BBD CEO Tour: Hyatt Santa Clara Lab Hotel

Hyatt have about 500 hotels worldwide. A year ago the CEO saw that they needed an innovation drive, so hired a Chief Innovation Officer who started holding think tank sessions around the world. These brought in a diverse group of people from within Hyatt, their customers and others such as architects. They talked about wide topics like health and wellness, and generated, as these things do, thousands of ideas. They boiled these down to a book (that’s not exactly boiling down).

After they selected 8 hotels to be Lab Hotels, and our presenter Dania Duke was transferred to Santa Clara Hyatt to be a Hotel Lab Leader – as General Manager. She engaged Stanford D School to help – a smart move. Dania focused on gathering customer insights through empathy and trying lots of things.
Early learnings are that people want to be comfortable, feel in control, eat on their schedule, and do what they do when when they are at home.

(All of this session was conducted in a brown windowless room with a soulless text based powerpoint show interspersed with some neat photos. However while free unencumbered wifi was apparently one of the earliest changes made, it didn’t reach to my corner, and 3G telephone data access was cut off.)

Early results are good.
One example is how they reacted to feedback from customers that the furniture in the lobby was too heavy to move. Dania gave staff $500 to go and buy some cheap stuff from Ikea. The new furniture was immediately used by guests, moved around and used in different ways. They then asked guests the reasons for their behaviour and learned a lot. Some guests, for example, placed their computers on high tables, preferring to stand after a long flight.

Another change was to stop the bellman trying to shift business people’s luggage and instead gave him an iPad to do checkouts – a great ida both ways.

The most visible change is apparently the way employees interact although we didn’t see that from our brown room.

The widest change is an Asian preference program that has gone global, where Asian people can choose to get a package including a newspaper in their language, miso soup for breakfast, a lightweight smaller robe, a tea brewing station, “brown” and green tea and so forth. The Asian preference program was kicked off at the Santa Clara Lab hotel in March, was successful in dollar terms (driving bookings) and then rolled out in July to 24 other Hyatt hotels. I can’t wait for the Lance preference program, but apparently another preference program is rolling out soon, which I suspect the next one is targeting single females.

Other emerging programs could be VC suites, small free meeting rooms and even flexible check-out times.

They have a vey small development budget ($250k) and limited air cover from corporate interference. The limited budget is perhaps good, as it means change is focussed on small projects delivering fast results rather than large capital works. The general managers provide the aircover, protecting the staff and are fairly senior. That combined with early results has allowed them some degree of autonomy.

The Lab Hotels as a group are delivering results in customer satisfaction scores and to the bottom line.

Overall this is fertile ground. Hotels are miles away from giving us what we really want, and it is gratifying to see Hyatt launch not just the Lab Hotel program but also to quickly roll out the successes through the Hyatt chain.

This was a difficult presentation for me – struggling to match the uncomfortable chair, brown windowless room and bullet points with the idea of design led change. However it slowly emerged that Dania and her team had delivered a large amount of changes over the last 6 months, some of which was very high impact. Give it time.

Meanwhile I would suggest trying out the Santa Clara Hyatt next time you are in the region.

Top 10 things I want from a hotel that I seldom get
1: Online room selection at booking
2: 1 minute check in with no personal information exchanged or room unlocking with my iOS device
3: Clean bedding – no schmancy yet filthy bedspreads & pillows that are not laundered.
4: An ergonomic desk chair (a Life Chair) and a sofa I can stretch on
5: Toothpaste (as well as soap and shampoo) in the bathroom
6: Quiet but efficient air conditioning yet also fresh air in the room
7: Free high speed wireless internet with zero signups and unlimited devices
8: Plugs by the desk and bed I can use without bending or stretching
9: Check out 24 hours after I check in, regardless of the time of either
10: Pleasant can do anything staff who never want to be tipped

Published by Lance Wiggs