The Power of a Pillow

"I am sorry, we don't have any other pillows. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

The person behind the counter was friendly enough but  I walked towards the elevator with a feeling of disappointment. I turned my stiff neck to take in the full scene of the lobby around me. The hotel markets itself as a perfect destination of the business traveler. A place to come home to when the business leads the traveler back to this town. It sure does look nice. But somehow the appeal of the nice surroundings don't alleviate the stiffness in my neck.

I understand pillow preference is a very personal thing. Some, like me, like their pillows to be firm and relatively thick. Others like them so big and fluffy that when you rest your head on them, the pillow will swallow you. They would feel right at home in this hotel. This kind of fluffy pillow was the standard at the hotel I was staying at and after one night of giving it a go, my neck said 'no more'. So I made my way to the front desk and I got a big fat NO on my ask for another type of pillow. Someone decided that this hotel would not carry any other kind of pillow, most likely under the guise of standardization and cost optimization. And that is understandable to a point. If you want to run a business at scale and serve many customers, you need some kind of standardization. And the degree of standardization varies on the experience or product you sell. But then again, if I can get forty kinds of toothbrushes from one single manufacturer at the supermarket, why can I only get one pillow in a hotel? Unless you make tailor made solutions like a suit or a portrait painting for a single customer, you are going to make trade offs to ensure you can deliver one solution that fits the needs of many. I get that.

But you can get close to 100%. Getting to 80% is all about designing your product or experience well. It's the product that needs to be designed to cater to the combined 80% of the needs of your target group. And sure, you optimize for costs within servicing your target group. But what about the remaining 20%? The answer is, among other things, offering a choice in pillows.

A mass product that is tailored to feel like a personal one is possible. Ask every premium smartphone owner and they will tell you that. The device is unmistakably theirs, with their apps, their ringtone, their choice of color, their protective case. And yet, the device itself rolls off the factory conveyor belt looking like every other one out there. The personalization comes from the ability to adjust what is at the core a similar product. Cars are another example, people tailor this to their own preferences as well. With the rise of new production techniques, this is now relatively mainstream in sneakers as well. Both Nike and Adidas offer models that consist of a base model but can be extensively personalized with color and choice of fabric.

And it's not like I haven't been to hotels where they had a variety of pillows available, after asking the front desk. Is it a bit more expensive for these hotels to have an extra set of pillow behind the counter in case someone asks? It probably is. But put the extra cost against the potential lifetime customer value and I am sure the math works positively for these hotels.

Guess where I won't stay when I return to this town? Exactly.