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B2B customer experience, customer-centric, customer-first, Hospitality & Leisure

hub by PI - image 1

Ever stayed at a hub by Premier Inn hotel?  Whilst in London for business the other week, we tried it out for the first time and wanted to share our thoughts – both in terms of the concept itself, and whether its innovative design meets the needs of its target customers…

…So, what’s the concept all about?

Described as, ‘…The new urban hotel where location matters and size doesn’t,’ the brand promises customers a central location at a lower price point – or, as hub by Premier Inn says, ‘A stay at the heart of the action for less’.  For this lower price point, customers need to be willing to trade-off the size of the room on the basis that they will get ‘all the comfort, half the size’ in ‘cleverly crafted rooms.’  On top of this, customers are also promised ‘the latest tech. to keep you connected.’  So far, so good – the positioning is clear and lets customers know what to expect before booking.

Who’s it for?

hub by Premier Inn says that its rooms (‘standard’ or ‘bigger’) have been designed around ‘you’ – but who is ‘you’?  On the basis of its design and positioning, and after reading a bit more on the Whitbread website, it seems sensible to assume that it has been designed with two main types of target customer in mind – 1) the business traveller and 2) singles/ couples on a short city break.  As many of our clients are based in London, one of two locations where hub hotels are currently located, we very much fit into ‘Group 1.’

What were/ are our specific needs as business travellers?

On this particular trip, we were in London to conduct some customer research on the evening of our stay, with a client debrief session the following day.  Therefore, our top three needs were:

  • A good, central location – i.e. close to our client’s offices and public transport links
  • A competitive price – as with any small start-up business, we’re keen to manage costs efficiently and were looking at price per room versus other budget hotel chains
  • Somewhere we could work together – with an imminent client meeting to prepare for, we needed a quiet and well-equipped space where we could work…preferably with decent coffee on tap!

Our top three needs formed our decision-making criteria, leading us to choose a hub hotel in the first place – we had a choice of a hub hotel, a standard Premier Inn, and a Travelodge (all a short distance from our client’s offices).  Though collaborative work spaces are not promoted as a key selling point of the hub concept, our expectations were that a) a hub hotel would offer better collaborative working space than a Travelodge and b) given the focus on business, the hub hotel’s work space would be at least equal to (if not better than) a standard Premier Inn.  Our high expectations, coupled with the lower price point, led us to take a ‘risk’ and book a hub hotel.

Over and above this, when travelling for business, we’re also particularly looking for:

  • Clean rooms, with comfortable beds and desks where we can work if needed
  • A strong, reliable Wi-Fi connection (preferably free)
  • Basic facilities that mean we can ‘travel light’ – e.g. toiletries, a hairdryer, etc.
  • Enough space to hang our clothes (and an iron available if needed)
  • ‘Fuel for the day’ – i.e. a decent breakfast and ample tea & coffee

And, unlike when travelling for leisure, we’re far less bothered about having a massive room, extra facilities/ ‘frills’ (e.g. a pool/ gym), and being close to tourist attractions, etc.

How well did the experience deliver against our needs?

For those of you who are familiar with the Channel 4 TV programme, Four in a Bed, you’ll know that, on the show, four sets of B&B owners take turns to host with a view to decide who offers overall value for money.  They evaluate each other’s B&Bs based on four main criteria – 1) their hosts 2) cleanliness 3) the facilities and 4) the breakfast.  Now, we’re not for a minute suggesting that this is the criteria that all customer experiences should be evaluated by – as we all know, it’s about much more than just these rational/ functional factors!  However, given that the criteria broadly relate to our needs and are focused on the Hospitality & Leisure sector – and in the spirit of having a little fun with our blog – we’ve decided to review our experience in the same way…



As you avid Four in a Bed viewers will know, contestants are also asked two additional important questions…

We did feel that the hub by Premier Inn offered value for money overall and, all things considered, that the £179 per room was competitive for a one-night stay in central London.  In our view, the compromise in terms of size of room is not an issue for a short business trip – especially when you’re currently guaranteed a new, modern room (as the hub hotels have only been around for around 2 years).

The impact?

