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white paper Making it rain: Designing experiences customers will remember.


he “guest experience” is possibly the most talked about aspect of the industry. Delivering a great (memorable, unique, motivation, etc.) experience is the name of the game, and there can be no argument about this. Unless, at the end of the day, the customer recalls their experience of your hotel as superior to other options, he or she will probably not return to repeat the experience (unless you’re the only game in town, or have an overriding location or other advantage that forces the customer to disregard their real preferences. At the very least, if your hotel is not recalled favorably, the customer will investigate alternatives; and sooner or later one will pop up.

The answer is, in addition to using whatever data you can muster to enhance the guest experience, optimize the room rate, manage the utility costs, you need to understand how your guests actually experience the things you do. And which of these things becomes a remembered experience, and which simply disappear into the experience oblivion with the other 20,000 experiences you will have that day that you never think about.

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The holy grail of guest experience management is to have every guest recall their experience of your hotel as over-

whelmingly positive, intensely meaningful and absolutely unique to your hotel. Not only that, every guest must be so enthusiastic about their visit that they tell their friends how brilliant the stay was. And they are so attached to your property that for the next umpteen months if they hear that anybody is travelling to your city, they will badger them to stay in your hotel (bear in mind that for the most part guests don’t return to your city all that often; but they have friends that visit and their friends have friends…and so on). This sounds like an impossible goal. It’s not impossible, but it is

Excerpted from the article by Protean Managing Partner Laurence Bernstein first published in (

the very hard to accomplish. As hard, in fact, as it is to make it “every rain! touch- WHAT IS A GUEST EXPERIENCE? point” the- We generally think of experiences as a number of individual inory of ex- teractions between the guest the hotel – some directly perience and (on site, on the phone when design, they book, etc.) and some indirectly (on the website, in emails, you need social media, web and all forms to ensure of advertising, confirmation letters, etc.). Just to get this out of that every the way, there are reflected experiences that can be taken inone of to consideration as well – these these ex- are the experiences that people feel as a result of talking about periences the hotel to other people, or other people talking about the is on hotel to them (either in person or brand.” on social media). In fact, if you “

think about it there are literally hundreds of experiences of your hotel that a guest will feel related to every time they stay in the hotel.

Obviously you want every one of these to be positive, and in the “every touch-point” theory of experience design, you need to ensure that every one of these experiences is on brand. But when we ask people to tell us about their stay, they do not ramble through hundreds of interactions because they really don’t remember them (unless they stand out either positively or negatively). Rather they might, if we press them, tell the

story something like this:

“The booking experience on line was good, no problems. They were friendly. I remember the smile on the doorman’s face – made me feel really welcome. I had dinner in the restaurant, it was fine. I checked out the next morning on the TV in the room. The room was pretty nice, but overall when I saw the check I was bit surprised – they never told me about the taxes and resort fees. I suppose I would go back, not sure. Was I satisfied? Yeah, I guess so, no real problems, just a bit pricier than I expected. But what I really liked was the fact that the phone was on the same side of the bed as the clock.” That’s it! No mention of the upgraded bathroom amenities; not a word about the way everybody in the hotel said “Aloha” when they walked past; Did not even mention that the GM was in the lobby saying “Hi” (actually “Aloha”) to the guests at the very time he arrived. What about all the hundreds of touchpoints, all 100% on brand? And the only thing he notices is where the clock is? Hell, it’s not even supposed to be there, it’s supposed to be on the other side but the socket was out of order!

WHAT’S HAPPENING HERE? There are three levels of experience: micro, macro and meta. Page 2

“Meta experiences are the experience of all experiences. That is, the meta experience is the final remembere d experience that sums up the stay, and that is comprised of all the macro experiences”

Micro experiences are all the hundreds of “touch-point” interactions that make the stay possible but are not individually significant (in the above example, they would include the amenities in the bathroom, the way the guest experienced the check in, and all the other events they did not mention) Macro experiences are the relatively few experiences that stand out for one reason or another and that impact the ultimate determination of the brand (in the above, the doorman’s smile becomes a macro experience, as do the TV checkout, the placement of the clock and the additional charges on the bill. In some instances the totality of the online reservation process might be considered a macro experience: had the guest said something like: “The online booking system was really easy!” – but he didn’t, so we’ll just move on! Meta experiences are the experience of all experiences. That is, the meta experience is the final remembered experience that sums up the stay, and that is comprised of all the macro experiences and the totality of the micro experiences. (In this case the meta experience is “The hotel is okay, not exceptional, not great value”). While the meta experience is the sum of all the other experiences, it also becomes the filter

