This past week, I was once again in Toronto on business. The city was sold out of hotels and I was lucky enough to find a room at the Intercontinental (part of the Holiday Inn group). The room was $569 a night. I almost fell off my chair when they told me. Fortunately, the business association I belong to (CPSA) has a terrific deal with the hotel and I got it for $215; much more palatable since the client would surely balk at over 500 bucks regardless of the excuse.

Arriving at the hotel triggered the typical “high-end” experience; many people smiling and kowtowing in the servile manner that the rich seem to enjoy so much. At check-in, the hotel manager, Rolf, came out to personally welcome me and shake my hand. As I headed to my room, #639, a breathless Rolf came running up the corridor behind me , calling my name. It turns out they had made a mistake on my key-card and I was actually in room 629. Very nice of him to chase me down; most places would just let you find out that the key doesn’t work and go back down to reception.

The room had a nice “welcome” gift that consisted of a personally hand-written card, a substantial glass-bowl of mixed unsalted nuts, and a bottle of Italian mineral water. I was very thirsty but hesitated to open the bottle, having been “clipped” many times on check-out to charges of $10 for the water bottle I had assumed was complimentary.

I called reception, confirming that yes, it was part of the welcome gift. I eagerly started looking for a bottle opener (the bottle used a non twist-off beer cap), but there was none to be found. I called reception, which informed me that it should be in the mini-bar. Nada. I called reception again. They said someone would bring up a bottle opener, which in fact happened within 5 minutes.

The room was very pleasant, made even more so by the 56 inch HD TV running Bell’s new Fibe ultra-broadband system. The image was frankly scary; I could see the makeup and pores on the skin of the actors and newscasters; a little unnerving I must say. Not sure I want that much detail.

The front desk had indicated that wireless internet access was available in the room. But when I went to access it, it informed me of a charge of $4 per 30 minutes! “What?”, I found myself exploding out loud. The fu^*ing Holiday Inn and Motel 7 down the street have free internet access included in my $89 a night, and this place has the gall to charge $4 for 30 minutes in a $500 plus a night room? Outrageous. Instead, I tethered my iPad to my phone and used its slower but free connection to access my emails.

The large bathroom featured a tub with no shower head, and a separate shower stall. Next morning, I entered the shower stall for my daily “toilette” as the Victorians used to call the daily washing-up, shave, and preparation of ones external presentation.

The shower head was one of those miserable “economizer” spritzers which I detest with a passion. Imagine trying to rinse off a 250+ pound carcass with enough body hair to make two wool army-blankets, with a fine mist of water. This abomination was compounded by the fact that the stall was narrow and the shower head fixed, i.e., no “telephone” style portable shower head that you can use to rinse off the lower extremities and nether regions.

I’m not sure if the hotel is targeted to yogis or circus folk, because rinsing off would surely require contortions and poses only available to those flexible individuals. I briefly considered a head-stand in the shower, but dismissed it as both too dangerous and beyond my capabilities.  I did the best I could, contenting myself with a rather slippery, soapy feeling in the Grand Canyon for the rest of the day.

All this to say, “The Devil is in the details”. A business is only as good as the lowliest employee who fails to consider details such as a bottle opener, or who forgets to ensure that there are charged batteries in the TV remote control. It also means making sure that someone thinks through how customers will use the “product” and making sure that there is a reasonable link between cost and value received.

I was thinking of Steve Jobs and Apple this week. Among the reasons for the phenomenal success of this company over the last few years, is the fact that everything is designed and delivered with astonishing thought to the customer experience and to the details.

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