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How are consumer preferences affecting the way companies are delivering customer experience?

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Psychologist and speaker, Joseph Michelli reveals what we can learn from the way Airbnb is meeting needs in their service ecosystem.

The Internet and mobile technology have brought a world of choices as close as our fingertips. We are no longer limited by the products available in our local stores or malls. We search, click, buy, and await delivery! Well, at least most of us do.

Increasingly, younger consumers are looking to rent or reuse whenever possible. Out of environmental and economic stewardship, consumers are challenging the notion that everyone needs to own a home, a car, a closet filled with dresses, shoes, or jewelry. The money saved from using shared marketplaces is often channeled toward enriched and memorable experiences. 

Given that customers are wanting and enjoying more choice, convenience, shared options, and elevated experiences, business leaders in virtually every sector are scrambling to meet the changing wants, needs, and desires of their core customer segments.

In 2008, McGraw-Hill published my book The New Gold Standard 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. Having written prior books about experience strategies at retail brands like Starbucks, I was eager to examine how leaders at an iconic hospitality brand reconceptualized their service delivery to meet changing lifestyles and expectations of luxury travelers. While I was writing my book, two design students and a software engineer were starting a company called Airbnb. The name is inspired by the first listing on the platform – a spare room in a San Francisco apartment of founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia.

When a roommate moved out of their shared apartment, Chesky and Gebbia were looking for a way to make rent using that spare room. Knowing that a major design conference was coming to San Francisco, the pair crafted a rudimentary website targeted to conference attendees and offered guests the opportunity to sleep on one of three air mattresses and enjoy uncooked pop tarts and orange juice. From those humble beginnings, Chesky and Gebbia partnered with their friend Nathan Blecharcyzk to streamline the web platform and officially launch Airbnb in 2008.

Just over a decade later, estimates of Airbnb’s valuation range from 31 to 38 billion dollars (which is similar to the parent company of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company – the Marriott Corporation, which has an estimated valuation of 40 billion dollars). Unlike Marriott, Airbnb has garnered its financial success without owing any of the properties that guests book on the Airbnb platform.

So, how did Airbnb gain its footing and disrupt the travel industry? How have leaders at Airbnb crafted a 21st-century customer experience that blends the best of human service delivery with the best of technology? If you want the full answer, you will want to pick-up my latest McGraw-Hill book, The Airbnb Way – 5 Leadership Principles for Igniting Growth through Loyalty, Community, and Belonging. However, the short answer for Airbnb’s success (and the success of most businesses today) is that leaders listened and observed the stated and unstated needs of their customers. They appreciated the importance of a digital marketplace that availed guests countless and diverse travel experiences. They understood the financial, lifestyle, and social benefits that hosts can enjoy when they rent out spare rooms, vacation properties, etc. Most importantly, Airbnb’s leaders have partnered with a global community of hosts aligning them with a vision to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere and where all of us can enjoy the convenience of magical end-to-end travel experiences – The Airbnb Way.

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How are consumer preferences affecting the way companies are delivering customer experience and what can we learn from the way Airbnb is meeting needs in their service ecosystem?
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Joseph A. Michelli is an internationally sought-after speaker, author, and organizational consultant. His books include The Starbucks Experience, The New Gold Standard, The Zappos Experience, Leading the Starbucks Way, and Prescription for Excellence, which hit #1 on The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestseller lists.