Evaluating feature robustness across contexts
I was in NY for work a week ago. I come here a lot, especially in the last year. I usually stay at the same hotel. About 6 months ago, the hotel started a new loyalty program, and as a part of the program, each time I arrive, I’m greeted with some free pastries and a personalized welcome card in the hotel room. I remember the first time reading it.
“Welcome back, Mr. Sterin. On your desk, you’ll find some free pastries. Thank you for being a loyal customer. If you have any questions or issues, please don’t hesitate to contact me personally. ” — Signed by the hotel manager. The letter was warm. It made me feel appreciated and good. The free pastries were devoured immediately, as I was really hungry from travel.
Over the next few months, I got the same warm welcome, and it felt good each time. I looked forward to walking into the hotel and getting the treats. But that changed on my last trip.
During my Christmas break, as I assessed the year, I noticed I traveled much more frequently than usual. Although I love spending time with my colleagues, I was reflecting on the time away from family. Was I overdoing it? Was I missing out on important time at home?
During my first trip to NY in 2024, I walked into the hotel and got the same warm welcome. But this time, I didn’t quite register the same way. I read the note once more, “Welcome back, Mr. Sterin…,” but this time, instead of feeling good, I got sentimental. It was a reminder of the guilt I felt of being away too much. It made me think about whether all the travel was necessary. Can I cut it down? It made me rethink the necessity of some of my future trips.
The same loyalty feature that made me feel welcome just a month ago now evoked a feeling of guilt and sadness. It made the hotel feel like a second home I never wanted.
This made me think of “context”. We always think of features in terms of solving problems that customers have, but Bob Moesta, through the lens of JTBD, has always taught me to look a level deeper. To think about the context in which struggle occurs. What might seem like a solution to a struggle in one situation might have the opposite effect in another. Bob calls this “Context switching around a feature set,” and Taguchi would call that robustness. At the crux, it’s evaluating solutions and their tradeoff in a particular context, digging beyond the surface of a problem.