Differentiate Your Internal Developer Platform Through Hospitality

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. 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 a service that does work to your developers.

I patronize and return to businesses that excel at 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 wearing massaging pillows as we completed our check-in. The staff, unexpectedly, upgraded our room from a lagoon view to an ocean view. The attendants explained how the resort worked and gave us information to prepare our trips and meals for the week. We met 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 asked if he could prepare something special for my wife and me in our room as we ate a romantic dinner on the moonlit beach. I agreed and appreciated the thoughtfulness. On the beach, the food was excellent. The presentation and ceremony made the dinner memorable. The staff brought out our meals one at a time and described in-depth their quality and taste. The waiters 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 the lid,” or they drummed on the table to add to the anticipation. The waiters also added small touches that added customization to the experience. They drew our initials before the meal in the sand with hearts and made a dessert that matched the same design. My wife and I returned to our room and found our room key no longer working. Returning from the front desk, 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. One waiter remembered our names from a previous meal at the Japanese restaurant Yama. The butler stood out for his kindness and customer service. The butler never broke a sweat over any of my requests. He corrected me when there was a better person to contact for any issue.

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.

When I plan a vacation, I consider how much I need to learn and resolve while resting. When I go on vacation, my goal is to recover and relax. It might be tempting to plan a trip to make the most of the location. That might result in exhaustion and aggravation because of decision overload. I think the same for software engineers starting their journey to solve a business problem. I want to design a system of doing work that minimizes the choices and decisions that do not matter. 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