Skill Sets Required to Manage the Hotel's (Digital) Customer Touchpoints: Collaboration Necessary

By Leora Halpern Lanz President, LHL Communications | November 18, 2018

Co-authored by Kimberly Kibler, Boston University School of Hospitality Administration

The Increasing Number of Hotel's Customer Touchpoints: The customer's booking and digital connection journey changes rapidly each day as new platforms are introduced and guests continually adjust their method of connecting with brands (as well as their expectations of the hotel companies). Thus, the number of touchpoints a customer uses to contact hotels, for a multitude of actions, continues to expand. From travel agent distribution channels to social media, online travel agencies and chat bots, the guest journey is far from linear. It is no longer a step-by-step process from marketing, to sales, to conversion. The journey has become an interwoven experience that guests expect to be efficient, positive, personalized, and value-driven.

Now more than ever, it is important that hotels maintain a cohesive, clear, and smooth experience for guests as they glide from platform to platform or hotel department to department. The customer's perspective is that all channels of online communication project one voice, whether the guest views content from the marketing team, discusses options with a sales representative, books over the phone, online, or through a distribution channel.

Technical advancements make the booking processes more detailed and personalized and allow hotel companies the opportunity to provide the highest level of customer communication.

In order for external and internal messaging to prove seamless, it is critical now than ever that hotels communicate as one integrated team and singular voice - focused primarily on the valuable guest experiences that lead to overall hotel performance growth.

The Multiple Skill Sets that Oversee these Touchpoints: Revenue management naturally, is an essential contributor to a hotel's performance, and its outcomes see opportunities grow with the number of consumer touchpoints. Unlike other industries, the nature of pricing dynamically allows hoteliers opportunities to provide the most fitting offer to a potential guest, but the trick is determining which offer best fits which guest, based on budgeting and performance goals.

As Gary Isenberg, President of LW Hospitality Advisors shares, "A (budget) is one big puzzle and you need to see how each piece connects with the other in order to see the big picture." These pieces include Average Daily Rate (ADR) and occupancy. Depending on the way the hotel plans to gain revenue, the actions of the hotel in its entirety must change accordingly.

In order to reach optimal revenue, distribution strategies must be carefully crafted to ensure the right prices are offered to the individual in order to convert a potential customer into a confirmed guest. Isenberg explains that, "distribution and channel segmentation is a significant and key component in defining a hotel's revenue budget and/or goal. The composition of channel and market segmentation defines the budget, because each channel or segment may have pricing limitations or cost implications."  Such cost implications may be Online Travel Agency (OTA) commissions, or special offers and package deals that affect profit margins.

Distribution management is certainly not the only aspect of the hotel that needs to work in tandem with revenue management to ensure hotel performance goals are met. Isenberg adds, "If management projects a revenue increase based upon booking higher-rated corporate travelers, then all marketing efforts, sales calls and industry outreach initiatives target that segment-not the tour and travel business, for example. Reaching out to a demand segment that doesn't further the hotel's revenue goal for the upcoming year wastes time and money."

In order to reach out to the segments that will help with the revenue goals of the hotel, the marketing and sales teams must plan appropriately. Campaign managers must have complete understanding of who the target market is, during which period of time, the anticipated length of stay, and how to best reach those segments. With the historic data of the revenue management and sales teams, and the current minute-by-minute data of a digital marketing team, there is a smarter direction for reaching desired customers.

As for the digital marketing effort, Scott Savitt, Senior Partner and Director of Digital at Boston-based agency firm Connelly Partners, sees increased opportunity for understanding customers better through the real time data of digital "touchpoints." Savitt says that "being smarter with the way you work with your team is essential for increasing profitability," and emphasizes that teams cannot become static at any point. Savitt stresses the importance of revenue management professionals providing data to the marketing team so that in turn, the digital marketing messages are personalized and appropriate. He also sees the importance of the digital marketing team sharing data with the revenue management experts to better understand customer behaviors, needs, and values.

Savitt emphasized that the more data that can be shared among teams, the better hotels can reach the right people with the right message as well as create seamless, end-to-end customer support experiences. "Widespread collection of data is a cycle that never stops and can determine what is (or isn't) working to help the hotel reach its optimal performance.

Furthermore, digital touchpoints must hold the same level of "service" in the hotel: Sales, marketing, and customer service continually overlap as digital platforms have dominated. Particularly via social media, the ability for marketers to reach specific (groups of) individuals is key and critical because guests have come to expect some outstanding customer service even through social media platforms.

