• Carsten Sprotte

Paris and the Pursuit of Happiness

A couple of years ago, we came up with this baseline for the new Paris-Sharing.com website: “Stay Enchanté !” It was a bilingual play on words and on rhyme. “Stay” is both a noun and a verb in English, and “enchanté” means delighted in French (unless you prefer to imagine being “enchanted”). In other words, we were wishing our guests a delightful stay and our entire mission was therefore to create that delight. You might say that we were trying to sell happiness.

One of the big ideas in marketing over the past decade seems to have been about creating and communicating customer experience, rather than selling a product or service. In light of that, our baseline sounded pretty good.

As CEO, I’ve taken a bit of a philosophical journey over the past year, and have come to the conclusion that instead of trying to delight all of our customers, we actually should focus on attracting delightful customers! Now, before you think this is a cop out, and a short-cut to the easy life, let me explain. Yes, I have some stories to tell.

Renting apartments in Paris is a perilous activity, a case-study application of Murphy’s law stating that all things that can go wrong will. Actually, they don’t always go wrong, but sometimes they do. That means that if you’re in the business of delighting customers, your day will never end. Perhaps you have heard the wisdom that if you are looking for a spouse to make you happy, you’ll never find him or her. Likewise, if you are expecting a product or service to make you happy, you’re also set for disappointment.

We have a team of dedicated, tireless, amazing people who consistently go out of their way to “make all of our guests happy.” Sometimes it doesn’t work. Let me give you a run-down of the real-life examples of why this is. In the best cases, these were causes of discontent, and in the worst cases, they absolutely ruined guests’ vacations.

  • The washing machine broke down and we had to wait three days (weekend included) to get the machine replaced.

  • High-speed internet stopped working on a Sunday (the service provider had a service interruption in the neighborhood) and we had to wait 24 hours before it worked again.

  • People in the café outside the apartment were talking loudly until late at night and we couldn’t sleep.

  • There was a heat wave and the Paris apartment didn’t have air conditioning (very few Paris apartments do, and they are advertised accordingly)

  • The water heater stopped working (on a Sunday) and we had to wait over a day to get it fixed and take a hot shower.

  • The supply of Kleenex was insufficient

  • There was renovation work going on in the building and the entrance looked like a worksite.

  • The building’s common areas were not up to par with the quality of the apartment.

  • The elevator was too small to fit a double baby carriage “you should never have rented such an apartment to a mother with twins!”

  • The neighborhood is not nice enough and we don’t feel safe... “feels a bit too much like China”...or worse, “Africa”.

  • The building elevator broke down (on the weekend) and we had to walk up three flights of stairs for two days.

  • The plumbing sprang a leak and caused serious water damage, requiring that we be moved to another apartment.

  • I had to stand on a stool to reach the wine glasses in the cabinet.

  • Paris is dirty, we are so disappointed !

In comparison, the terrorist activity that shook Paris in 2015 was the least disruptive of all to customer satisfaction. Even though many customers cancelled their trips because they were afraid of terrorism, those who actually came experienced no inconvenience whatsoever from terrorists, and actually found themselves quite happy strolling down the boulevards, out of harm’s way.

Happiness is knowing you’re alive when you could be dead, after all.

What is common to most all of the real-life examples cited above is that the event having caused the dissatisfaction is not within our range of control as property managers. A “serviced” apartment depends on a specific network of specialised service providers for internet, TV, utilities, building access and maintenance, etc. Sometimes, the quality of service is only as good as the “weakest link”. So, for example, when a French internet service provider by the name of F*** only deals with your connectivity issue after 24 hours, regardless of how many phone calls you make, there is nothing more you can do as a property manager...no matter how irate your guest may be. In our quest to satisfy customers, we have gone so far as to move them to another apartment when the internet problem had no sure solution within the day. In truth, internet problems occur only 1% of the time, just never at the right “time”. We also provide a back-up roaming internet access to all of our guests, albeit less speedy than the cable infrastructure.

One of the hyped value propositions from websites such as Airbnb is “live like a local.” That’s wonderful, but locals have to deal with all of the things that go wrong in the their century-old Parisian apartments. Does living like a local include accepting the risk that a local problem might occur during your stay?

When such problems occur, we will often indemnify the guest in some way. This tends to alleviate dissatisfaction, but doesn’t really create happiness. It’s a bit like losing a loved one in an accident, and receiving some form of life insurance as compensation. Of course, experiencing a technical problem in an apartment is not like losing a loved one, but sometimes the customer's level of emotional response is almost equivalent.

An effective company effectively targets its market segment(s). So what if we were to target a segment called “happy people?” That would be quite the niche! Would there ever be enough customers? We know you’re out there because we’ve already met so many of you!

Here is where the paradigm shift comes. Dear Guests, it’s time we stop promising to make you happy, hoping you’ll choose our company instead of another. Nor we, nor anyone else will ever make you happy if you have not yet identified the inextinguishable source of joy within yourself. If you happen to be American, like me, you might consider putting an end to your pursuit of happiness, even if it is inscribed in the Declaration of Independance. Why? Because you cannot chase after something that is only found within yourself. One more thing, slightly less philosophical. Paris is renown for joie de vivre, but it may not be exactly what you expect. You may even have to hang-dry your laundry. So before you jump on-board with an apartment rental, we suggest you read our FAQ “What to expect from an apartment rental in Paris”. If changing toothpaste brands disrupts your comfort zone, the experience may not be for you.

So here is our promise...

We as a team abound in happiness. We love life, we love Paris, and we love sharing this with you. When you choose to stay in one of our apartments, we will ourselves be delighted. We will continue to do everything we can to fix any “problems” that arise, but happiness is your own daily creation...that money cannot buy.

Stay Enchanté !