Embracing the Airbnb experience

This post was originally published on www.webintravel.com on 20th October 2015

airbnbIt was interesting for me listening to Julian Persaud of Airbnb simply for the number of times he used the word ‘experience’. He had a lot to say, of course, about the company and his last role with Google. But that word kept cropping up – he even used the phrase ‘touching the Airbnb experience’ when describing what the rest of us might call ‘using the app’.

One could be cynical of course and imagine that this phrase is drummed in to him as part of some sophisticated internal PR drive. But that doesn’t really matter because calling a person’s interaction with Airbnb – with any of their touch points –is that person’s brand experience. And a company that really understands that (even if it’s ingrained as part of internal brainwashing as some cynics might have it) is a company that is riding the proverbial wave of contemporary consumer-centric thinking.

Julian talked about the experience as it pertains to the actual stay of course, citing his 1,000 nights of hotel stays when at Google as a bit of a blur.

But crucially what Julian and Airbnb understand is that ‘experience’ is not just about the stay. It’s not just about the holiday or the flight. I would go as far as to stay that, in some senses, those obvious aspects of the experience – the stay or the flight – are almost trivial. What Airbnb does is focus on every touch point – on every interaction someone might have with the brand over and above the actual thing itself.

And I can pay personal testament to this. A year or so ago I applied for a job with Airbnb (I didn’t land it). And even the job application process with them is a delightful experience and that’s something I can say even though the ‘experience’ was ultimate unsuccessful. The email I received from them when making my application was simply a ‘nice’ email. Most of you reading this I’m sure will have had job applications with other companies where your application wasn’t even acknowledged.

So I’m prepared to look past any cynicism. Julian works for a company that understands the importance of experience when it comes to job candidates. It’s no surprise that they totally get it when it comes to ‘touching the Airbnb experience’ on a mobile device. You know: using the app.

Creating Magic Moments

Magic_moments

Have you ever had a birthday or Christmas or other occasion
when someone has given you a gift and you’ve thought, ‘that’s just what I
wanted’?  I do hope that it’s
happened to you. Do you remember how nice it felt?

There are many reasons, of course, why that particular gift
might have hit the spot.  Perhaps
it was the latest book by an author you particularly like or the latest CD from
your favorite band.  It may of
course have had some more specific contextual relevance for you pertaining to where
you were ‘at’ in your life at that time. 
You may have been planning a trip and someone gave you a travel guide
for your destination. Or you may have simply renovated your kitchen and a kind
and thoughtful person saw some lovely crockery thinking it would look resplendent
in your new beautiful cupboards.  It’s
these sorts of gifts that can feel a lot more special than those that, whilst
no less generous, just don’t seem to have much thought behind them.

Whilst it seems like rather cold and odd language to use, these
cases of great gift giving are examples where one person had demonstrated an
understanding of the recipient.  It’s a cold way of speaking about a lovely moment, I know,
but I did warn you. 

The reason I am breaking it down to this level is that I feel
that companies and brands also have a real opportunity to create these special
moments – Magic Moments – as I’ve seen them called, by simply doing exactly the
same thing – by simply demonstrating to their customer that they understand
them – that they have made the extra bit of effort to get to know them. 

And whilst there are many ways of being very clever about
this (I’m thinking about rigorous data mining algorithms employed to churn
through millions of point of sales transactions as popularized by people like
Tesco in the UK with their Club Card) it’s often some very basic thinking along
with the simplest of customer insights that can, if acted upon, bring a smile
to the face of the customer. 

I’ve recently started using the products of two companies
with whom I have had little or no interaction before.  And, in some ways, there is a gaping chasm between the
experience I’ve had with one compared to that which I’ve had with the
other. 

I recently signed up with a cable TV provider here in
Singapore – Singtel and their MioTV package.  I should say at this point that they have generally been
very good in coming to my house when they said they would and the guys have
been helpful and pleasant in setting up the kit and helping me out.  But using the set top box is like
suddenly being asked to man one of those workstations you think of when you
visualize NASA’s Mission Control replete with Ed Harris pacing impatiently
right behind you.  Ok, I exaggerate
a bit, but I’m a very tech adaptive person (I just made that phrase up) but I
find navigating my way around this particular cable TV menu system a complete
nightmare. I’m almost always the one helping others find their way around
computers and other devices so I really wonder how some people I know would even
begin to understand what I find a real struggle.  As I side note, I should say that, despite the intense
frustration over the menu system, I am eternally grateful to Singtel for giving
me the opportunity to now watch F1 in glorious high definition. 

Contrast that experience with the one I have with an iPhone
application I recently downloaded called Walkmeter from Abvio. Walkmeter measures the time of your walk
and fully exploits the GPS functionality on my iPhone to give me distance,
average speeds, comparisons with the last time I did the same route and
overlays the route on Google Maps. 
It’s a joy to use.  And
what’s key here is that it took me no time to get used to using it and that was
without using any instruction manual. 
What was particularly engaging for me – what really put a smile on my
face – was that the application almost seemed to anticipate what I’d like to
see it do.  As I explored it for
the first time there were a couple of moments when I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be
cool if it…’ and almost before I could finish the thought the application was
doing exactly what I wanted. 
Brilliant.  What a feeling –
these guys were thinking of me when they designed this.  The application seemed to know what I
wanted and, it also seemed to know I’d like things that I didn’t know that I’d
like.  Without sounding too
Rumsfeld – like, it delivered twice – firstly by anticipating what I already
wanted from it and then by delivering great functionality I hadn’t even
realized I wanted. 

Now whilst my experience of these two products is hugely
different, I can’t help thinking that it would only have taken some basic customer
centric research or observation techniques to enable Singtel (or whoever does
their remote control user interface design) to make a better UI and ultimately
a better experience.  It wouldn’t
have taken much to ensure that I had some Magic Moments as I enjoyed with the
Walkmeter application.

We just need to ask some basic questions when thinking about
these points of engagements with our customers to create our own Magic Moments
for them.  What is it they actually want to do at this moment?  What else might they doing at this
moment?  Where are they at this
moment (physically and also with reference to the rest of their day of their product / service journey with the
brand)? 

Make me smile and surprise me – give me magic Moments – and
I’ll be back.  Oh, and I’ll also
tell loads of people about you.