business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

When is a key not a key? Perhaps when it’s a sign of the future.

Okay, obviously this one will take some explanation.

You probably notice we do lots of “Eye Openers” here at MNB - some of them labeled that way, and some of them not - that are based on signs of change that we see in some of the small and big discoveries and encounters that we have each day. Often the indicators border on the mundane, but the implications are significant.

Which brings me back to the key.

In this case, the key is one that was given to me at a W Hotel last week.

My key card bore a strange message, telling me its days as a key are ending. In truth, I travel a lot; I get lots of hotel keys and know they can carry all kinds of messages, ads and then some. Usually I just ignore them, but this one caught my eye.

On the flip side of the key card I learned why my key was so fatalistic. W Hotels is switching to a new system through which I will be able to use an app to book the room, check in and even unlock my door.

In other words, my days of waiting in line for my room key or to check out are likely over, which means the two worst parts of most hotel stays are done. After all, there are few things worse than arriving late after a long day of travel and waiting in line simply to get a room. Unless it’s the following morning when I’m in a rush to leave to get to a meeting or catch a flight, the automatic checkout through the phone or television isn’t working and again I’m in a line and it’s not moving…

I’ve had wonderful stays in hotels punctuated by that long check-in/check-out experience and guess which part I always remember. Sure that’s not fair, but it’s human nature.

The parallel to the retail checkout experience is pretty obvious isn’t it? And if hotels figure out how to fix this, retail will not be far behind.

I’m also betting that inside the hotel industry they are doing this with some trepidation because they are eliminating the only two times most guests usually talk with hotel staff on any trip. But the reality is that those short conversations rarely, if ever, enhance any stay. The challenge to the W and others is figuring out other ways to stand out and provide meaningful customer value.

Again, the parallel to retail is obvious.

I think W is working on this already. Along with my key they gave me one other eye opener on this recent trip. In my room was a small universal charger featuring cords for Apple, Android, Nokia, LG, Palm and more. I didn’t need the device on this trip, but that’s the kind of useful gadget that would have saved me repeatedly in the past.

The key question is whether I would select a specific hotel simply because they eliminated a pet peeve (the lines) and provided an essential service (the charger)? Obviously my hotel choices are far more complex than just that - topped by meeting location and price. But maybe W just changed the equation a little.

And that too is both a lesson and an eye opener for retailers.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.

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