By Ahmed Mahmoud

Customer experience as a concept is not alien to the hotel industry. Some might even suggest the hotel industry invented customer experience. With its star-ratings for establishing consistent product features to brand consistency as envisioned by many hotel chains, e.g., Marriot, Hilton, Intercontinental, hotel business has always been about creating positive guest experiences. Almost every consumer of the world has had some of his/her most memorable experiences in a hotel from weddings, birthdays, and conferences to prom nights and honeymoons.

So what is this hype about customer experience and can a hotel generate more revenue from it?

Not only are positive guest experiences considered the number one criteria that travelers use to select hotels, far outweighing price and location, positive guest experiences are profitable too. According to the Harvard Review, customers who had the best past experiences spend 140% more compared to those who had poor experiences. Clearly, happy guests can help ensure hotel revenues remain healthy.

This is why customer experience is highly correlated with loyalty. The importance of loyalty in the hotel sector can’t be underestimated, and most hotel chains realize this fact by trying to make their guest more loyal to them by offering the loyalty or reward programs such as SPG for Starwood Hotels, Marriott Rewards, Hilton Honors, Best Western Rewards, etc.

Whether hoteliers like it or not, service and guest alignment change is a good thing. It creates possibilities. With internet, the information and digital age, rise of the Generation Ys and Zs, things are more dynamic than ever. With multiple channels of customer experience and competition nipping at the heels of every major hotel in the world, it is no longer just about consistency and quality. It is also about differentiation and expectation.

So where do we start?

First, let’s look at the different channels of customer experience:

Physical channels — Print ads, billboards, on premise, in-room, restaurant, facilities, employee interactions, etc.

Digital channels — Delivered online through internet, via a laptop, Mobile, Tablet, etc. This is sometimes specifically referred to as “Digital Experience”.

Next let’s examine the different stages of customer experience. A generic hotel customer engagement lifecycle would consist of the following stages:

1. Inspiration / information (Awareness of Need and Discovery of Info): The guest cycle stage begins when a guest decides to use the services of a hotel and explores which hotel might be the best choice. A guest might contact the hotel via telephone, fax, email, or internet, and asks questions that lead to a decision. The way the hotel answers the guest is the first step in the guest experience.

2. Planning (Evaluation of Options): online shopping, hotel guest review

3. Purchase the hotel via best deals, no hidden cost, easy to book

4. Preparation for the trip starts from the moment the guest receives the hotel confirmation, 2-3 days prior to arrival a welcome note via mail.

5. Stay: The most important stage – starting with check-in, occupancy, use of hotel services, and departure.

6. Engagement: (Advocacy or termination of relationship)… think social media and online sharing here

The guest cycle experience is made up of stages a guest goes through beginning with arrival at a hotel, during their stay, and after they leave. These stages include of all the contact and activities the guest must go through to stay in a hotel. Typically these stages are described as Contact or Pre-Arrival, Check-In or Arrival, Occupancy, and Check-Out or Departure. The hotel business is competitive; having strong systems for handling all the contact and paperwork needed to manage guests efficiently and quickly is important during all stages of this cycle. More and more hotels now are using systems to keep in touch with past guests and welcome them to come again.

Gain customer loyalty at every stage of the guest life cycle.

Hotels that are struggling to deliver that engaging guest experience need to move beyond features, products and processes by creating a positive relationship derived from engagement-enabled apps, personalization and quality experiences. Big hotel chain companies like Ritz-Carlton and some of the well-known airlines practice this philosophy. These companies pride themselves on engaging customers and exceeding expectations. Each one has developed an extensive database of customer information so they can analyze how successful their service has been, what it lacks, where it could be improved, and how to predict what these customers may expect in the future. In other words, they’ve used technology to understand gaps and unified the information silos of guest interactions so they’re in a position to deliver an engaging guest experience.

Delivering a friendly service at this early stage of your guest’s booking cycle is about to take on a whole new dimension with some significant changes being introduced by Google.

Starting on April 21, websites that are mobile-friendly will be flagged up in Google’s search results allowing users to identify which websites will look good on their smart phones or tablet devices.

This update will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide so it’s a big change to the way search results are displayed. Ultimately, Google wants to reward website owners with higher search rankings if they’ve implemented a flexible design that cleverly responds to each device accordingly.

