Hospitality is an Industry of Connections
By Shayne Paddock Vice President of Product Development & Innovation, TravelClick | April 25, 2021
The hospitality industry is all about connections. At its most basic function, hospitality connects the different elements of a journey together by catering to the physiological and psychological needs of humans: Warmth. Shelter. Comfort. Security.
In the case of a leisure traveler, for instance, hospitality delivers on those needs and connects the travel portion of the journey (car, rail, air, sea, perhaps all of these), with the goals and objectives of the journey (see Grandma, visit Machu Pichu and discover pre-Incan culture, relax on the beach and learn to surf, etc.). And ideally the hotelier is helping support the travel portion of the journey as well as the goals by providing transportation and shuttle services and onsite or offsite experiences that align with the journey's purpose.
But this notion of connections can also be a good metaphor for exploring the guest experience as a whole if we take the time to follow that thread down a few other paths that may fall outside the obvious.
We're in a people-focused industry. Establishing an authentic connection between the guest and your brand is where your employees deliver the greatest aggregate value. From front desk staff and housekeeping to engineering, food & beverage, management, and every other role, the connections your team creates deliver the greatest potential impact on the guest experience.
Hoteliers need to establish cultural norms that build connections across departments and employees. Everyone involved with your property or brand should commit to delivering the same levels of customer satisfaction and service without fail. Only with a formal culture supporting it can person-to-person connections consistently deliver their intended value.
One thing to remember here is that the impact of people and culture can go in either direction. An attentive, helpful, and pleasant employee and culture that fosters such engagement enhances satisfaction and leaves the guest with a positive perception of your property or brand. An unpleasant interaction with an employee delivers the opposite impact. It only takes one misstep from a single employee to ruin the goodwill created by all others. This is why establishing cultural guidelines for guest interaction and engagement remains crucial at every phase of the guest journey.
These interactions are so meaningful that brands have created massively successful businesses upon a culture of customer service. Think of Zappos®, now one of the largest shoe retailers in the world. They've built a $2B annual business on a culture that places customer satisfaction above all other considerations, and the market has responded and rewarded them accordingly. Take a moment to think about either positive or negative interactions you've had with hospitality employees over the years. Unfortunately, it's the negative experiences that are most memorable, which makes those person-to-person connections all the more vital.
Empowering Guest Connections
Now, if you take the connections metaphor to the next level, you can begin delivering relationships that enhance the overall relationship with the guest. Recognize, acknowledge and reward returning customers or loyalty members with a room upgrade. Connect a couple out for a romantic weekend with a complimentary bottle of wine. Connect a family with teenage children with an Xbox for their room. In conjunction with the person-to-person and cultural connections, these small enhancements can elevate a good experience to a great one.
You can take the guest connections element one step further as well, and enable broader "Surprise and Delight" tactics that deliver unexpected and enhanced value for the guest and solidify their connection with your brand. Here are a few examples:
1. Kids Kits
Have a family with young children checking in? Provide them with complimentary "Kids Kits" upon check-in. Perhaps use a branded backpack or beach bag, and fill it with coloring books, crayons, balloons, play-doh, mini flashlight, and other items that can keep young minds occupied. In a sun and beach location? Make sure you include sunscreen and maybe a branded baseball cap. Make it even more memorable for the young ones by including a Gift Card – just for them – to the onsite or local candy or ice cream shop!
The kiddos will enjoy having something new to play with or a special treat to look forward to, while the parents will appreciate the few minutes of peace they might receive as a result. Meanwhile, they'll both have a pleasant memory of their stay that may translate into repeat business or positive word of mouth references to friends and family.
2. Milestone/Event Kits
Reinforce guest connections and brand loyalty by making milestone stays or events more memorable. Have a guest celebrating a Birthday?* Surprise the birthday boy or girl with a complimentary "Birthday Kit". Perhaps include a sash with a tongue-in-cheek slogan, such as "Over the Hill", a gift card for a complimentary cocktail at the onsite F&B outlet, or tag the guest's profile with a "Birthday Celebration" reference so F&B staff can deliver a special dessert.
Give them a branded "Happy Birtday!" themed picture frame in which they can place a photo from the occasion in order to make their connection with your brand visible in their home. Have a special Kids Kit for Birthdays to offer more age-appropriate gifts. Also make sure you're targeting the birthday celebrants with downstream communications and offers to keep them coming back year after year ("Take 25% off your next Birthday celebration at any of our properties.").
Connecting the Guest Experience Through Data
The key to connecting all the dots in support of an excellent guest experience is data. Consider it the new currency of hospitality. With it, there is virtually unlimited potential to positively impact the guest experience. Without it, you stand little chance of creating memorable experiences and will be at a competitive disadvantage in the hospitality marketplace.
But how exactly can data support the guest experience? Here's a small sample of some of the capabilities data-driven guest engagement enables:
- Offer, track, and fulfill upsell enhancements or surprise and delight items such as wine or fruit platters, and ensure they are ready and waiting in the guest room upon check-in.
- Offer an enhancement upsell at the front desk by taking into consideration all past preferences to personalize the experience and drive ancillary revenue.
- Curate on- and off-property activity recommendations and provide relevant enhancement options to guests in the booking flow and pre-stay based on their profile data.
- Automatically add request details and fulfillment to the guest's overall profile so that on their next stay, these details are fulfilled without the guest needing to ask – extra towels, late checkout, etc.
The Role of Connected Systems
These examples demonstrate the opportunity to deliver greater personalization, simplify communications and engagement, improve the overall guest experience, and drive ancillary revenue through data-driven guest engagement. Lack of access to actionable data due to disconnected systems often limits a hotelier's ability to take advantage of this engagement.
For example, if the PMS doesn't connect to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system data, you can't use centralized guest profile data to recognize guest preferences and behavior. How many times have we checked into a hotel we've visited frequently, only to be met with the irritating greeting, "Have you stayed with us before?"
Likewise, if the CRM system is not integrated with the Central Reservations System (CRS) and Booking Engine, you lack the capability to offer targeted upsells and enhancements to guests throughout the booking flow. Even in just these two examples, there are significant challenges related to delivering the ideal guest experience and capturing additional revenue opportunities.
To solve these challenges, hoteliers are increasingly looking towards single-vendor solutions and integrated platforms. With guest data captured, centralized, and made actionable across all on- and off-property systems (at both the property and the brand level), it's never a question of where and how to find and apply data but a question of how to strategically leverage it to support guest satisfaction and revenue goals.
Connections are the Heart of Hospitality
The initial impact of COVID-19 and the challenges that have emerged in the months that followed make the need for these connected solutions more crucial than ever. Once traveler demand emerges, the competition for those bookings will be fierce. The competition will come out swinging and leverage new technology and techniques to help steer demand towards their booking channels.
Hoteliers leaving the guest experience to chance and potential revenue on the table will be hard-pressed to recover in a meaningful and timely manner. Meanwhile, those hoteliers that have embraced data-driven guest engagement and implemented connected technologies will gradually outdistance themselves from the rest of the pack.
It's not just about our industry's ability to connect the journey for travelers, the way our people and cultures can enable positive (and profitable!) experiences, or the connections our technology supports. It is the intersection of all the different connections that will drive true hospitality to new heights in the years to come. It's the right attitude and the right knowledge in the right place at the right time.
Begin examining your connections today and see where there is opportunity to enhance them and potentially create new ones. Your guests and your bottom line will thank you in the long run.
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