By Karen O’Neill, President-Americas at Knowcross

In this time, better known as the ‘Age of the Customer,’ what differentiates companies like Apple, Amazon, Zappos from the rest? The simple answer would be their never-ending efforts to exceed customer service expectations and create memorable, ever-lasting experiences. When it comes to the hospitality industry, while there is no shortage of sentiments that should guide a hotelier’s approach to success, there is one which arguably stands above the rest: great hospitality is defined by exceptional service.

A recent Walker study, states that by the year 2020, customer experience will be overtaking price and product as the key brand differentiator. Further, not meeting or exceeding customer expectations can also lead to a lower satisfaction score and unhappy customers are unlikely to stick around. According to Ruby Newell-Legner’s Understanding Customers, it takes 12 positive experiences to counter one negative experience.

With this in mind, we ask: Hoteliers, are you offering the highest level of service to your guests? What sets your service apart from that of other hotels? Moreover, do you have the technology in place to support your staff, optimize your operations and continuously heighten your guest experience to deliver on your brand promise?

Service Today is Defined in Different Ways

Each guest is likely to have a different perception of what defines great service. Some guests may associate great service with uninhibited access to the luxuries and comforts of home, while others may value green, sustainable practices.

While they are away, guests still want the conveniences of home, such as streaming video services, voice assistants like Alexa, by the cup in-room coffee makers like Nespresso, charging ports, high-speed Wi-Fi and use of their mobile devices for just about everything.

Guests are also becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, putting more value on eco-friendly initiatives such as waste reduction, recycling programs, water-saving initiatives, use of local and organic produce, and availability of electric car recharging stations. In a report from Hilton, 20% of guests stated that they consider a hotel’s environmental and social efforts before booking.

Today’s travelers expect their stay to be tailored and their needs to be anticipated based on preferences and data from past stays, bookings, and feedback. In fact, more than 70% of hotel guests report having a positive experience with personalization. Marriott takes it one step further with virtual reality pods where guests can virtually experience Marriott properties.

With this in mind, hoteliers are encouraged to recognize that there is no single identifier of ‘great service’. Rather, the path to achieving great service is best created with the help of technology that positions hotels to offer flexible, personalized service across all tasks. This approach is malleable, dynamic, and empowered by applications and platforms that allow staff to create more meaningful connections with guests, anticipate needs and respond quickly to requests.

The Essence of Independents

Independent hotels are certainly not immune to the industry-wide push for the implementation of cutting-edge technology. While boutique hospitality is primarily founded on the provision of authentic, attentive, and personalized service, it’s essential to recognize that service-oriented technology is positioned to enhance traditional service, not replace it. While automation is undeniably integral to the continued growth of large-scale hotels, the operational benefit of a more streamlined system for independent properties is paramount.

By preventing the prevalence of inefficiencies across departments with improved technology, hotel staff is able to focus more readily on what matters most: the guest experience. With the right technology in place, hotel standards are maintained at the highest level across every service touch-point, while staff members maintain personal rapport and connection with each guest. It is a superior level of service and care that boutique properties are especially known for, and that need for exceptional service is precisely what service optimization platforms were built to achieve.

“The key is to set realistic customer expectations and then not just to meet them, but exceed them—preferably in unexpected and helpful ways,” says Richard Branson, Virgin Airways Founder, in an article in Entrepreneur magazine.

He adds: “Setting customer expectations at a level that is aligned with consistently deliverable levels of customer service requires that your whole staff works in harmony with your brand image.”

Ultimately, personalization will look different for each guest, but the desire to experience great service is universal. In a hyper-competitive landscape, guest service is king and investing in hotel optimization technology that transforms your service each step of the way will drive staff productivity, guest satisfaction, boost positive reviews and keep guests coming back.

The Time to Optimize Service is Now

Research shows that hotel occupancy is currently at record levels, and PWC predicts steady growth throughout this year. In fact, from 2009 to 2017, US hotel gross bookings grew from $116 billion to $185 billion. Much of this growth can be attributed to the gradual influx of modern hospitality technology, as the industry landscape continues to shift in favor of guests’ increasingly digital demands. In 2009, the first hotel and airline apps were just hitting the market. Social media and mobile technology as we know it today hadn’t yet conceptualized, and the idea of offering personalized guest experiences — at scale — was a lofty concept. Fast forward to today, and we’re witnessing the rapid implementation of new-age technology that was built from a guest-centric perspective, to transform the guest and hotelier experience in equal measure. Continued growth and possibility are on the horizon, and it’s up to hoteliers to vet and implement the platforms which can elevate their service offering well into the future.

Of course, that growth can’t be achieved without change, and hotel properties around the globe are reaching an integral turning point. In order to keep up with evolving industry demands and guest expectations while empowering their service model, hoteliers aptly realize the importance of shifting away from all-in-one legacy technologies in favor of dedicated guest experience and service optimization software solutions powered by mobile.

Legacy models of the past, primarily defined by their limited infrastructure and expensive integrations, do not offer the robust capabilities of new software designed from the ground up with the sole focus on streamlining and refining vital areas of the hospitality operations. With a service quality optimization platform, hotels can effectively automate and manage areas of operations to reduce costs like never before. These applications provide staff with access to better guest data, streamlined communication and prioritized task tracking, to better anticipate, respond and surpass guest expectations across all touch-points.

The ROI of Enhanced Guest Service

Social media has transformed how consumers interact with brands, and this is especially prevalent in the case of hospitality. With credit to the growing influence of travel review sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, hoteliers are implored to be especially vigilant when managing their online reputation. In fact, studies reveal there is an extra 3.2 billion to be earned over the next decade if the hotel sector becomes more attentive to online reviews. This comes as no surprise when we consider that 96% of TripAdvisor users consider reviews necessary when vetting and booking hotels. The bottom line is quite simple. It is imperative for hotels to provide quality service, every stay.

In many cases, prospective guests are also willing to pay more for a hotel with a trusted online reputation, with 76% of travelers surveyed noting that they were prepared to pay more for a hotel that has higher review scores. Beyond that upfront advantage, it’s no secret that happy guests tend to spend more, and the cultivation of loyal guests helps hoteliers to mitigate rising acquisition costs. After all, the repeat guest is the one who stays at the same hotel 15 to 20 times a year. Fortunately, great service is the ultimate predictor of guest experience and, in turn, continued guest loyalty and positive feedback. By leveraging mobile technology to automate critical processes such as the handling of guest requests, complaints, maintenance jobs, room turn-over, and more, hoteliers can ensure high staff productivity, operational efficiency and, subsequently, guest satisfaction. Housed within one, centralized system, hotels can rely on a customized stack of applications that optimize service and can scale according to the growth and unique needs of the property.