The Right Technology

The right technology can help you profile your guests at every hotel interaction (reservations, concierge, check-in, room service, etc.) and integrate that information with the property management system (PMS) and CRM. To understand how to engage customers, hotels need to tailor communication options to an increasingly tech savvy guest base and ensure that guest outreach is on-message and targeted to the individual, while taking into consideration that today’s travelers:

  • Depend more on mobile devices throughout all stages of travel.
  • Prefer online (OTA) and digital communication (Social Media) to human interaction.
  • Expect speedy service delivery.
  • Rely on social media and OTA guest review and other travelers review on other sites for recommendations and past reviews.

Over the last couple of decades those guest experiences have begun online as consumers have looked to the Internet to seek out everything from the best reviews to the best prices, guests are increasingly undertaking their travel research on smaller screens via mobile and tablet devices.

The above means the more you know before guests arrive to your hotel, the better when guests contact your hotel for prices, services and other information. What if you knew your guest’s history such as: type of trip (segment differential), first time or repeat guest, number of visits, and average spend? Their preferences such as: coffee, high floor, quiet room, a newspaper, or feather pillows? What if you could access their complete guest profile during the conversation by automatically pulling up past records from CRM or PMS databases? How much more engaging could your customer experience be if:

  • All guest profile information and past activity was available in real-time so your hotel staff can anticipate needs for a repeat or frequent guest?
  • Your guest data was always current and accurate?
  • You could provide more engaging guest experiences from improved staff preparedness?
  • Your hotel was able to track and respond directly to guest comments on social media?

Anticipate the guest needs and make different experience by What If?

Many hoteliers hardly think how to engage with their customers before even they arrive to the hotel, so what if, before guest check-in you could send a welcome note by mail or mobile message with reconfirmation for the booking? What if you could alert a guest that their room is available by sending a message to the guest’s mobile device? Or, what if your hotel app could be engagement-enabled to serve as a property concierge whereby guests can click on a link or help me button within your hotel app and be connected either by video or voice to your hotel staff so they can receive pre-arrival check-in services?

What if, once your guest was on property, you could enable a guest to download your hotel app that is integrated with a guest’s loyalty account so you could recognize them as a VIP and your hotel staff is notified by text so that they can address the guest by their name as soon as they walk into your hotel?

Engagement enable your guest mobile app so it is easy for guests to connect with a live hotel staff with a click of a web link or using WhatsApp for common needs such as housekeeping, room service, or valet services, instead of going with the normal routine via the guest service agents?

What if, during the guest stay, your staff could use the magic words and actions to engage with the guest and enhance the guest experience?

  1. Keep smiling
  2. Enhance body language
  3. “It’s My Pleasure…” & “I Am Happy To…”
  4. “Thank You…” & “We Appreciate…”
  5. “Welcome…”
  6. “Is There Anything Else we can assist you …”
  7. “We’re Looking Forward To Having You Again As Our Guest”

What if, once your guest was checked out, you could send him a thank you note for his stay in your hotel? You might send him a feedback survey, or other communication, a hotel newsletter with promotions, news, other guest reviews.

What if you could enable your staff to be more engaged with the guest to create an engaging customer experience, you need up-to-the-minute information in order to truly anticipate your guests’ needs and wants. That intelligence requires access to a high speed, real-time data repository for tracking, collecting, and sharing relevant data points across your hotel, identify the repetitive guest problems or notes, e.g., internet speed, breakfast variety, speed of check-in and check-out, VIP guest, etc.

Imagine how much more personal, relevant and engaging your customer experience could be if you could monitor, store and access guest information in real-time across all touch points including web, mobile, and enterprise transactions to capture and consolidate guest data across web, mobile, and contact center touch points and simplify data mining and analysis.

Make the difference with Guest Experience

With the use of mobile devices, search engines, text messaging and social media commonplace, connecting with people or information is instantaneous. This rapidly changing environment means hotels need to evolve their customer experience management processes and contact center capabilities just to meet, let alone exceed, guest expectations.

As in their personal lives, guests increasingly want a response from businesses just as quickly, whenever, wherever and through whatever channel they prefer.

Since exceptional customer experience depends on knowing your guests and delivering a highly personalized, engaging experience, arming your contact center with powerful customer experience management capabilities should be at the heart of your guest experience strategy. How your front desk and contact center staff manage guest communications can make the difference between loyal customers and missed opportunities. The Avaya Customer Engagement solution can help you drive higher performance by improving the quality and value of guest interactions, providing:

  • Increased loyalty with valuable customer relationships
  • Reduced operating costs
  • Competitive differentiation

Hoteliers that want to get customer and team engagement solutions may be blocked from doing so because of their networks. Engagement solutions need flexible and robust network infrastructures.