through which all of these experiences – good or bad – will be viewed and recalled. In this case when asked about the stay, the response is bland and unenthusiastic. Even the clock is only mentioned as an afterthought, showing how the meta experience clouds even the parts of the stay that impressed him. Now imagine if, on the way out of the hotel in the morning, the GM came running up and said: “Mr. Smith, I’m terribly sorry. We neglected to inform you about the resort fee on your confirmation. Our fault entirely, I’ve reversed that charge.” Obviously this is a macro experience. It is overwhelmingly positive and very relevant. It happens at the end of the stay (the last experience is remembered first and carries more weight in determining the meta experience, than the first experience). Now what is the meta experience? Probably something like this: “The hotel is brilliant and understands me – there was a mistake on the bill but they rectified it without any question…and, I slept really well because I could turn the alarm off and answer the wake-up call from the same side of the bed!” And now, because he is recalling the macro experiences through such a positive meta experience, he might remember the upgraded bathroom amenities; and he may Page 3


well mention the really friendly doorman.

though we Making it rain don’t even It’s useful to think of micro, macthink of the ro and meta experiences in terms of a thunderstorm. micro exFIRST IT RAINS periences, The first thing about a thunderthey are storm is that there are raindrops. Many of them. Each time a crucial to raindrop lands on our head, or the umbrella, or wherever, it is a our experi- micro experience. The raindrops ence of are micro experiences because we don’t think about them the macro (unless there is something differabout them, in which case experienc- ent they would become macro exes, and will periences – say they turned to hail stones). But, and this is very color the important, without the raindrops meta ex- we would not experience the storm at all. Even though we perience don’t even think of the micro experiences, they are crucial to at the end our experience of the macro exof the periences, and will color the meta experience at the end of the storm.” storm. If the rain is the only component of the storm, we might describe the rainstorm by talking about “getting wet” or “staying dry”). These are the macro experiences and the meta experience might be something along the lines of “a soaking rainstorm” or “a drizzle”. But note that we still do not talk about the raindrops, which in this case are obviously the most important factor – they

are the story. But individually they are micro experiences and we just don’t notice them. These micro experiences are, in fact, the medium in which the macro experiences are felt; they contribute to the texture of the experience, but we are immersed in them, and hence don’t notice them. Micro experiences are like the water in which the fish in the aquarium swim. Without the water there would be no aquarium, no fish, no experience; and yet, when talking about a visit to the aquarium nobody talks about the water. As with raindrops, the water is a micro experience. And, as with the raindrops turning into golf ball sized hail stones, if the aquarium water is dirty, it changes from a micro experience into a macro experience, and we will remember it and it will cloud (no pun intended) our meta experience of the aquarium – we may forget to tell our friends about the fish, and only tell them how dirty the water is and how badly run the place is.

THEN THERE’S THUNDER Suddenly we hear thunder. Loud, rolling, frightening, threatening, impressive, pleasing. The experience is now focused on the thunder. We no longer refer to the rain, but rename the event to a thunderstorm, and when we describe it, we talk about the thunder: “I was caught in the thunder storm, yesPage 4

“Thunder is a macro experience. It is impactful enough to get our attention and it may well be the activity that we recall most (or, in fact, solely) when talking about what happened to us yesterday afternoon. “

terday;” “The cat was frightened by the thunder,” “Did you hear the thunder, yesterday?” And if Mother Nature designs the thunder well enough, she can be sure that we will all be talking about the majestic thunder. Thunder is a macro experience. It is impactful enough to get our attention and absent any other macro experiences, it can well be the activity that we recall most (or, in fact, solely) when talking about what happened to us yesterday afternoon. Unless something more relevant to our lives supervenes, such as the cat being frightened, or my being caught off-guard and surprised, or my mother not being able to hear over the roar of the thunder. These superseding experiences are macro experiences, as well; and because they are more relevant and more personally meaningful, they become the experiences that we will recall: once the cat has scampered under the bed, how much are we going to think about the rain, or the noise of the thunder? Not much. Only as the “medium” in which the cat experience is retold. And, Mother Nature being the brilliant marketer that she is, she makes it almost impossible to tell the story of the frightened cat without talking about her core product (rainstorm!).

