For guests, the charm of staying at a hotel is the experience. For a hospitality brand, the experience is an opportunity to innovate and grow.
However, innovating the guest experience requires exploring what’s possible and sorting through and prioritizing all the directions innovation can take; then, deciding which ideas to pursue and which to abandon.
I spoke with Jennifer Kirby, Managing Director of Innovation at Hyatt Hotels Corporation, on the latest Outside In podcast. She explained that putting the guest at the center of the experience is essential to deciding what innovations are best for both guests and the business.
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One of the world’s leading hospitality companies, with 13 brands and more than 730 properties in 56 countries, Hyatt places no boundaries on sourcing new ideas. Kirby says inspiration can come from anyone and anywhere – guests, hotel owners, colleagues, other industries, competitors. No matter the idea, or its source, the customer’s perspective is “the first lens we put on anything we do,” she says.
This philosophy applies across the board — from determining which features should be added to Hyatt’s mobile app, to exploring how best to incorporate the offerings from Miraval and Exhale, two wellness brands Hyatt acquired earlier this year.
Hyatt’s culture is focused human-centered design, which provides clarity around which business initiatives to pursue and to do it at the pace of change. “We’re really focused on trying to design and run our tests more quickly so we can answer whether or not a concept is something we really want to pursue in a shorter time frame than we used to look at things in years past,” she explains.
Kirby says her team looks closely at three elements: customer desirability, financial value, and feasibility of doing it at scale. “Something might sound really cool from a guest perspective but will be really expensive to implement, and so it doesn’t make sense to do. Or, we might be able to only do it in one hotel, not across a region or brand.” She goes on to explain, “That’s why we test things before going big with them.”
While technological advancements can certainly enhance a guest’s hotel experience, Kirby, who has a background in business consulting and technology, does not believe in using technology simply for technology’s sake. It should be used as an enabler of a better customer experience, rather than designing a customer experience around the technology.
Self-service features within the Hyatt mobile app are a great example, which were developed based on understanding what guests actually wanted and what was unnecessary. “People could text the hotel rather than calling the hotel to request things like towels or valet service. Guests really liked that.” Kirby says. “But it’s not something for everybody – some people do like the comfort of talking to a human being on the other end of the line – but there are a lot of people who prefer to communicate with the hotel when they’re in a cab on the way to the hotel or stuck in a meeting.” Now, guests at more than 100 Hyatt hotels can use the app to request items to their room, grab an Uber, or connect with Hyatt through Twitter or Facebook Messenger.
There are a few “megatrends,” as Kirby calls them, around which Hyatt is focused innovating. Creating a more seamless and personalized guest experience, and a commitment to sustainability, community, and corporate responsibility are all top priorities. “As Hyatt hotels open all around the world, and more people travel than ever before, we have a responsibility to grow thoughtfully and with purpose,” says Mark Hoplamazian, Hyatt Hotels Corporation President and CEO.
Kirby and her team are exploring other trends, too. For example, improving the guest experience for “bleisure” travelers (those who mix business and leisure). “A lot of people traveling on business try to sneak in moments of fun. Trying to make that easier for business travelers is something that we’ve been looking at quite a bit,” she says.
To execute and get buy-in on any new concept, Kirby stresses the importance of building and maintaining strong internal relationships – with team members, colleagues in other departments, and the C-suite. She also emphasizes creating a culture built on constant evolution and collaboration, where everyone strives to do things better the next time.
“Continue to innovate your innovation team,” she advises. “Talk to other people to understand what they’re doing, and learn from their mistakes so that you can get ahead faster. There’s no reason to suffer through it alone and figure things out by yourself.”