Mr. Paddock

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

Authentic Personalized Guest Engagement in an Automated World

By Shayne Paddock, Chief Innovation Officer / Guest Management Solutions, TravelClick

In the past year I've traveled to New York City on several business trips usually staying at the same hotel every time. I did that in part to learn how the hotel would interact with me on each repeat stay. Would they treat me differently? Would they recognize me on my fourth stay? Would they remember my name? Each time the reservation staff warmly greeted me but always asked "Have you stayed with us before". Upon arriving in my room there would always be a hand written letter from the GM welcoming me to the hotel. That seems like a nice touch, but the gesture was quickly lost when the letter opened with "Whether this is your first stay or you're a returning guest…". Did I mention that I'm also a loyalty member of this hotel? It is difficult to offer a guest personalized service if you don't even know their name! If the future of hotel staff is robotic I hope we are not all greeted upon arrival with "Welcome Valued Guest"

So how does a hotel arm themselves with as much information about their arriving guests? Often times the answer is to simply just ask them. A guest wants to engage with a hotel before, during, and after their stay. They have many micro transactions with the property but are they being captured in a meaningful way?

Loyalty programs don't have to be big monolithic points based programs. Today's traveler wants and expects to be rewarded right away. Create simple signups where the guest enters their name and address, mobile number, email address, birthday, or anniversary. In exchange offer them a welcome drink upon arrival, free or faster WIFI, or early check-in. Now you know quite a bit about that guest before they even step foot on your property. Use that information in creative ways.

During the booking process your guests actually give you more information than you might think. Information such as, which pages of the website did they view, which rooms did they explore in the booking engine, what profile information did they provide when finalizing the reservation. All of that information can be used later on in the guest journey to customize their stay. If a guest has spent a lot of time browsing the golf section of your website why not offer them a golf package when they make it to your booking engine. If you can identify one of your best guests coming back for the 8th time this year why not the offer them the same Junior Suite they've booked every other time instead of the Standard Room being their first option. Instead of just offering the next level up for an upgrade offer why not offer them the Superior Suite with a breakfast package that they showed interest in and is available. A week before their beach vacation send them a pre-arrival survey asking if they can make their getaway even more special. It's at that time you can find out birthdays, anniversaries, upsell that romantic package, or book that couples' massage.

Hotels that really impressed me in the last year were those that proactively reached out to me before my arrival. I was impressed by those that sent a text message the day of my arrival asking me when I planned on arriving and if I had any special requests before I got there. They enabled me to have a back and forth dialog with somebody on property without having to pick-up the phone. In the future I'll be able to use the mobile messaging channel of my choice. While texting is convenient when traveling domestically, roaming charges can really add up when traveling abroad. In Asia it's often cheaper to subscribe to a small data plan or jump on the hotel WIFI to chat with friends and family back home with channels like Facebook Messenger or Skype. Being able to do the same to communicate with the hotel will become commonplace. This type of guest engagement made it easy to ask the hotel simple questions pre-stay and while on property. While packing I could quickly ask the hotel how late the gym or pool was open to see if I would be able to squeeze a workout in after work.

When traveling with a family of four a quick message to ask for extra towels saved me the effort of having to call down to the front desk when I got there. I requested that my room be cleaned while I was at breakfast so I could go back to the room and work afterwards. In a world where video conferencing is getting better and better and airport lines are getting longer and longer it is perks like this that will make business travel easier and differentiate you from your competitors. Often I would use this service to request a late checkout so I could change out of my suit before traveling to the airport or requesting an early check-in after a long overnight flight so I could catch a few hours of sleep before my big meeting.

Smart hoteliers will recognize the guest's repeat requests or have systems to do so. That way those requests can be added to the guest profile making them available upon their next stay as well. There's nothing worse than having to make the same request over and over again. You'll exceed your guest's expectations and it's these types of wow moments that get mentioned on social media. The key is to listen to your guests at every outlet and record what you've learned.

For resort properties guests are often interacting with the hotel in many different areas like: spa appointments, golf tee-times, and restaurant bookings to name a few. To truly know your guest you have to understand how and when they use all of those outlets. It's not just about the room. Connecting all of those systems and the data they contain is one of the most important jobs for a hotel's IT staff. A guest's single profile has to reflect every way they interact with the property. This is made easier today by the prevalence of cloud based systems, many of which were built from the ground up using standard hospitality API's like HTNG. But what do you do with that data once you've connected all the dots? If you know a guests likes and dislikes while they are on property you can market to them in a very personal one to one way. When the bar is empty at 5 p.m. send your best F&B guests a text with a picture of that icy cold margarita special or when the golf course has several open tee-times in the afternoon a quick message stating they can book now and save.

Those types of messages don't just have to be marketing blasts that can't be responded to. Guests can text back and forth and set up the appointment from the comfort of their beach cabana. Proximity beacons can be installed around the property so guests can receive personalized push notifications when they arrive welcoming them to the property or when they walk past the spa. Like with many types of marketing offers you want to be careful not to over message your guest. The key is to send highly targeted messages to the guests that are most interested in a particular offer and not just send to everybody. Guests will welcome messages that are tailored to them but will quickly opt-out of generic messages they have no interest in.

You can still send out a post-stay survey after check-out but if you've taken the time to ask your guests for information along the entire guest journey then you won't need a seven page survey afterwards. Empower your guests to write about their stay in their own words and make it an operational procedure to reply to every response, good or bad. Guests will be blown away that somebody read their feedback, especially if it's done in a timely manner. Instead of just asking them to post it to TripAdvisor randomly ask some guests to visit Google Places as well. Not only will your SEO benefit but when a guest searches for your location with Google Maps there will be review content there waiting for them.

Don't forget about your non-hotel guests. Many hotels have a vibrant nightlife scene, a top rated golf course, or the hottest chef in town filling their restaurant. Often these outlets can cater to locals much more likely to return month after month. Think about offering free WIFI by signing in with a social account or an email address. Now you can create custom campaigns just for this segment. Be careful not to include these people in your hotel offers. Personalized guest engagement doesn't have to be overly complicated. Guests want to be heard, they just don't know if anyone is listening. Don't bite off more than you can handle and then not deliver anything. Start simple. Instead of writing that hand written letter with "Whether this is your first stay or you're a returning guest…" how about just trying "Welcome back Shayne".

Shayne Paddock is a technology and business leader with over 20 years of experience in product management, software development, CRM, Marketing Automation, Guest Profiling, Loyalty Management, Search Engine Marketing, Email Marketing, and Hospitality Systems Integration. He is currently the Chief Innovation Officer for Guest Management Solutions at TravelClick. His responsibilities include Product Management, Customer Engagement, Sales Engineering, and the overall thought leadership of TravelClick’s suite of Guest Management solutions. Mr. Paddock holds a diploma in Business Administration with a major in Information Systems from Algonquin College as well as two patents in the email marketing space with regards to dynamic content and personalization. Mr. Paddock can be contacted at 212-817-4819 or spaddock@travelclick.com Please visit http://www.travelclick.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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