By Sudheer Thakur

Smile! That's what hotel staff are trained to do even when talking on the phone. When you smile, you sound pleasant and interested. What are we to do in a world of texting and chat?

As text messaging and chat become the communication channels of choice for consumers, more hotels are adapting to the trend by inviting travelers to connect with them by SMS, chat widget, or messaging app.

Consumers love messaging because it’s fast, easy, and convenient. A Nielsen-Facebook survey found that 56 percent of people would rather message a business than call customer service. And more than half of respondents said they are more likely to shop with a business they can message directly.

For hotels, messaging represents a fundamental shift in how employees communicate with guests—and with one another. To help with the transition, employees need tools and guidelines. Above all, they need strong leadership.

Whether you’re a general manager, front office manager, or hands-on owner, here are six steps to success in text messaging and chat.

1. Choose the Right Tools

Hotels have numerous options for messaging software, but not all are created equal. Beware of “free” solutions, standalone apps, and chatbots that try to substitute human hospitality with artificial intelligence.

Your messaging platform should be designed to serve the unique needs of hotels. And it should integrate with your internal communication systems to facilitate collaboration across shifts, departments, and properties.

If the messaging solution is overly complex, it will be avoided by staff. Keep it simple and easy to learn so that staff love messaging as much as guests.

2. Assign Responsibilities

Who should oversee guest messaging? The front desk is the obvious choice. It’s open 24 hours, and staff are skilled in guest service and trained in reservations. Besides, with fewer guests calling and dropping by these days, it’s often an underutilized resource.

But all departments play a role in internal messaging. As a manager, you must ensure that employees understand and fulfill their responsibilities so that no guest request goes unfilled and nothing falls through the cracks. Keep a close eye on communications, looking for opportunities to increase efficiency and improve service.

3. Establish Guidelines

Messaging with guests is different from messaging with friends. Without proper guidelines, employees risk coming across as unprofessional or impersonal, and guests may end up frustrated or angry.

Set basic guidelines such as:

  • Respond promptly. People expect a quick response to text and chat. Set a maximum response time such as five minutes.
  • Personalize. Introduce yourself when messaging a guest for the first time. If a sender is unknown, politely ask for their name and room number.
  • Be courteous. People are often on the go when messaging, so keep messages brief but never abrupt. Always remember the pleases and thank-yous.
  • Be professional. Adopt a friendly, conversational (but not casual) tone. Avoid obscure emojis, jargon, slang, and anything else that may confuse or be misinterpreted. Always check spelling before sending.
  • Don’t use texting to sell. Texting is a very direct, personal connection with guests. Avoid the urge to send marketing messages. Keep each touchpoint service-oriented and guest-centered.
  • Be secure. Never collect credit card data or other confidential information on messaging platforms. Send a link to your booking engine or call guests to gather this information.

4. Reach Out to Travelers

Once you have the tools, responsibilities and guidelines in place, it’s time to reach out to travelers. Here are a few ways to connect:

  • Display a chat widget on your website. Earn more direct bookings by offering assistance, answering questions, and providing recommendations in real-time at that crucial time when traveler shoppers are on your website considering your hotel.
  • Send a pre-stay text. Ensure a smooth check-in by inviting guests to start planning their stay prior to arrival.
  • Invite guests to message you. Let guests know there’s a new way to contact you by sharing a text number on your website, in confirmation letters, and at check-in.
  • Send an in-stay text. Prevent bad reviews and earn rave reviews by checking in with guests during their stay to ask how things are going and offer assistance.
  • Send a post-stay message. Thank guests for choosing your hotel and ask them to write a review or survey. Invite them to text you when planning their next visit.

5. Create Efficiencies

It’s high time to ease off paper-based memos, forms, logbooks, checklists, and phone calls, which are inefficient, hard to track, and easily misplaced. Today, everything should be digitized so that it’s accessible and trackable from any device or location. This includes policies and procedures, schedules, task lists, and contact lists.

Use automation tools to send texts to select guests at certain times of day, auto-replies to advise incoming messages of average wait times, and message templates to instantly reply to common questions and requests. Set up notifications to alert staff of daily tasks, cleaning schedules, and preventative maintenance.

6. Track Performance

Last, create accountability by setting objectives and tracking performance, including average response times, task completion rates, direct bookings, upsells, and guest ratings. Share results with the team, recognize achievements, and inspire staff to strive even harder to master the art of messaging.