Authentic Personalized Guest Engagement in an Automated World

By Shayne Paddock Vice President of Product Development & Innovation, TravelClick | April 16, 2017

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.

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Coming up in April 2019...

Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.