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19 Dec

Magic is sincere, and it shows.

The word "delight" gets thrown around a lot in design and product circles.

"Adding delight"
"Creating a delightful experience"
"Designing delight into the app"

I'm sure you must have come across a similar variation in your work.

But, what is delight?

If you ask me, delight is deep empathy and consideration of the others needs, that comes at a moment when people aren't expecting it.

You see, when people interact with a product or service, they know that they're interacting with a for-profit business. Consequently, the frame in which any customer approaches your product or service is quite transactional.

As a result of this frame, the customer is only expecting that which they paid for and nothing more. It's a give-and-take world and they consider your business no different than any other in that regard.

But what happens when the business displays an uncanny act of generosity, or thoughtfulness in a certain aspect of the service design, or goes out of its way to do something that wasn't in the contract?

It creates a powerful moment for the customer; a moment we call "delight."

There's a book called The Power of Moments, where the author talks about this one hotel in Los Angeles that serves as a great study for "Moment Marketing," a style of marketing that tries to apply the peak-end rule in behavioural psychology which states that:

You do not create a uniform experience. Instead, you focus on creating one or two outstanding moments for your users; moments that get remembered and talked about.

And this hotel, the author states, manages to do moment marketing very well.

But to be frank, I think calling it "moment marketing" is underselling it.

So let me share my perspective.

The hotel in question is The Magic Castle Hotel in Los Angeles.

Here are some photos of the hotel from Trip Advisor.

As you can see, the hotel looks quite basic, with a dated style of architecture, simple spartan rooms with no pizzazz or fancy decor, and little free space to loiter around. Heck, even the swimming pool is tiny by modern standards.

But the hotel still commands a hefty price of ₹22,000/night on Trip Advisor. And it has an average rating of 4.5 stars across ~3600 reviews, which is a feat in itself.

So then what does this hotel do to have such a loving fanbase?

And it is a fanbase, if you look at some of the reviews.Here are some commonly observed reasons.

1. The most talked about "moment" in the experience is the popsicle hotline. Any time, day or night, you or can pick up the old-fashioned red phone by the pool and dial the helpline. A man, complete with white gloves, promptly appears bearing a silver platter with a selection of free ice lollies.

2. Unlimited snacks, chips, and candy.

3. Unlimited soda, coke, and ice cream.

4. Free breakfast, with a magician performing tricks at your breakfast table three times a week.

5. Heated swimming pool all throughout the year.

6. Free laundry service, with clean clothes delivered to your door, packaged in brown paper and complete with a sprig of lavender on top.

In the book Power of Moments, author Dan Heath writes,

"Magic Castle isn’t worried about changing the awful yellow color of the building or upgrading the bathrooms. Its managers are thinking about doing a couple of things during a stay that will really stand out in guests’ minds. I think that’s an advantage, because then you don’t have to excel at everything. You only have to excel at a few things that are going to be memorable. Those defining moments can become powerful signature moments.”

But, when I read some of the reviews, my sense was that these so-called moments are hardly what makes people love the place and rate it so highly. These are great, no doubt, but when you're paying ₹22000 a night, some may expect this kind of service and freebies.

For me, calling it moment "marketing" feels like underselling something that's much deeper and less transactional in nature.

So, what is it then?

I'll show you.

Here's a review on Trip Advisor.

Here's the owner of the hotel personally replying to the review.

Do you see it?

Here's another review.

Another one, this time, 4 stars instead of 5.

Another one, yet mentioning that one common thread of delight that ties every "moment" together.

"The staff treat you like your staying in a 5* hotel."

It's not the moments or the freebies in themselves. It's the friendliness of the staff and their willingness to go above and beyond what their guests signed up for.

In fact, many reviews mention things like,

"While we were at the pool the owner of the hotel came over and checked in with us to see how our stay was going and hung out for small talk."

"The morning we headed out to Universal one of the employees hooked us up with passes to ride the Metro for every person in our party (8 of us)"

"The Manager/Owner had a lovely chat to my kids and that evening we arrived back to our room with their favourite snacks waiting for them with a lovely personalised note from him - this service you don't find anywhere very often so we were very impressed."

"One night of my stay was very noisy (guests) but the staff were incredibly friendly and supplied me with ear plugs. I slept soundly after that. I just wish I stayed for more than 2 nights. Would book this hotel again if I'm ever back in LA."

The hotel and its staff make you feel at home.

In a world full of transactionality, The Magic Castle Hotel serves as a breath of fresh air. And for that and that alone, its guests are willing to overlook the old infrastructure, or the lackluster bedrooms or the lack of a bigger pool or free real estate or any of the thousands of things that go into making a fancy hotel.

The owner of the hotel in his response sums up the philosophy of the hotel quite nicely and I wish to end this piece on that note because it's just so beautiful to see in today's world:

"Appreciate you stating that we're not the Ritz. It's true. We're an older building with a mix of rooms and it's important not to expect brand new and flashy. Our focus is on cleanliness, and providing guests with a hotel experience that is truly unique, and offers an old school approach to service instead of making our guests feel like we just want to get every penny out of them. There's more value for us to make it an amazing experience, which is how we earn reviews like yours.

Thank you so much for writing this we hope to see you again very soon. Thank you so much for supporting our small business."

Caring makes all the difference.

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