In fact, it’s worse: Your customers can often lead you astray. But catering to the customer has become a kind of legendary goal, with companies like Zappos setting the standard for bend-over-backward service that tries to anticipate the customer’s every desire and respond to their every whim. In the hospitality business, high-end, five-diamond hotels are notorious for going out of their way to do anything and everything their guests ask for, and they often earn their reputations by their willingness and ability to fulfill a guest’s zaniest request.
But that doesn’t mean it’s always the best business practice, especially for a hostel. I learned this firsthand putting together our hostel common room. When they’re at their best, the common room becomes the nerve center of any hostel: It’s where you meet other guests, trade expert travel tips, swap war stories, and, importantly, where you plan the adventures you’re going to have with other hostel guests. It’s no exaggeration to say that a solid common room can make or break a hostel experience.
One of the most disheartening experiences in my own hostel travel was arriving at one in high spirits, only to find a few guests trapped indoors, glued to the television in the common room. Everyone silent, staring at the blue screen as if in a trance. No socializing, and none of the convivial banter that makes for the best memories. If you can judge a book by it’s cover, then you can judge a hostel by the amount of wine and conversation that flows in its common room.
For HK Austin, I decided to head this problem off at the pass: A ban on TVs in the common room. Our guests were, initially, surprised. No TVs? What gives? A few guests even went out of their way to tell us that we absolutely, positively needed a television in the common room. We flat-out refused — and we haven’t regretted that decision for a second.
I’m proud of the space that our common room has become, and I know that it’s due in large measure to the fact that there’s no television around. People use the space to play card games, concoct plans, strike up conversations, drink, and actually enjoy each other’s company, without the endless buzzing distraction of television. In other words, they use the common room to find out what they might have in common.
Sure, it can seem strange to come into a common living area in the 21st century and not see the boob tube against the wall. But the customer isn’t always right, and we had to trust our instincts and intuition. Besides, people will remember their stay at our hostel; they won’t remember the show they never watched.
Think of what your customers say they want, but that you know in your gut isn’t good for the business. Then stand up for yourself, and make your case if you have to. Don’t let the cult of the customer crowd out your own strong instincts for what you know is best.
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