The hub by Premier Inn is an example of great customer experience (CX) design – the concept:

  • Sets, manages, and delivers on customer expectations
  • Is based on the needs of target customers – and is focused on the things that matter most (particularly in terms of the design of the rooms)
  • ‘Mirrors’ the modern business world with the use of the latest tech.
  • Feels new, ‘cool’ and different – a bit of a novelty…but also feels very relevant/ ‘for you’ and creates a sense that you’re ‘on business’ (so connects with customers emotionally)

Yes, we’d absolutely stay again when travelling for business.  However, the real question is, ‘Would we stay at hub by Premier Inn again over and above other budget/ value hotel brands?’  The answer…

  • …If the price was equal to/ only slightly higher than some competitor brands (e.g. Travelodge or ibis) then yes, based on a) the current guarantee of new, modern rooms with (in our opinion) superior facilities and b) the fact that hub hotels are specifically for business
    …If the price was equal to/ or only slightly less than a ‘standard’ Premier Inn or a brand with a comparable offering (e.g. Holiday Inn, in our opinion), then our choice would not be as clear cut – yes, the hub experience is different but, all things considered, we wouldn’t necessarily say it is ‘superior’

Our closing thoughts/ questions…

Let’s remind ourselves of the key selling points of the hub concept:

  • A central location at a lower price point (with the compromise of a smaller room)
  • Carefully crafted rooms – guaranteed to be new and modern (given the age of the hubs)
  • The latest tech. to keep you connected

With these points in mind…

  • …Are the hub hotels really/ always in a better location than other budget hotels?
  • …As owners of a small start-up, we’re still price conscious…but many individuals booking business travel will work for large corporates/ won’t be directly affected by cost – so is/ will the lower price point be enough to encourage customers to trade-off size of room?
  • …What happens when the ‘novelty’ of the concept wears off – and the rooms are no longer as new/ modern (presumably Whitbread will need to keep refurbing them)?
  • …The tech. is innovative and mirrors the world of business – but is it all necessary? Is it compelling enough to influence purchase decisions?
  • …What does the current experience feel like for singles/ couples on a short city break?
  • …How will Whitbread continue to develop the hub hotels based on customer feedback / evolving customer needs? For example, will they introduce business areas for collaborative working/ meeting rooms in the future?  (There is a clear role for customer journey mapping (CJM) and experience design in this context – e.g. CJM to identify opportunities to improve comms. around the QR code; experience design to co-create the ideal collaborative working space with customers)

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the hub by Premier Inn concept and on our comments in this blog – please do share your thoughts/ experiences with us below…


B2B customer experience, Customer experience strategy, Customer journey, Customer journey mapping, Customer journeys, customer-centric, customer-first, start-up businesses

UK start-up businesses are on the rise – 2016 saw a record number (650,000) of new start-ups, with this trend predicted to continue in 2017. Alongside this, customer experience is being recognised as a driver of growth amongst B2B service providers, yet less than 25% are excelling and only 23% of B2B organisations claim to have a customer-centric approach. With last week marking six months since starting up ourselves as ‘lens’, we wanted to reflect on some of our own experiences to illustrate:

– Why we firmly believe that a ‘customer first’ approach is so important
– How getting the customer experience ‘wrong’ can have a negative impact on customer behaviour, loyalty, and advocacy
– …And why/ where significant opportunities exist for B2B organisations who ‘get it right’

Here, we take a look at some of the fundamentals of a customer first approach and illustrate how they played out across our own experiences when starting out…

#1 – Understand your customers’ mind-set and needs

Taking the plunge into ‘start-up world’ brought about a whole series of conflicting emotions – we were in a place that we hadn’t been in before…a totally different ‘mind-set’. We were very focused on an overall mission – ‘To set-up our business so that we were ready to go on day 1’. This meant creating a ‘to do’ list which included things like registering the business, buying (and setting-up) the right IT equipment, taking out the right business insurance, and setting-up business banking, etc.  Each item on our ‘to do’ list represented an individual customer journey that we would go on, with each journey involving different organisations.

Our mind-set very much shaped our needs, which was somewhat different to what we would want/ need as a consumer – we were a different persona.  In general, we felt that very few of the organisations we dealt with really took the time to understand this.  Some of the banks got off to a reasonable start – they suggested that they had products for us by having the word ‘business’ in the naming of their accounts and, with some, we could then look at accounts for ‘start-ups’ versus those who were ‘already running a business’ or ‘switching providers.’  Beyond this, the questions they asked us were pretty much about facts and figures (e.g. ‘What will your turnover/ net profit be, will you be dealing in cash?’) and not about what we actually needed.

The impact?

First impressions count.  We started out feeling that we weren’t fully understood and that the banks, in particular, weren’t all that interested in us as a business. Turns out, that feeling became a reality…

#2 – Design around customer goals, not a product or a process

After understanding who your customers/ target customers are, the next question a business should ask is, ‘What are customers trying to achieve with us?’  This leads to the identification of customer goals, which define individual customer journeys, e.g. ‘to set-up our business banking.’ 

