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Mr. Henry

Architecture & Design

Interactive Digital Signage Strategies

By Eric Henry, President, Tightrope Media Systems

Hotel guests can have a lot of questions, and the front desk staffers who get quizzed all day, every day, don't always have the time or right information to be helpful.

Imagine how useful an interactive screen, along with a range of other on-premise screens, would be in boosting guest experiences. Also ponder how such screen can remove pressure and demands off those already busy customer-facing staff members.

Larger hotels may have dedicated concierge staff, but thousands of smaller properties don't have the foot traffic or staffing budget to put that level of guest services in place. That means hotel guests looking for advice on where to eat, where to shop, local transport, directions, running routes, and on and on all tend to ask the front desk.

A virtual concierge would handle all that - an always-on, always-ready, hyper-informed know-it-all that can field and expertly answer a long list of questions on demand. Typical interactive concierge screens are loaded with information tied to all the questions that tend to come up - including local dining, shopping and services options, as well maps and local tourism guides.

Mounted on a wall or free-standing on a lobby pedestal, these kiosks are showing up in more and more chain properties, and they're just one of the ways digital display technology is improving the guest experience and bottom lines for hotel operators.

Filling a Void

Adding technology suggests a hotel property is innovative and tech-savvy, but the real reason screens work is because they deliver relevant information, and solve communications problems both for guests and staff. Here are some of the ways digital signage and interactive digital signage are being effectively applied in the hotel industry, and tips on how to design, manage and optimize the opportunity:

  • Virtual Concierge - Everything from counter-mounted tablets to free-standing touchscreen kiosks and display totems are being used to answer questions about hotel and area services and attractions. They're typically located in the lobbies near the registration desk or decision points like main or parking entrances.

  • Directories - In larger footprint business or resort facilities with multiple meeting, hospitality and leisure spaces, on-property touchscreen directories help guests locate rooms for meetings and social events, and drive people into the shops, restaurants and spas or salons.

  • Wayfinding - Large displays mounted along corridors and at key decision points direct guests to events with names, arrows or other visual cues, and also show timely promotions. Digital allows property operators to change what's on the signs by time of time, directing people to the buffet in mornings but once it's closed, highlight dinner and wine bar options that make no sense to promote at 7 in the morning.

  • Menus and specials - Hotels are following the lead of quick service restaurant chain operators, replacing printed menus with digital displays - enabling them to vary the menu options by time of day and week, highlight specials or under-performing items, and even raise or lower pricing by time and events. This is akin to surge pricing used by ride-share companies like Uber.

  • Room signs - Paper or letter board signs outside the entry doors for meeting and banquet rooms are being supplanted by tablet-style displays that are mapped to a hotel's calendar or meeting room management software, or to simple messaging software. The signs show whether rooms are booked and by whom, and can do everything from show the logo of the company holding a meeting to a heartwarming shot of the couple being celebrated in a wedding booking.

  • Loyalty - As loyalty programs grow more prevalent within hotel chains, driving awareness, sign-ups and usage is essential to their success. Screens mounted around lobbies and other high traffic points on properties can highlight the features and benefits in ways not possible with more conventional tools like tent cards and posters.

  • Ambience - Hotel operators are setting a tone for their properties, using video walls with digital art to create a sophisticated mood for the key public areas, or reinforce the energy and feelings for the property by showing curated social media postings.

How to Go Digital

The most important consideration with adding digital screens to a hotel property is putting objectives and strategy ahead of the technology. It's not about the screens but the content being shown, and the service that content provides for guests.

When it comes to interactive screens, the most compelling digital signage projects are those presenting information that is either unavailable, or not easily found elsewhere. Ask yourself: "What would an interactive display answer or provide that a guest couldn't also get on a mobile device?" If guests can look up a list or maps of all the local restaurants on their phones, then maybe a simple interactive display with the same information won't attract much usage.

But, if a guest can go to an interactive display and see beautiful photos of the food menu at the shiny new restaurant just down the street, that's going to have more impact. Even better, if there is unique content on local amenities or special offers tied to the hotel's loyalty program, that's a big step up over crowd-sourced consumer reviews that people tend to read skeptically.

That is what the concierge desk is for in a big hotel environment. They are the ones who know the tips and the tricks, and the great secret spots that only the locals know. If that's not possible to staff as a position, a lobby sign giving some of those tips and tricks and suggestions can prove a great tool for guests.

Beyond interactive, hotel operators should invest the time auditing pain points for guests and staff. Are people struggling to find meeting rooms? Then think wayfinding and directories. Are the on-site restaurants and spas under-performing? Think about digital posters that drive awareness and change by time and date.

