Extending Customer Experience Beyond Your Property Line

By Rani Bhattacharyya Community Economics Extension Educator , University of Minnesota Extension- Center for Community Vitality | April 21, 2013

More often than not, potential customers hear and then read about a property long before they ever interact with any front line team. To meet potential customer's needs, it would be beneficial for managers to consider how to actively participate in the early stages of this relationship rather than saving all their "wow" factors until prospects walk through the front door. Once guests are on-site, there are also many e-marketing opportunities that can enhance a customer's stay and make it memorable enough for them to become public relations champions for their hosts. But in nurturing champions amongst your guests, it is also important to acknowledge and encourage their identification of your brand as something of value to them beyond their in-house experience as well.

In this article I will briefly review the process of consumer purchase decision-making and try to match various online marketing platforms to strategic points within this process. I will then also highlight a few examples of how social media tools are also being used in-house by property managers to provide value-added service to their guests without adding to the overhead. Then closing, I will also highlight one example of how social media can also be used to create strong and active loyalty marketing campaign.

Needs Recognition

In deciding where to go on vacation or where to eat, people do tend to select destinations that are familiar or nearby over those that require a significant amount of effort to travel to or learn about. The art of marketing however is to help customers understand what they are purchasing from a destination is of greater value than the effort they expend in learning about it or getting there. Crafting this message to address unclear needs of prospective guests doesn't have to be an uphill battle. The key factor to keep in mind during this development process though is that a customer screens their needs through a series of cultural assumptions they have developed from word of mouth commentary by their peers, and an internalized ranking of personal needs and interests, and their memories of past experiences with similar services.

A little background research, into these cultural screens can be accomplished using Linkedin, Facebook and other social media platforms designed to gauge public interest in issues that your brand or property addresses. Digital sites like these have gained appeal due to the fact they effortlessly provide users four of the five attributes of "a quality experience" with little investment of time or money on their part. The virtual experience that social media offer users include:

  • Reliability - through simple and controllable ways of interfacing with other users,
  • Assurance - through database archives of other users, conversations and other user defined information,
  • Empathy - via interactive functions that allow users to endorse or comment on each other's activity, and
  • Responsiveness - by providing users integrated virtual access through a variety of electronic devices.

To capitalize on how Facebook and similar sites are already providing this suite of services to potential guests; many properties actively join in digital discussions so they can lead rather than correct information that is being shared by users. Once they have established rapport within particular group of interest (which can include community or issue specific forums) hospitality professionals also use these sites to gather input on new service development or package deals from potential guests that are also members within the discussion groups. Quite often these users are individuals that eventually promote the property's messaging within their own private networks and are rewarded for doing so via special awards or discounts on existing service offerings. Pinterest is not as interactively dynamic as Facebook or Linkedin, but it still can provide detailed insight into what potential customers (primarily women) visually associate with specific places, words, or phrases like "ranch wedding" or "spa weekend". This collection of images can then in turn be used in the development of new services or interior design schemes offered on-site.

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Coming up in June 2019...

Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.