It quickly became clear that the bank had designed their experience around their product and associated process, not around us achieving our goal.  This was most apparent in terms of where we each perceived our journey to end – to us, being ‘set-up’ meant that we had everything we needed and knew how to access and manage our accounts; to the bank, the emphasis seemed to be on our account being open – they sent out the necessary comms. and then it felt like ‘job done’…

The impact?

In the short-term, we had some issues with setting-up and support was hard to find – we were unsure who to contact, which lead to us sending several emails and making quite a few calls.  This quickly descended in to feelings of ‘what have we done…’

#3 – Map the end-to-end journey, not just interactions with your brand

It’s also important to note where our business banking journey had started, which was before we got in touch with our chosen bank.  We’d begun by researching and comparing bank accounts online and seeking recommendations from other businesses, meaning that we came armed with information, perceptions, and expectations.  This vital context surrounding interactions, including the ‘route’ taken to get to the brand, is often missed by businesses, who often perceive that the customer journey starts at first contact with their organisation. 

The impact?

In our case, setting-up business banking was also just one of the journeys that we were on in our ‘quest’ to achieve our overall mission – and many of these journeys were dependent on each other, e.g. we couldn’t set-up our direct debit for insurance without our bank account details.  Therefore, when we had to wait 4 weeks for an in-branch appointment, it may not have seemed like a big deal; however, to us, this was part of a much bigger picture – meaning it was more of a ‘pain point’ than the bank is likely to have anticipated.

#4 – Understand the rational journey – i.e. the thought process and support needs beyond the product/ service

The bigger picture, and the journeys themselves, were also about much more than the physical interactions (touch-points) we experienced – the more touch-points we went through, the more questions we had…and the extent to which we could get answers dictated our behaviour. 

When it came to laptops, we wanted to know which one was right for us.  We started off in store, where one retailer provided attempted to provide some POS guidance – laptops for different ‘purposes’ (none of which mapped to what we needed).  We reverted to comparing laptops online and managed to narrow our options down by seeking recommendations from friends and family in business and applying some guess work.  To make our final decision, we decided to go in back in to store, where we chose the most expensive of our shortlisted options.

The impact?

You could argue that this was a win for the retailer as we bought the most expensive laptop from our shortlist.  However, we also needed an ‘all-in-one’ printer/ scanner, a cloud-based storage/ file sharing system, and various software…cue more questions. We’d have happily bought them all in one go if we’d have known we could get the answers we needed.  However, the lack of proactive help from the ‘advisor’ in-store meant we decided it would be ‘easier’ to go back online and purchase the other items we needed from elsewhere – so, does this really count as a ‘win’?

 #5 – Understand what matters most (and why) to build an emotional connection

Across the different journeys, we expected to feel a ‘healthy level’ of anxiety – but there were some stages/ touch-points where we felt more anxious.  In some cases, this felt natural; in others, this was due to, or at least ‘heightened’ by, poor customer experience. When we started our business banking account journey, we wanted an in-branch appointment initially – we called to make one, the contact centre ‘pushed us’ back online…and even when we were (finally) at our appointment, it was suggested that an online application might have been better. Whilst online would be our preferred channel in ‘consumer world,’ this was different – we were in a new territory and we had to get this right. 

The impact?

We wanted to use specific channels for specific reasons. Whilst digital channels will enable us to manage our accounts ongoing, at this point we wanted face-to-face contact with someone who would be on-hand to answer key questions we had and would be accountable for helping us to achieve our goal. For the bank, this was a real opportunity to connect with us and start to build a relationship – whilst in the end, they gave us an initial face-to-face meeting, it was with reluctance and we certainly didn’t feel valued. Our stance now is that we’ll stay with them for the free banking period offered by the product; however, beyond that, our decision will depend on how well they respond to what matters to us in future.  Building an emotional connection where/ when it matters most is so important in terms of customer loyalty and advocacy – people will forget what you said or did but will remember, and talk about, how you made them feel.

#6 – Measure the right things and prioritise based on key drivers

The things that matter most to customers should be amongst the things that a business measures – this means focusing on key stages/ touch-points (‘moments of truth’) and the drivers of satisfaction across these interactions. 

The impact?

Our experience has led us to question whether the organisations we have dealt with have designed around the things that are important to start-up businesses specifically… Interestingly, none of the organisations that we have dealt with have approached us to ask us for feedback on our experiences.

Some final reflections…

So… we didn’t have the best customer experiences and we wouldn’t recommend the bank or the retailer…or any of the businesses we dealt with for that matter.

As the start-up market continues to grow, it’s time to take things seriously. Adopt a customer-first approach; Get the customer experience right, identify opportunities to fulfil other needs at the right points, create reasons for business customers to be loyal, and build advocates of the future.