Managers should also invest time thinking about staffing and operations issues, and how digital can improve training, communications and morale. Increasingly, the day to day operations of businesses are being tracked by sensors and logged in databases. Visualizing that data on digital display dashboards can not only tell the catering manager which food stocks are low, but also show the housekeeping team on break room screens positive reviews from social media and travel sites.

Hotel operators should also consider the look and feel of displays, as well as positioning. A touchscreen on a wall that just looks like another TV runs the risk of being ignored. A designated kiosk that is well-designed and well-placed will attract more use. It should have a look and finish consistent with the property, and not appear out of place.

Consistency of placement is also very helpful. Get in the mindset of guests, and think about where questions come up and how a well-placed screen or kiosk can answer those questions and perhaps trigger a response. In the most basic terms, someone coming down to the lobby, thinking about dining, might well be moved to stay on the premises if there are screens highlighting that evening's specials in mouth-watering visuals.

Optimizing the System

Bright screens in the right places, and attractive, relevant content are critical, but so is having a platform that staff can easily use and make part of their work habits. A content management platform will typically serve two different constituencies - central marketers who worry about the brand and core messaging, and local operators who need to get tactical messaging on screens that's unique to that property.

A well-designed signage network should allow for a workflow that lets head office manage the content components of the screens that are related to corporate, while local hotels have login access to other content elements that the head office people don't need to see or approve.

For example, head office marketers may set the overall look and feel for any screens on the property and ensure branding, colors, typefaces and messaging is consistent with what's done across other channels, like online and mobile. However, they don't need to approve an effort to get a message up saying the dinner restaurant has a Surf and Turf special on Friday.

That means a software platform should have variable logins and permissions, so local and head office managers may see different things they can manage, change and schedule, and have an established workflow for getting things done. At a local level, permitted staff may only have access and rights on the system to change text in a web form. Or they may be able to add text and images to a layout, but it won't go live unless a second set of eyes - like the hotel manager - views and approves the new message.

Having that kind of workflow in place is going to help each hotel chain as it invests in and utilizes more and more digital signage. You want a platform that is flexible, and also one that's capable of scaling and plugging into other systems.

The Future will be Integrated and Automated

Chain hotel operators are accustomed to working with multiple software platforms to manage their properties. They've long been silo'd systems - existing for distinct activities, like bookings - but the future of smart signage in hotels is integrated. Platforms will share data, and that will make for relevant and timely messaging, and even better guest experiences. It's human nature to love the simple VIP treatment of being recognized and welcomed by name when walking into a hotel - however that is done.

Real-time databases, cameras and sensors are poised to amplify and more deeply customize that kind of experience in a lobby. For example, if a hotel group has a successful smartphone app that people genuinely like and use, beacon technology can recognize the profile of a user when they walk into the lobby. That can mean a message pushed to the smartphone's notification layer, providing a welcome message and directing them to check-in. The system is also using the app's loyalty information to inform and trigger display content.

As that guest approaches the desk, the small video wall display behind the counter might personally greet the guest by first name, flash the branding for the conference she's attending, or use historical data from previous stays to flash a video segment about a spa special - since guest records show she's used the spa in the past.

On a big property, data from booking systems might dynamically adjust scheduling based on pre-established content rules. One data-driven rule might tell the system to stop promoting the Italian restaurant on site when dinner bookings hit a certain threshold, and increase promotional time for another restaurant on property with lighter bookings.

Rules might trigger a dynamic promotion on the check-in counter screen for on-the-spot room upgrades, generating more dollars per room night during slower periods. Rules might also tell people what to do and where to go, with different screens automatically posted messages tailored to the location, if someone pulls the fire alarm.

There are so many possibilities for adding interactive and conventional digital signage around hotel properties, and lots of examples in the marketplace of high impact, meaningful deployments. But there are also countless examples of hotels that have invested in display technology without having objectives defined, a strategy for execution, and an understanding of how success is measured and validated. I see hotels with screens and wonder why the operators bothered. But more often these days, I see smart operators using that technology to enhance the properties, and the experiences of their guests.

Eric Henry is President of Tightrope Media Systems, a leading supplier of digital signage software, broadcast automation and servers. Joining the company in 2013 as Business Architect, Mr. Henry made an impact with business development, product development, and operational initiatives. This included the rollout of new business processes and procedures, including a transition to Netsuite software tools for managing daily operations that reduced costs and increases in operational efficiencies for the company. On the product development side, Mr. Henry was behind the innovations of Carousel 7.0 Digital Signage Software, which represents an enormous leap in ease of use and operational flexibility. Mr. Henry can be contacted at 866-866-4118 or eric.henry@trms.com Please visit http://www.trms.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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