In Social Media Today, Masroor Ahmed reports that social media networks are accustomed to providing customer solutions for 67% of consumers. And social media as we know, is already an endless platform of channels- which also need to be well coordinated between with customer facing departments. For example, Facebook Messenger has emerged as a social media strategy – a venue for hosting one-on-one conversations started by guests.

Various Approaches to Aggregate the Skill Set: Some companies focus primarily on the integration of marketing and revenue management to hone in on that optimal customer outreach. For example, Kelly McGuire, PhD, Senior Vice President of MGM Resorts International, calls "this intersection of guest analytics, revenue management, campaign management and marketing optimization, 'intelligent demand management.'  This methodology helps to ensure that these crucial departments synchronize activities so that the organization develops a long-term, sustainable marketing and pricing strategy."

Another example, Duetto, a revenue strategy software and solutions company, presents the idea of Revenue Strategy as the point where revenue management and marketing meet. The collaboration between these departments is where growth and increased success will stem, because they will all be on the same page. For example, Michael McCartan, managing director of Duetto explained in a recent webinar how the data held by the marketing team such as web traffic compared to the same data from last week or last year, can be helpful in the forecasting process as it gives a real-time reflection of the demand.

Ginny Morrison, VP of Sales and Marketing at Spire Hospitality shares her perspective:  a company's view of these integrations at the property level is regarded as the "revenue triangle" consisting of the General Manager, Revenue Manager, and Sales and Marketing team. Morrison also emphasizes the value placed on customer experiences-whether they are in-person guest service experiences, or those on other platforms with sales or marketing-because stronger customer experiences at digital touchpoints generate higher ADRs for the revenue management team to work with.

Other companies are taking steps to create a role which oversees all of these functions with one lens as opposed to multiple teams on equal footing.

In the Harvard Business Review (2017), Mark Bonchek and Gene Cornfield analyze these emerging positions intended to focus on such integrations. When looking at the expansion of touchpoints and growth of digital platforms, Bonchek and Cornfield iterate the goal of driving growth and managing the marketing strategies to deliver while creating value and transforming the customer experience. They explain that, "to meet the organizational need for integrated experiences across business units, many CEOs have created new roles like Chief Digital Officer, Chief Experience Officer, Chief Customer Officer, or Chief Growth Officer."

According to News.Marriott.com, the brand's current Global Chief Commercial Officer is "responsible for all aspects of brand management, sales, marketing, revenue management, digital, distribution, consumer insights plus innovation, and information technology worldwide."

Andrew Hazelton, Managing Director of AETHOS Consulting Group, a hospitality-focused global advisory firm whose core competencies include executive search, compensation consulting, organizational development and psychometric assessments, explains that the increasingly popular C-suite position of Chief Commercial Officer "entails a myriad of competencies and activities tied to marketing, sales, product development and customer service, which when properly integrated, drive business growth and market share."

Hotels by nature, provide hospitality and exceptional customer service. Today, positive guest experiences via the multitude of digital touchpoints is as important as the hotel visit itself.

How brands determine to manage the increasing touchpoints for optimal connection will help distinguish them from the competition as they strive for continued excellence in delivering customer experiences.                                 

Ms. Kibler Kimberly Kibler, Boston University School of Hospitality Administration '18, discovered her passion for hospitality through the events industry when she worked at The Country Club in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Additionally, she found her passion for sales and marketing as an intern at Auckland Live, a leader in the live events and entertainment space based in New Zealand. Ms. Kibler also served as Assistant Manager of Sales and Marketing at Gourmet Boutique, a Boston based luxury food and custom gifting company with an ecommerce component. Now based in Chicago, she can be contacted at kkibler@bu.edu.  

Ms. Halpern Lanz Leora Halpern Lanz is the principal of LHL Communications, a hospitality content marketing, branding and media relations advisory. In February 2017 she was named one of the Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Marketing by the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI). Ms. Lanz is also full-time faculty at Boston University's School of Hospitality. In February 2017 she was named one of the Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Marketing by the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI).Previously, she served for 15 years as the Global Director of Marketing for hospitality consultancy HVS and 10 years as Director of Public Relations for ITT Sheraton Hotels of New York. Leora Halpern Lanz can be contacted at 516-680-8529 or leora@lhlcommunications.com Please visit www.lhlcommunications.com for more information. Extended Biography

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