AND NOW: LIGHTNING STRIKES The sky lights up as a bolt of lightning streaks across the landscape. And then another. And then another. Now the dog is terrified; my mother is frightened out of her wits. The lightening show is a thing of great beauty, demonstrating the awesome power of Mother Nature. Lightening in this example is a macro experience as well. But the intensity of the experience trumps all the other macro experiences, and it may well become the focal point of my storm memories. When asked about the events of the previous day I am more likely to describe a fantastic show of lightening than the sound of thunder or the drops of rain.


As it all calms down, the storm resolves with a magnificent rainbow arching across the sky. This is another macro experience, and being a deeply emotional experience (the feeling of beautiful resolution makes us feel calm and safe), as well as coming at the very end, it may well become the most salient experience of the storm. In the office the next day I may start the conversation with, “Did you see the rainbow yesterday?” Everything else, the raindrops, the loud and threatening thunder, the magnificent and frightening lightening, fade into the background; our Page 5

“When all most remembered experience MR. SMITH’S EXCELLENT HOTEL ADof the storm, is the rainbow. VENTURE is said and Let’s review Mr. Smith’s stay at WHAT REALLY HAPPENED: THE our hotel in terms of the rain done, META EXPERIENCE making metaphor. when we When all is said and done, when we take into account the rain, His arrival is immediately weltake into the thunder, the lightening and comed with thunder, when the doorman smiles. But after that account the rainbow, what did we expe- he experiences only raindrops – rience: a loud storm? a frightenthe rain, ing storm? a cleansing storm? It the expected, uneventful, could be one of these, or it course of experiences that we the thun- could be something else, de- all encounter during our stay in a hotel. For him the check in, the der, the pending on who we are and in-room movies, the bathroom how we process our experienclightening es. Whatever this is, it is the meta amenities, the design, were all experience: the way we experi- just raindrops: without them and the enced all the other experiences. there would be no hotel experibut they just aren’t noticerainbow, If, for instance, I am obsessed by ence, able. Until he goes to check out: my dog, I might talk about the what did frightening storm yesterday; my suddenly – lightening. The resort fee is like a bolt of lightning. It we experi- mother might recall a disturbing penetrates the rainfall and storm; I (because I love watchence...the ing lightening) might recall a makes an indelible impression. spectacular storm. In each case This, the last and most salient meta ex- the meta experience is of a macro experience might be the defining experience: the meta perience: storm, but the salient feature of experience might well be: “an the meta-experience changes. the way Mother Nature’s intent, of unsatisfactory, overpriced, uninteresting hotel stay.” But then, course, was that our meta expewe experijust as he is leaving the hotel, a rience of the events would be rainbow appears in the form of enced all tempered by the rainbow. She the GM: now, the meta experithe other would want our meta experi- ence is, as we suggested, a brilence to be something like: the liant, interesting hotel stay. experienc- power of nature to cleanse and renew. In retrospect, perhaps But, in the end this is a bit ranes.” she should have tempered dom. The experience of the hosome of the other macro experiences and made the rainbow more salient.

tel does not direct Mr. Smith to any brand conclusions. Other than “honesty”, the experiences do not amplify a brand idea; they do not actively work to make the hotel distinctive or difPage 6

“... is up to the marketing department to ensure that

every associate understands the brand, the brand experi-

ferent in any relevant way. In fact they are no more than a series of micro and meta experiences that mimic every other satisfactory hotel experience (except the one stand-out rainbow at the end). Ideally, the meta experience of a hotel should incorporate a sense of something distinctively different and meaningfully relevant. It should be consistent, and it should be designed to ensure three ongoing responses: 1.

the stay is remembered and recalled frequently; 2. the guest returns when he or she has the opportunity to do so; and, 3. he encourages his friends and colleagues to stay there when they are in the location. And if the hotel is part of a collection of hotels, the end response must also give the guest confidence that the experience at any other hotel in the system will be equally delightful.


Protean Hospitality is a boutique brand strategy advisory firm focused on helping our hospitality clients drive growth. We combine our business/category expertise with tenacity, balancing rigor and creativity, to uncover new opportunities for hotels, resorts and hospitality brands. For further information on this and other Protean Hospitality studies contact: Laurence Bernstein, Managing Partner, 416 967-3337 x 101; Page 7

Making it rain designing experiences customers will remember