Beyond the Concierge: Mobile Technology That Extends Hospitality Off-Property
By Gerry Samuels Founder & Executive Director, Mobile Travel Technologies, Ltd. | January 11, 2015
The digital customer is not being fully served by the hotel industry and the opportunity for a hotel to fully leverage mobile to capture this customer has now arrived. Segments such as Gen X, Gen Y and, even more so, the Millennial all have increased wallet share, and are under maximised revenue opportunities for hotels. However, their interaction habits are starkly different to what the hotel industry is accustomed to. The digital customer is also known as the silent customer because of their frequent preference for using technology to communicate rather than face-to-face engagement. While they may be "silent" when it comes to face-to-face communication, they are undoubtedly vocal on online platforms like Twitter, Facebook, TripAdvisor and other review sites. In order for hotels to capitalise fully on this opportunity hotels need to become more "au fait" with the digital ecosystem, in particular mobile, which is this segment's preferred channel.
In order to capture digital customers, a hotel's mobile solutions must be engaging and provide value to the customer. The mobile offering must "delight" the end user. Delighting the customer is not just about a nicely designed user interface, it requires understanding the wants and needs of the target segment. Obviously, the offering can be mutually beneficial and generate ancillary revenue for the hotel, but that should not be the predominant focus. Mobile engagement has been shown to lead to increased mobile usage, loyalty and advocacy, which in turn lead to increased revenue and a much higher Net Promoter Score. In Q1 of 2014 search volumes were, for the first time in history, greater on mobile than desktop, and with mobile revenues increasing year on year it is now more than just a nice to have but a truly strategic channel. Mobile is strategically very different to the traditional desktop approach. Mobile app users are identifiable which presents a new data opportunity.
"Big Data" has been the mantra of consultants for the last decade. The term's first publication, according to Forbes, was in an article in 1997. But to what extent has "Big Data" improved the customer experience? In retail, contextual upsell based on comparative customer purchasing is effective but mainly relates to low cost items. Online retail platforms such as Amazon are masters of leveraging "Big Data", enabled by a single view of the customer supported by modern infrastructure and databases. We are now in an age where a few digital interactions can group customers into segments using quantitative analytical segmentation models devoid of personal human driven business insight.
Comparatively, the travel industry has been slower to adopt analytical segmentation because it has been hampered by disparate CRM systems that don't enable a single view of the customer. The approach of leveraging "Big Data" insights is appropriate for a broad campaign where anonymity and generalization are the mode, but not suited to niche, personal segmentation.
Nevertheless, in the hotel industry, is the "big data" segmentation approach fully appropriate? Should leveraging these data insights take precedence over years of business acumen and industry insights? A hotel manager passing a customer in the lobby whose name they know will address the customer by name knowing that the personal touch makes the customer feel more valued. Hotels need to translate the value of personalization into the data-centric view of the customer. Mobile presents the best opportunity to leverage data and the data strategy should be threefold and leverage "Big-Data", "Small Data" and localized business experience The mobile channel can maximize the opportunity to create a single view of the customer by using mobile sources such as social media, loyalty schemes, in-app profile data and the customers' mobile digital interactions to create this "small data".
Every customer leaves a digital footprint in the online world. Some leave them more overtly, for example by joining loyalty schemes and/or leaving online feedback of their experience. Others leave them more covertly across their exploration, booking, check-in and on-property interaction. The difficulty is creating a single view of this customer as they journey across the digital ecosystem.
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