Not exactly the collection of words you would expect but does strangely sum up one of the most pervasively engaging hotel experiences I have had.

Mobile Citizens of the world take note – CitizenM is calling you to experience a hotel stay that is tailored around exactly what you need and so much more. If you are a fellow CX professional then you should really take note because this experience has been meticulously designed and operated End to End through an approach called Reverse Thinking. The approach is so pure that even many competitors who have been shown it – still don’t believe it is as ‘simple’ as it is and have walked away totally missing the point.

I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours recently with @CitizenSamS AKA Sam Sheridan the Business Development and Sales Manager for CitizenM – we met up at CitizenM Bankside to discuss the genesis of their Customer Experience and how that thinking has continued into the operation to the business.

What’s the skinny? (the 2 min version)

Ratan CEO/Founder realised there is a class of traveller for whom the concept of affordable luxury was essentially poorly defined and therefore under-served.

He formed a team and began with the end in mind – engaging in a process known as Reverse Thinking whereby you work backwards from the experience you want to deliver and uncovering the business and operating model that supports that.

Culturally they drew inspiration from and totally embraced the FISH! Philosophy (see FISH! – Why Starbucks chose to open their first store next to a fish market) which is centred around four key principles

  • ‘Be There’
  • ‘Play’
  • ‘Make their day’
  • ‘Choose your attitude’

The Result:-
CitizenM hotels are stylish, full of attitude, comfortable, fun and consistently affordable (for their category). They are run off a fraction of the cost of their peers, command great loyalty (from staff and customers) and are expanding rapidly around the world

It’s all in the detail: What is difference then?

The core differentiation stems from their very clear definition of who they are serving – ‘CitizenM’ – the Mobile Citizen. CitizenM is an experienced traveller, they remember the excitement of travel however it is also a necessity for them in their life. Their definition of luxury is not about uniqueness, opulence or exclusivity – it is about the little (simple) things that make their day easier, more comfortable and more interesting.

Ratan and his team identified the core needs of CitizenM and set out to ensure they were delivered in a balanced way. (These are my interpretations of what I’ve understood so may not be the team’s exact language)

  • I need a comfortable bed
  • I need a great shower
  • I expect free wifi
  • Sometimes I just want to lock myself away and be entertained
  • Sometimes I want to be sociable in a new city
  • I want somewhere comfortable and engaging to work
  • I travel a lot (or my company has a budget) – I want this to be affordable
  • I want to be somewhere that matches my values and attitude

What the Mobile Citizen doesn’t necessarily need is a

  • huge room
  • a minibar
  • someone to bring food up to my room or carry my bags – I have legs
  • someone to check me in – I’m comfortable with (easy to use) technology
  • stuffiness or formality as some expression of exclusivity or opulence

By thinking innovatively about…

Room design and hotel construction (and understanding those are linked)

Each room is a self-contained unit with an amazingly comfortable bed that is bigger than most beds I’ve had in a hotel room before, and integrated shower and toilet unit, free wifi and movies and tablet-based controls for the technology (lighting, blinds, AV) in the room.

The room is compact but it has the essentials that you need. There is a small desk but most people use the excellent spaces on the ground floor for work. The shower is a great rain shower. The hanging space is clearly for a couple of days not a week (again – Mobile Citizen)

Every room is the same and they are only for 1 person or a couple (or very good friends!)

The Living Room :- Providing new ways of working & relaxing

I tend to find that Hotel lobbies fall into two categories – huge art statements or boring extended check-in areas. As someone who uses hotels almost weekly I recognise what CitizenM have done with their ‘downstairs space’. The lobby level of every citizenm hotel has more the feel of a cool London club with Multi-functional space than a hotel lobby. Sam described it as their living room concept and I totally agree.

They have provided a number of different types of spaces in which you can relax, feel at home, get some work done or read a book (they have lots of books). They have invested in fantastic designer furniture that both makes a statement whilst also being comfortable and practical to use. From the free-to-use iMacs, the boardroom like long table, the desks with power sockets but nothing else through to the comfy sofas and outside terrace spaces – it feels like you can make a corner of the hotel yours and settle in.

