Can a brand deliver the human touch without the human touch?

Every now and then, you come across a service brand which delivers a brilliant experience – one that you want to share. I had such an experience recently at a Citizen M hotel.

This small but rapidly expanding boutique hotel chain was founded in Holland by Rattan Chadha, the man behind the Mexx Clothing company. It was designed with a new breed of global traveller in mind, highly aspirational, yet price conscious.

What makes the Citizen M experience such an interesting one is that it delivers a seamless service experience that feels really intimate and personal, while being technology driven. I found myself so intrigued as to how a hotel experience, which is typically people-led, could make me feel so good despite the low dependency on human beings to deliver it.

The things that really stand out at Citizen M:

Technologically driven: From the self-service kiosk check-in that’s reminiscent of an airport, to the control tablet in your room, from which everything can be orchestrated – temperature, entertainment, mood lighting, music, blinds and wake up call.

Culturally tuned: The lobby is designed to hang out in, with access to the open bar and coffee shop virtually around the clock, and tons of design and culture books to browse through or buy. It’s the kind of space that attracts non-guests for informal meetings, or freelance working.


“Citizen M says”: The brand has a really distinctive voice. Delivered often through the written word rather than the mouths of its staff, every touchpoint is an opportunity to engage. It’s irreverent and tongue-in-cheek.



A welcome mat:


An cheeky alternative to the do not disturb sign:

citizen M naked

Of course, there are human beings, but aside from the few staff at the bar and the help desk, much of the Citizen M experience bypasses human contact.  This actually elicits some powerful emotional feelings. It’s empowering not having to interact with staff unless you want or need to, checking yourself in and out, being able to navigate around the hotel through the witty signposting, generally being made to feel welcome and at home rather than judged.  And, if a hotel’s people are the usual heuristics through which to judge hotel service, the lack of them doesn’t make you feel less cared for or valued.

A lot of the speed bumps around hotel stays have been ironed out through this use of technology, allowing one to pass through unhindered. If this is a new definition of luxury, albeit affordable luxury – letting the guest feel more in control of their time and their experience – then I’m having some more of that.

This notion of giving back empowerment to their guests is central to what the brand is about.

Citizen M stands for Mobile Citizen of the world, meaning those who treat the world’s cities as their playground. In their words: “The smart new breed of international traveler, the type who crosses continents the way others cross streets……Those who are independent, yet united by a love of the five continents. Those in search of business, shopping or art.”  

citizen m hotel concept-thumb-500x782-141618

What Citizen M shows us is that a category that has traditionally been so high-touch can do high-tech without sacrificing service for efficiency.  

Today’s mobile citizens of the world are becoming ever more demanding, and are looking to brands to serve them on their terms. What is so powerful here is that the hotel chain has been able to leverage technology to provide an experience that is affordable yet feels aspirational, by wrapping it up in a really distinctive personality, tone of voice and body language.  This is a brand that is having a conversation with me, even though I might never see its lips move.

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