By Jos Schaap CEO and Founder – StayNTouch
Bill Gates was famously quoted saying “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”
Over the last decade, we have witnessed a period of rapid technological evolution. Our world is, seemingly, in a constant state of digital advancement and change. Emerging tech has entered our households, changed the way we do business, and the way brands connect with consumers and ultimately altered the way in which we live. This is exciting, in many ways — but continuous digital innovation comes with its own set of rules.
From a business standpoint especially, industry leaders must remain privy to how increased digital opportunity inspires a subsequent increase in consumer expectations. Digital technology provides countless consumer touch-points — far more than those which existed within the traditional consumer structure. Rather, with the nudge of technology, brands and leaders have forged a direct path to consumers, to connect with consumers in a genuine, effective and targeted manner.
This shift becomes especially relevant within the hospitality realm, as our industry is built upon the consistent provision of exceptional experiences and the curation of guest-centric relationships. While digital applications help to effectively offset the operational load on staff (for those tasks which can be streamlined and do not require high-touch treatment), they also open the floodgates to an influx of new guest touch-points and expectations. In fact, studies show that 67% of customers say their standards for good experiences are higher than ever, but 51% of customers say most companies fall short of their expectations for great experiences.
Not only are guests hyper-connected to their devices as they travel and engage with hotel properties, but they’re spending a more significant portion of their travel experience ‘connected’ to their social network. So, what does this mean for hoteliers? How can the hospitality industry effectively react and adapt to these large-scale changes in the tech ecosystem and, in turn, meet and exceed evolving guest expectations both online and offline?
Online Doesn’t Mean Impersonal It’s easy to assume that the effective optimization of processes within an online platform, mobile app or device means a blitz of hands-off, impersonal interactions. This isn’t the case at all. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.
While technology helps to streamline processes in an effective, productive manner, the prioritization of a more efficient user experience shouldn’t come at the expense of genuine customer service. Guests may prefer the mobile experience for the majority of their travel touch-points, but they are still human and, as such, expect human/personalized engagement delivered through the mobile and on-property journey. Digital technology should be leveraged across all aspects of guest engagement to create a humanized experience and showcase hoteliers’ understanding of what guests value. In fact, according to studies, 76% of consumers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations and 84% of customers say being treated like a person, not a number, is very important to winning their business.
As Kristin Smaby so eloquently states, “In an era when companies see online support as a way to shield themselves from ‘costly’ interactions with their customers, it’s time to consider an entirely different approach: building human-centric customer service through great people and modern technology.”
If anything, the utilization of digital platforms should inspire heightened responsiveness and instant gratification; catering to this generation of travelers who expect 24/7, uninhibited access and convenience.
Ultimately, the real potential of the digital guest journey can only be capitalized on when hoteliers recognize that digital tech should be utilized as a driver/conduit for exceptional and hyper-responsive guest service. So, when considering new technology for your property, ask yourself — will this enhance my hotel’s ability to connect with guests in a real, personalized manner? Will the implementation of this platform enable my staff to curate a more relevant, memorable in-person experience?
Using Data Responsibly With big data, comes big responsibility. The demand for personalization has become notably paramount across industries, and especially within the hospitality realm. Recent research shows that 57% of consumers are willing to share personal data in exchange for personalized offers or discounts. However, the 2017 State of Personalization Report also states that just 22% of shoppers are satisfied with the level of personalization they currently receive. This, in itself, embodies the increasing responsibility associated with digital access — if the use of online technology provides brands with a more direct line to their consumer, those consumers want to be heard and understood.
The same concept applies to hotels. If the implementation of a progressive, tech-savvy operational model and/or native apps creates more new touch-points, hotels have increased access to valuable guest data and, as such, should be empowered to curate a more personalized experience. Guests expect a streamlined journey and, more importantly, targeted and relevant engagements with your hotel, before and after every stay, both online and offline.
The Hybrid Service Advantage Regardless of available mobile technology, any guests’ experience with your property will be comprised of online and offline interactions. Depending on each guests’ specific set of unique expectations, they may prefer a high-touch, traditional experience, or appeal more to the low-touch, self-service experience. This represents an integral opportunity to hotels, as their guest service model can expand to cater to each guests’ respective needs and preferred interaction model.
Those travelers who are in a rush can rely on fast, efficient mobile or self-service experiences while those travelers who crave a more high-touch relationship can benefit from dedicated, genuine staff attention. This ensures that guests receive the care and level of service they expect, while hotel staff is empowered to effectively allocate their energy and resources to those touch-points which need it most.
The continued emergence and widespread embrace of digital technological innovation marks an exciting era for hospitality. Hotels across the globe are continuously raising the bar in their adoption and understanding technology and its’ impact on the guest experience. Not only is the guest service model changing and reaching new heights, but guests are implored to interact with your property in new ways across social media channels, apps, and on-property with self-service and immersive technology. Those hotels which effectively capitalize on this opportunity for an enhanced connection with modern guests are, undoubtedly, setting themselves up for success in 2019 and beyond.