Opportunities for Rich Communication Services in the Hoteliers World

By Mattias Berglund Manager, Tata Communications | January 06, 2019

The idea of Rich Communication Services came about in 2007 and was initially perceived as the communications protocol of the future. The objective was to simplify interoperability across multiple countries and unifying other protocols such as SMS and MMS.

In September of 2015 the initiative that had run out of steam got new energy after Google's announcement of their acquisition of Jibe Mobile. In the press release Google said that the Jibe Mobile team will help Google "bring RCS to a global audience"(recode.net). As a result, Google is now in the driver's seat of this technology initiative.

RCS has since then emerged to become a serious threat to the numerous Over The Top (OTT) channels available today. OTT channels, like Whatsapp and other non-native channels, are adding complexity when managing an efficient enterprise communications offering. On top of interoperability for carriers there is now another key aspect of RCS and that is the opportunity to further enhance enterprise communications. Business text messaging or application-to-person messaging has continued to grow even when the person-to-person trend has stagnated in recent years.

The improved user experience for consumers will allow for more creative marketing and could add additional sales channels. The protocol will be made available in the phone's messaging inbox and is tied to a mobile phone number rather than a username. The mobile phone number makes identification easier for many businesses. Having a mobile phone number has almost become as vital as a social security number when it comes to identification.

This article is not about the purpose of RCS or the underlying technology instead it will focus on the opportunities at hand and hopefully spark ideas. There are however a few important technical differences between RCS and traditional channels that one should be aware of. RCS is built on the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) which allows for interactive conversations. SMS lacks the ability to maintain sessions between the sender and the receiver. What makes this protocol rich is the experience itself and the ability to send larger files. Images and videos will be delivered with much higher quality compared to what the MMS protocol can do today.

The enabler and the most significant difference between RCS and SMS is that RCS relies on the data connection instead of the cellular service of a device. The ubiquity of the SMS inbox will remain as RCS will not replace it but rather augment it. There is no need for a change in user behavior to leverage RCS or to download any additional applications creating barriers for adoption.

Communication experts say that RCS is turning SMS person-to-person conversations into a full chat experience. Furthermore, features that OTT consumers appreciate like read receipts and group chat functionality together with the ability to see when the other part is typing will be available. RCS will allow businesses to interact with the end user, both push and pull, in these exchanges as RCS simplifies two-way engagements. Even though this is somewhat standard in the United States and parts of Europe due to strict opt-in and opt-out requirements, however, in other parts of the world this is far from easy.

Branding tend to be challenging when using traditional channels and options are limited. Vanity short codes are expensive and toll free phone numbers long and inconvenient yet popular and enables two-way conversations. Neither will however display the brand. In certain countries alpha numeric senders or free text form sender id's are available but limits the ability of two-way interactions. These limitations will soon be a memory of the past. Before a brand can start sending messages the sender is registered and verified and the brand name will serve as the sender ID. This will come with an added option of using the brand's own color scheme and their logo in the dialogue window of the conversation. This will result in a more appealing and professional experience and if done right it can also build trust. Consumers can then be sure that they are interacting with the brand and it will help to reduce fraud and the number of SMiShing or SMS phishing attempts.

There are definitely some very interesting use cases for RCS in hoteliers world and I would like share some of my thoughts on how the use of RCS could improve the guest experience. Guests that don't have a specific hotel brand's application installed on their mobile device are unable to leverage all the benefits offered by a mobile app. RCS will bridge this gap and in some cases make a mobile application obsolete. RCS creates an app like experience and will be linking to Android apps such as the calendar, play store, dialer and maps. The metadata such as phone number, location and event details are embedded and shared in the interaction.

Imagine your guest being able to initiate a dialogue by simply texting your brand name without having the short code or toll free number. Leveraging RCS is possible in the early stages in the decision making process. When looking for a hotel the location is important and the link to Google maps renders an opportunity to seamlessly display a specific hotel's location. This will be visible in the messaging inbox window and therefore there is no need for the guest to leave the conversation to access another mobile app.

When making the reservation the guest can decide on room categories based on pictures or videos of up to 50MBs that is sent straight to the device. Pricing, special offers or any other information that could entice consumers can be shared as well. Based on the mobile phone number and the phone's mobile wallet the hotel brand already has access to a potential membership profile and credit card details. Additionally, the time between the reservation and the actual check-in can be used for upsell activities.

In general, the check-in process tends to leave room for improvements. When arriving in a city guests like to know if their room is ready especially if arriving early. They could then initiate another conversation with the hotel or vice versa and request to check in. If the room type is unavailable an estimation could be provided for when the room will be available. Should the room be ready the check-in process can then be initiated.

This is one of many opportunities for an upsell. The guest could be presented with the option that a junior suite or a better room category is available at a slightly higher price. This could be done with the click of a button in this case represented by what is called a chip from the chip-list. The chips are essentially quick links or short cuts at the bottom of the message conversation that suggests an action. In my opinion, price is of course a factor but I would definitely be inclined to upgrade for the benefit of early access.

The credit card for incidentals should already be on file and the key could be delivered as a QR code or any type of code that is sent to the mobile phone. When checked in guests could use a virtual concierge to book dining on either on- or off premise with partner restaurants. This is where collaboration gets interesting. Hotel brands can partner with restaurants, airlines and rental car companies. If the guest decides to dine in the room they can access the room service menu and place an order. They can also book activities like SPA treatments or other services provided by the hotel.

The checkout process can also be improved with no need to slip a receipt under the door. Requests for a late checkout can be made in the existing conversation or the option can be presented to the guest as a service. When clicking on the checkout chip the bill will be generated and sent to the phone. Meaning, there will be no need to print, copy, scan or take pictures of the receipt for expense reports. Finally, surveys can be sent to the guest and due to the high percentages of messages being opened and read a high response rate can be expected.

The beauty of using chat bots in the hotelier's world is that these simple services, that could add a lot of value, doesn't require additional staff overhead and will spare guests the agitation of waiting in line. They will also save time and imagine not having to go down to the front desk to get a new key in the middle of the night because your key has been de-activated.

At the moment, 55 mobile network operators, 11 OEMs and 2 OS providers have all said that they will support RCS. The list is growing and in the United States all of the major carriers have signaled their support for RCS. The mobile operator interest group, GSMA, estimates that there will be over 1 billion monthly active RCS users in 2019 and that we can expect significant progress in the coming months as brands are rolling out their demos.

Mr. Berglund Mattias Berglund grew up in Sweden and graduated from the University of Stockholm in 2008 with a master's degree in business administration and a bachelor's degree from the Nordic Retail College. He stands at the forefront of the fast moving technology; Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS). Mr. Berglund has taken a particular interest in a communications protocol that is going to be a key component of CPaaS going forward, Rich Communication Services. Moreover, he means that recent innovation and creativity around the protocol has sparked ideas and increased interest from the telecommunications ecosystem. Mr. Berglund has dedicated his professional career to the communications industry, where the first 8 years was spent at Ericsson. Furthermore, he has a broad experience from various positions such as product management, business management and sales. In 2012, an exciting opportunity opened up in the United States, and Mr. Berglund decided to relocate to New York. Mr. Berglund can be contacted at 551-666-3338 or mattiasberglund1981@gmail.com Please visit http://www.tatacommunications.com for more information. Extended Biography

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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.