Creating ‘X’

By Stefanie Groner, Chicago, Illinois


  1. A letter that’s almost impossible to spot out in the world. When was the last time you saw a xylophone? Had an x-ray? It just doesn’t get the love other letters do, like an ‘R’, ‘S’ or ‘T’, one could say. It’s a bit mysterious.
  2. A representation of an unknown number, or value, something intangible that you can only understand in relation to its context. The X means, well, nothing on its own, a placeholder for you to figure out.

I went to a focus group this summer about X. When you walk into a focus group, you know the researcher has some sort of goal, and values your input. But, you don’t have a ‘statement of work’ – the purpose is not typically laid out clearly in advance, the deliverable you are responsible for is simply your unabashed input. But, if you’re a consultant, you’re going to spend the whole time figuring out the market segment and target research of the focus group. Seven professionals across different industries, who were all elite status members, were invited to a downtown Chicago lounge to discuss X, clearly in the context of hotels – the intangible things that make a hotel stay so remarkable you come back – again, and again, to the same branch or to the brand around the world.

So, I set off to discover this group’s ‘X’ – what was the theme or idea or data that this hotel brand was trying to mine through this group?

Through discussing check-in procedures and award travel and concierge perks, the brand’s focus group’s ‘X’ is the same ‘X’ IBM uses in iX – experience. What makes for not just an acceptable but a superior customer experience?

Perhaps, given my recent alignment to our S&A interactive experience domain, I should not have been eligible for this focus group. I’m a budding industry professional when it comes to the discovering the holy grail of what a customer wants. I’m excited to venture into this world that melds quantitative big data with qualitative experiential analytics for that superb blend that creates the perfect experience. That being said, I have only been staffed on a software implementation so far, so I’m still fair game for focus group participation (I think).

In our two-hour discussion, I learned there’s an exclusive bar in a Tokyo establishment where, as an elite member, you get to cut the trendy long line, have access to a complimentary two-hour open bar, while a jazz piano serenades you as you sip, watching the sunset over the skyline. I heard that not every company rate includes wifi, lounge access, and breakfast, and the other participants bemoaned the struggles of aligning checkout with flight times.

Through the conversation, one common vein was clear between me, the holiday decorations importer, the pediatrician, and the international finance veep – we all wanted to simultaneously control our experience and still feel like our hotel knew us highly personally from the moment we walk in. To any brand, Hyatt, or Hilton, or SPG, or McDonalds, the experience should show that the company pursuing me as a customr took the time to ‘get to know me’ and approaches our relationship according to me, on my terms.

At least, that’s the facade we all want to experience – a very self-centered experience that we perceive to primarily benefit ourselves.

We hotel regulars claimed to crave real human interactions – not computer-generated suggestions of top restaurants, but rather a concierge understanding that we love sushi or whiskey, and then recommending personal local favorites. But when it came to logistics of picking the right room, an app check-in with the option to hand-select your room number in advance was far more appealing than the complimentary cookies that could be requested to your room that night. If this group were going to have cookies delivered, they wanted it to be a thoughtful surprise, not a regular standard.

So, where does IBM come in? I believe that through our interactive experience (iX) capabilities, we know how to work the customer experience into one that balances putting control into a customer’s hands while adding on surprise perks that build a loyal relationship.

In our focus group, we discussed wanting some more reliable apps for managing reservations – IBM can create that. We discussed wanting front desk agents to know our loyalty and respond – IBM can enable that. We wanted customized perks based on our past indicated preferences – IBM can generate that.

We wanted to feel known, personally, and we wanted to feel in control of creating our own experience – IBM can do that.

With every, “I wish” or “if only” the group shared, I thought, ‘IBM can do that, we can make that, we can reimagine that with you, and for you.’
Through my career here, I’m beginning to see a vision of a world of enhanced user experience, enabled by analytics and technology. And, that’s not just business best practices or deals sold – that’s optimizing the way we live our lives.


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