Translating bad service into business ideas

Whenever I encounter bad products or bad service, I can't help but think about how I would create something better.

Last week I was at Calamigos Guest Ranch in Malibu, a place that I love dearly. Yet, as great as that place is, it's clear there's a couple of weak points.

One is honoring agreements: Promise after promise was made and broken. Simple things like bringing a mini fridge, a rollaway bed, calling when the room's ready, picking up all of our stuff from the room when we were checking out, keeping our car nearby in the shade, and more.

Also, the food is sub-par. We had dinner twice at Malibu Café, which is part of the property. It's a gorgeous, fun, outside place to eat, with oversized games to play, and the most incredible design and decor. But the food! At the sit-down restaurant, it's not too bad, but certainly not great, either. On the second night, we ate at the self-service part, and everything we got there was barely edible.

Also, my wife's pretty picky about what she eats, so she really wanted the Brussels sprouts from the sit-down restaurant, while the rest of us at the self-serve, but they don't do that, because it's two separate businesses. That kind of thing is just lame. It's all part of the same bigger property, why should customers be inconvenienced by how they've chosen to organize themselves? Just figure it out and make it work!

Point being, all of this got me thinking about how I want my hotel/resort to be when I open that up.

We will, of course, create our own software to run the operation. Every team member will have an iPhone or iPod. Each time a commitment is made to a customer, if it's not being fulfilled by the person that made the commitment within a few minutes, it needs to be entered into the app, and assigned to someone. Every commitment made must be honored, no exceptions.

Also, the whole "leave the towels on the floor if you want them changed" concept is fundamentally flawed, and yet almost every hotel sticks to it. As a guest, if you shower in the morning, your towels are wet. Now, when you come back from the pool in the afternoon, you want to shower again.

If you leave the towels on the floor, and you come back to a room that hasn't been changed yet, you have to dry yourself in a towel that's still wet from your morning shower. If you leave the towels hanging, and the room has been changed, you didn't get fresh towels. Either way, as a guest, you're forced to play a game of guessing when your room will be cleaned. How is that a good idea for anyone but the housekeeping staff? Why hasn't anybody that works at a hotel realized this and come up with a better solution? It boggles the mind.

While we're at it, don't patronize me by claiming you're doing this for the environment. Sure, it might help the environment a bit, and that's a nice bonus, but please be honest and say that you're primarily motivated by your own bottom line. We can all appreciate that.

I was at an airport hotel a few years ago, and they had a sign in the elevator trying to pitch their restaurant as the hottest new place. Come on, people. Just be real. "Yes, this is an airport hotel, and of course this isn't going to be a French Laundry type experience. But we care about making the best food we know how to make, and we really come to life when your diners leave satisfied and happy, so stop by and give us a try". I think something like that could work really really well.

Back to the towel situation: Wouldn't it be great if you could request a specific time to get your room cleaned through an app? And get a notification when your room had been serviced, so you know and can plan. Or get a notification when that mini fridge or rollaway or your luggage had been delivered? That would be pretty fucking neat. Almost everyone has a smartphone thees days. The app would tell the house keeping staff in which order to clean the rooms, and they'd tell the app when they start cleaning a room, and when they're done, so both the guest and the front desk knows right away. I can't think of any reason not to do this.

Also, booking is crazy. Calamigos has booking on their web site, but it's so bad I ended up booking through a third-party app, probably costing them about 25% or so. That's money coming right out of the bottom line because their booking sucks.

Every time I experience things like this, my mind goes into creative mode.

Right now, I'm sitting on board a Boeing Dreamliner, and it,'s like sitting in a strong, cold wind, that's how bad the air condition is in my seat. How can you design an air condition that successfully replaces the air in the cabin, so it's fresh and the temperature is kept reasonable, without creating winds for the passengers? I don't know, but I'm sure if enough smart people dedicated themselves to figuring it out, it could be done.


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