unless you have a very small wash bag, this is another part of the journey CitizenM overlooked. The bed at CitizenM is also ‘unmade’ – with the duvet rolled up on the centre of the bed. Why they think that a guest having to make his/her own bed is a good experience is beyond my comprehension.

It is not all bad news though. The beds are very comfortable – I did have a great nights sleep. I also had a wonderful shower – the shower is very well designed. It is a beautiful hotel – the interior design is stunning. Yet it feels as though so much time has been spent on design and technology, no-one has thought to test if it all actually comes together as a ‘hotel experience’ that works.

This was again evident at breakfast. I came down to breakfast to be greeted by……..no-one. I could not work out if I was in someones kitchen/diner, or if I had entered a canteen in a posh student union. I have stayed in hundreds of hotels all over the world, yet in CitizenM I could not figure out what to do or where to go. I felt embarrassed that I did not know what to do. There was no-one there to help me. So having loitered for a short while, I decided to give breakfast a miss. Checkout was not much better. I only had a computer terminal for company – no-one to ask me how my stay was (probably a good job in my case), or to wish me a safe trip.

I have written this blog – not to put down CitizenM hotels – although I know this is how it may look. If you are looking for something that is fun, quirky and cool – they are definitely for you. What CitizenM have done is develop a new product. Something that is definitely different and memorable. However, customer experience is not just about the product. It is essential that a customers ability to access the product and interact with it effectively in a way that meets their needs, is also considered. It is possible to ‘over-engineer’ and ‘over innovate’ to the point where the functionality of your product and experience is detrimental to the customer. Innovation in customer experience is vital – but it must work. CitizenM’s leadership team must ensure that they experience the journey themselves – do as their guests will do. Fix the stages of the journey that do not work, and do not be afraid to mix new technology with old.

Can you take customer experience innovation too far? I think so. I will have two memories of CitizenM. One is that it is cool. The second is that cool does not work. Will I go back? – no (although I might if the kids twist my arm).

As always, I welcome your comments on any of my blogs.

4 thoughts on “I just want to close the curtains!! Can you take customer experience innovation too far?

  1. Hi Ian,

    Thank you for taking the time to share your experience at citizenM Glasgow. I work at citizenM and exchanged some tweets with you and @jeanniecw, after reading your comments.

    I couldn’t agree more that the customer experience represents a journey. Unfortunately your experience in Glasgow was not as positive, as you pointed out here.

    When developing a new product that is different and new, we need guts, but also understand that there are risks attached. We do recognise most of your comments and also use this information in combination with other reviews, guest feedback and other posts to improve the service we offer. Listening to our guests is what we do.

    Even with this focus, as shown through your own experience we don’t get it 100% right. While we feel excited that we score extremely high on our guest satisfaction, we are each time frustrated when we fall short.

    That said, we continuously work on improving our product, we have just opened our youngest hotel, citizenM London Bankside, where we addressed most of the issues you have pointed out. From that, we are continuously gathering feedback so that we can look back to our other hotels and improve them, while wowing guests even more when developing new hotels.

    One thing we do know is that feedback is of vital importance and again we appreciate that you took the time to share about your experience.

    All the best & safe travels,
    Diego
    citizenM hotels

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  2. Thank you so much for you genuine and open response Diego – it is very much appreciated. The citizenM concept has amazing potential. I am sure that you will not only make it look wonderful, but feel wonderful the majority of the time as well – especially with the pro-active collaboration you are practising with your customers. I take back the last statement in my blog – I will visit one of your hotels again – I will let you know how it felt the second time around!

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  3. I find myself disagreeing with you Ian, which is a rarity! 🙂 I stayed at the CitizenM a few months ago and even found myself jumping onto Trip Advisor to advocate it. For me, successful customer experience is about creating something positively memorable. Now don’t get me wrong, I totally agree that trying to create that ‘WOW’ factor can sometimes lead to a poor customer experience. In the case of CitizenM, I feel that they have taken a good shot at creating a hotel experience that is very different to the homogenous chains. Will it appeal to everyone? No. Did I admire their approach? Yes. As 40-something business travellers (yes, that’s us Ian) it lacks on a number of fronts. But I found myself being intriguingly interested in what they had done. It took a little longer to work out things (like closing the curtains) but I liked that. You mentioned that your children would have liked it which is an important point – I think that the concept will appeal to anyone that is prepared to take on a childlike curiosity when they visit. It you’re exhausted after a long tiring day (which I am assuming was the case for you Ian) it will simply wind you up!

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