Their initial research into understanding the mobile citizen showed that they want to be conveniently in control and the hotel’s food proposition is “eat or drink what you want when you want”. Food is self serve but available 24/7 and it’s really good and wholesome – no room service here (read £5 for someone one carrying your food for you) but everyone seems happy to take their food up themselves if that’s where they want to eat – most though find a great space within the living room/bar area to eat. You could say they are cutting staff costs – but that would be to miss the holistic view they have taken of what their customer needs and wants out of the their hotel experience.

The role technology plays in the customer journey

Starting online, continuing through in-hotel checkin and in-room gadgetry – the basics are self-serving. There is a phone line to call but most bookings are handled exclusively on the CitizenM website. Upon arrival at the hotel self-service checkin kiosks handle your arrival with simplicity and a cheeky attitude – the in room tablet controls everything you need. They’ve even embrued VOIP calling – the phone in your room costs not much more than a Skype-Out call – certainly a fraction of the daylight robbery most hotels engage in.

How to run the day to day operations

Because all rooms are the same there are only two choice to make at checkin (inward facing/outward facing). Now they only need one person floating near the check-in desks to ensure everyone is comfortable with the technology – newbies can ask for help and regulars can just ‘get on with it’. My room key is re-usable as a luggage tag and I can keep for my next stay (nice touch)

The check-in desk is just one example of where CitizenM need less staff than a comparable quality hotel from the main chains (something like 50 staff versus 200!!!) – it goes much further than that. Because they provide a hot buffet for breakfast and supper, and this is externally sourced, there is little need for kitchen staff. The only jobs outsourced are the actual cleaning of the rooms (managed by a full employee) the remainder of the ‘roles’ around the hotel are performed by everyone. Anyone can make you a coffee, cocktail, check you in.

From a rational perspective this all makes a lot of sense but it could also make the hotel seem so very functional that it has no soul….

How to recruit staff

In a multi-tasking customer centric world the thing that matters the most when recruiting your staff is attitude and CitizenM has bundles of it. They do not talk about interviews… they have an approach to hiring called the ‘Casting Day” – something they worked on with Experience Engineers.

Where to invest the cost savings

Clearly the culture of the teams CitizenM are building has been given a lot of investment (echoes of Zappos investment decisions) but also the hotel is full of beautiful designer furniture from Switzerland. They reach out to the people using the hotel to support their entrepreneurial guests with launch events etc. All of this means that the very practical, functional, easy to use has also become extremely engaging and personalised.

Generating Loyalty

One thing that was immensely clear in my conversation with Sam was that CitizenM know who they are and what they offer. Their loyalty strategy is to simply continue being CitizenM and therefore giving their customers somewhere they choose to return to. When you have a reasonably priced product that delivers a great experience that delights then you do not need to buy loyalty with points. Think back to how many times people who are loyalty card tarts talk about working out the ‘value equation’ of their loyalty points – this speaks directly to a customer’s need to perceive they are getting more for their money than the core service offers – the core service was not enough. Imagine if you didn’t have to buy loyalty?

This approach to loyalty (simply being totally on-proposition and delivering consistently) puts CitizenM up there with the likes of Zappos who’s approach to customer-centricity reduces their marketing spend massively. I would argue CitizenM are also ‘delivering happiness’ although they have not necessarily sought to sign-up to the Zappos mission.

In Conclusion

CitizenM have managed to build beautiful hotels, with exciting spaces and run them at costs far below their peers. They’ve made them fun to be in, fun to work in, affordable to use and worth talking about. That much of what they do is run more efficiently (reduced cost) was not the driver of the design – but they have proven how great design for the customer can lasso lead to very cost-effective delivery.

It seems to me that their Human Centred approach to designing a business gives them a firm base to grow sustainably. It will of course be interesting to see how the elements of this business scale up or indeed how the brand expands and keeps up with the ever changing needs of the consumers – but what I’m not worried about is their ability to react ‘on-purpose’ to the positive challenges of a growing business.



Martin Dowson HeadshotMartin Dowson
Martin Dowson ( is the CX Director for Comotion ( / @comotional). Martin has been working on building customer-led business for over 14 years now, he has worked with major brands across industries and countries. He is passionate about bringing the human back into corporate decision making. He recently formed Comotion where his focus is on designing customer-led propositions and human-shaped organisations.

Comotion are running a roundtable on maintaining your culture in a high growth environment which will be hosted at CitizenM London, and feature the HRD of Zappos. Both companies will be sharing their experiences creating customer-led cultures.

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