Prior to his presentation at the Skift Global Forum 2015, the Skift team talked to CEO Rick Wise about how behavioral economics influence experience design at a time when every major hotel chain has launched a lifestyle brand and some airlines such as Southwest try to appear a little more human.
Skift: Can you give a brief overview of behavioral economics and how that influences design?
Rick Wise: Absolutely, a lot of the work we do is around creating a brand logo, identity, brand ideas for a pipeline, and a name, but increasingly the real issue is highlighting those experiences that creates a connection with a client’s customers to really drive brand success and differentiate themselves.
We’re always in search of what’s the most effective way to do that, so one of the things we’ve done recently is look at all of the literature out there and work in getting around behavioral economics and with an eye towards what does it tell us about how to be thinking about experiences?
In thinking of the hotel experience very broadly and the anticipatory aspect of what’s going to happen, those are as important if not more important than the actual in-the-moment experiences such as check-in and concierge. We just tried putting together some thoughts and descriptions around what does that mean, what do I anticipate about a stay, what do I remember and how do I use it from an experience perspective to create differentiation and create that connection and drive that happiness? That’s really been the focus of our work and the importance in what we do with our clients.
Most service experiences want to leave the customer feeling happy, but most don’t spend very much time on thinking, “how do I make those last moments of the experience special? How do I add new elements to the experience to drive remembering it and to drive that kind of a real connection?”
Skift: Can you tell us more about what’s going through a guest’s mind regarding design elements, in terms of what Lippincott has found through its research on the subject?
Wise: Yeah, well I guess it’s actually a more important issue of don’t just differentiate and then you ask people about an experience. They typically talk to you about the service or the traditional aspect of the experience itself. That’s what most companies focus on, right? Was the call wait time acceptable? Did I check you in correctly? Were you happy with the turn-down service?
That’s all well and good and you want to make sure that experience is good, but when you actually look at what’s driving people, that emotional connection, you’re both saying, “how do I actually remember that event? How do I relive it? How do I share it with others? What kind of anticipation did I do before I even got there, and how did you help me with that?” Those things trigger dopamine release from a biological perspective and are actually more significant drivers of an attitude.
I think a lot of the council you come away with from this is to focus on the traditional definition of experience and then stretch that definition to think about what other things could we be doing, including after the end of the traditional experience? To drive that remembrance, to add that connection post-experience and consider what guests are doing before they even get to the experience.
It’s definitely about managing those things in the middle like check-in and room service but recognizing those are just part of the equation. Those are the rational parts of the equation. When you ask people, “what kind of experience did you have?” those are what they’ll talk about. But when you put them through psychological paths and you put them into experimental situations it’s the other aspects like the post and pre-experience of it that are just as important if not more so.
Skift: You’ve worked with a few Hyatt brands like Andaz and Hyatt Place and also Southwest which did a high-profile rebranding last year. Thinking about the hotel brands that you’ve worked with, what would you say is one the largest challenges you’ve had with conveying a hotel’s design elements into branding or re-branding projects?
Wise: I think one of the big challenges is the fact that a lot of hotel developers want a box room experience that’s not too physically unique because they switched hotel brands. There is the issue of how much you actually can build into the design and the physical design versus the rest of the experience. The flip side of that is also the expense of actually building.
One of the things we’ve gotten a lot of is how do we layer in a digital service that adds a unique dimension and experience about representing big dollar physical investments and properties? And how does that at the same time help enhance this notion of anticipation and remembering? How do we build some social connections with guests before they even arrive? We are always trying to think about the intersection of physical and digital, but it’s difficult with digital and with people personnel. Each of those has a cost or challenge and an upside of getting them right.
Skift: The word ‘locality’ is all over your website, so is it safe to say intelligent or invisible design is now at the intersection of local, or sense of place, and technology and can a hotel really be designed today without those two elements and be successful?
Wise: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think it’s a provocative question about a broader trend towards kind of incident specialization or customization for the individual needs and wants. It’s also about how digitization allows you to be very personalized in how you’re served and then the localization adds another dimension of specificity and personalization that does kind of get at the heart of that notion of how do we seamlessly create that invisible infrastructure behind the experience you’re delivering.
The challenge is it’s hard. There is only so much locality you can do, right? It works in neighborhoods in New York City in a mass market rather than along the I-90 interstate where it’s a little harder to be all about location and for many people a hotel is a transient stop. Where it doesn’t work, I think you can use digitization and personalization to bring an awareness of a specific place and time.
Skift: You said you’re seeing a growing trend of boutique and how every hotel seems to want to adopt these boutique standards, even hotels that aren’t classified as boutique. What does that mean for Lippincott who has to help these boutique brands position themselves when everybody kind of wants to try on that costume of a boutique lifestyle?
Wise: I think it’s not that different than a lot of other industries where a set of trends are standard to start and then you see a more rarefied offer. Those mainstream boutique mottoes look a lot like what luxury cars were doing 10 years ago. The luxury guys have to scramble and say well what are we adding to the mix and I think there’s a lot of similarity with hospitality.
You do see W Hotels moving away from what they were originally–that’s the other dimension. At some point boutique hotels aren’t so boutique anymore. They’re no longer a niche player and instead they’re a broad line.
Skift: Thinking about recent projects that you’ve done with both airlines and hotels, which sector do you think you’ve had more luck in in terms of convincing the client to adopt this new kind of design element or idea?
Wise: In some ways it’s easier to design an experience in the world of hotels because you have a little bit more control over all the elements you can design. If you’re an airline, you know your planes all come from either Boeing or Airbus, but they’re all pretty similar in the way they look or operate. You can mess around with the colors of the interior and exactly how many seats there are in the cabin, but there isn’t tons of opportunity.
They’ve both got theirs pros and cons in terms of how you manage it. I think the other thing I’d say is that with most airplane experiences people want to kind of get through it as quickly as possible whereas the best hotel experiences you’re happy to kind of get there and get immersed in it. The result is I think a different experience objective that you’re trying to achieve and we have clients who are really embracing that potential in each industry and others that haven’t been as excited about moving down kind of operational aspects of what they do and being experiential.
Skift: Very interesting, and lastly, when will the terms ‘invisible’ or ‘intelligent’ design just be design? When will it just be commonplace and everyone does it?
Wise: That’s a good question. I guess if you said once it becomes reflective, it’s kind of like when you stop putting “.com” in things. Once it was so intertwined with commerce that there was no huge distinction between ecommerce and off-line commerce. I think it’s a little bit of the same thing. Once it’s so pervasive that it’s an intuitive part of how you put a design together, I think at that point it’ll have faded into the woodwork. Whether that’s next year or three years from now, I’m not sure. My guess is it’s somewhere between three years from now.
Interview originally written by Dan Peltier and published on Skift on August 14, 2015.