As a resident of New York City, I am acutely aware of the perils of neuroticism. This town is full of it. I am as guilty as anyone, although I try to keep it under wraps. If I wasn’t concerned about looking like a control freak in front of clients and friends, I would grill waiters about how dishes were prepared, and issue specific instructions (not that I expect compliance, but one can always hope), And I’m not the worst offender. I’s not uncommon for hosts to get calls from dinner party guests telling them what foods they won’t eat (and that isn’t due to allergies or religious strictures). Entertaining is always fraught, but now menu planning has become a minefield.
How did all these picky eaters come to be? I doubt they were difficult as children (in my day, that wasn’t well tolerated). Somehow, advertising, diet fads, and fears about food safety have helped create a vigilant cohort of customers. But how great is the net gain? They may feel they are eating healthier; given the lousy state of nutrition science, it’s hard to know for sure. And being that watchful takes some of the fun out of food.
Now consider this new service idea from Springwise, a newsletter that writes breathlessly about “new ideas for entrepreneurial minds”:
Mapping the best and worst seats in hundreds of airplanes, SeatGuru is one of our favourite examples of transparency tyranny—the power of detailed information to help consumers find the best of the best and leave the rest behind. So we were pleased to hear about TripKick, a similar venture that’s tackling another aspect of travel: hotel rooms. While TripAdvisor (which acquired SeatGuru in 2007) gives travellers access to detailed hotel reviews by other travellers, who occasionally include info on which rooms to book, there’s definitely an opportunity in getting specific about individual rooms.
TripKick—”your hotel sidekick”—launched with about 250 hotels in 10 US cities, with more to follow. Coverage of each hotel includes detailed information on which rooms to request: which rooms are oversized (rooms ending in 03 and 04, for example), which have great bathrooms or are quieter than others. TripKick, which spent a year gathering all of this information, also points out which floors are better, and which to avoid. Guests are encouraged to add their own reviews and upload photos of rooms they’ve stayed in.
Is this much information really empowering, or does having such fine grading merely make some people unhappy when they don’t get what their little website says is the best? John Kenneth Galbraith noted that consuming (he really meant shopping) takes effort. This level of shopping is work for perilous little return.
The fallacy of these services is that the difference BETWEEN vendors and classes is much greater than within. A two class plane has worse business class seats than in three class plane, and getting cross country planes that fly international routes too are the best. And even within a grade of service, the vast majority of customers pick a carrier based on some combination of price, schedule, and mileage group preferences. Thus, obsessing about one’s seat beyond a few obvious considerations (avoiding middle seats, not being in the back row) takes care of most problems. The rest can usually be solved by earplugs or noise-canceling headphones.
And that goes double for hotels. The difference between a Ritz and a Raddison is greater than the difference in rooms (within the same room category) in a facility in either chain. The very few times I’ve been unhappy with rooms has been when the problem was endemic to the hotel: chambers as dim as a bar when I needed sufficient light to work (I guess I misunderstood what sort of business customer they were catering to), rooms that were badly in need of refurbishing (unavoidable in Zagreb), or sub par room service. A hotel isn’t home; is it really worth fussing about getting the “best” room on the “best” floor?
Now I’ll admit that there may be value in seeing the photos of typical rooms if, say, you are planing a vacation stay. Then comfort is a greater consideration. But again, the main benefit is making comparisons between hotels or room grades, not within.
Innovation expert Michael Schrage says that most businesses need to fire 15% of their customers. With services like these fostering generally unproductive fussiness, he may have to raise that threshold.