When I first started working as a platform product owner I stumbled across this presentation by Justin Kitagawa Senior Director of Engineering at Twilio. Twilio is known for creating platform products that developers love to use. Throughout the presentation, Justin calls out various principles that guide the platform teams at Twilio. At thirty-eight minutes Justin discusses the importance of hospitality. He refers to the book Setting the Table by Danny Meyer and a quote as inspiration for using your platform to do work for your developers versus service which does work to your developers.

After some time reflecting on businesses I visit I realized the majority of the ones I return to place a high value on hospitality. While I want to build a hospitality-focused internal developer platform I was not sure how to start. Then at the beginning of December of 2020, my wife and I went on vacation to Cancún, Mexico. Considering it has been about a year since this pandemic started my wife and I took a calculated risk and wore masks nearly the whole time. We stayed at the Le Blanc Spa Resort and enjoyed incredible hospitality.

Our experience

We arrived at the hotel greeted by the check-in staff proffering two glasses of oat milk. As we walked over to the check-in desk we sat down and they offered us massaging pillows to wear while completed our check-in. The staff, unexpectedly, upgraded our room from a lagoon view to an ocean view. The staff explained how the resort worked and gave us information to prepare our trips and meals for the week. We were soon introduced to our Butler who would help us with any questions or arranging anything we needed as required.

The most memorable part of the trip was the romantic dinner on the beach. The butler confirmed with me that while my wife and I ate he would be preparing something special in our room. I acknowledged that it was fine and appreciated the thoughtfulness. The food was excellent and the presentation was even better. As my wife and I sat on the moonlit beach under a converted Cabana the staff brought out our Meals one at a time and described in-depth their quality and taste. As the meals were presented the staff heightened the suspense by delaying the reveal of the meals from the metal toppers. At times they stated, “we are not sure what’s under there” or they drummed on the table to add to the anticipation. The staff also added small touches that added customization to the experience like drawing our initials in the sand with hearts and a dessert that matched the same design. My wife and I returned to our room and found our room key no longer worked. After we had our keys were fixed we retired to our room and found a path of rose petals leading to an already drawn bath.

There were a variety of other notes on the trip that made us feel welcome and special. When we returned to Yama, the Japanese restaurant, we were welcomed by our waiter that remembered our names. The butler stood out for his kindness and amazing customer service. Even when a request I made was better for another group he mentioned next time to contact room service and he would fix the issue this time. He never broke a sweat over any of my requests.

What other touches make a destination hospitable?

When we returned from the trip I thought about how I could learn from it. The hotel room limits the number of choices guests need to make. Need anything? The room phone had buttons that dialed each department directly. Want to watch something? Navigate to a website, enter a shortcode, and Chromecast your content to the television. As a person on vacation, I enjoyed finding time to rest and the opportunity to live in a low-choice environment. Limiting choices can improve happiness.

Put another way when I travel on a journey I am faced with many choices and unknown events. If I am going on a vacation with family I might prefer to limit the amount of variability because I need the energy to make decisions about my family and the activities we are going to do. I think the same for software engineers starting their journey to solve a business problem. If I can design an experience that limits the number of choices they need to make then they have more energy to solve their business problems. This is similar to the concept of “innovation tokens” when choosing boring working technologies for projects.

Three Techniques to improve hospitality for a platform

  • Offer limited choices around what your users might prefer
  • Craft an engaging experience and build anticipation
  • Proactively solve or remove problems from your user’s journey
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