By Larry and Adam Mogelonsky

Picture yourself going through this small, yet frustrating, scenario as a business guest. During some free time between meetings, you decide to use the hotel’s fitness center. You head up to your room, change into your gear, then walk over to the gym. The entrance is unlocked via keycard, though, and yours somehow doesn’t work. Confused, the nearby receptionist tells you that gym access is an additional $10 per day. While not extortive, it’s nonetheless a shock because there was no prior mention of this fee.

This is in fact a real situation that we’ve experienced firsthand, and it highlights the importance of pre-stay communications with guests in order to manage expectations and prevent negative sentiments.

Had we been adequately informed that there was a surcharge for the fitness center within the confirmation email, a three-days-out WhatsApp greeting or a day-of-arrival SMS, then fine; it’s an extra charge, but nothing out of hand. Had we been told while checking in, it still would’ve been reasonably okay. But to only find out at the last possible moment after changing and getting to the entrance? Now you’ve wasted our time and that’s unacceptable.

Great pre-stay outbound communications can be a make-or-break for online reviews as well as upselling revenues, but it can also be a lot of work to effectively manage. That’s where modern automation platforms come in.

Rather than speak in generalities, we sat down with Michael Kessler, CEO of ReviewPro, a Shiji Group brand, to explore some specific features in the company’s Messaging Automation platform that help to smooth omnichannel outbound communications and prevent the scenarios like the one above, all while keeping labor requirements at a minimum.

Our Current Travel Surge

Before diving into features, the importance of managing guest expectations cannot be underestimated amidst all the ongoing disruptions throughout the entire travel ecosystem. Beyond short-staffed hotels, think about what guests experience prior to arrival – namely, cancelled flights, other airport delays and a coin flip’s chance of lost luggage. By the time they reach your doors, they’re already drained.

And it’s not like customers’ emotions automatically reset to baseline once they arrive. Moods transfer over; any further perceived blunders by the hotel could set guests over the edge or make for a tepid first impression that dampens the rest of the onsite experience.

“True, people empathize with the current labor challenges in hospitality, but only to a point,” stated Kessler. “They still want to maximize their own enjoyment while rediscovering the world following two years of lockdown-related stress. Whatever back-of-house issues you have, the guest only sees the front-of-house production, and they will expect the services that are listed on the website or branded app to be readily available.”

Again, it’s all about proper outbound communication so that guests can formulate a baseline for standard performance in their minds.

Suppose your property has had to end lunchtime foodservice at its only onsite restaurant due to staffing issues. This may irk some hotel guests who are expecting a hot meal close to home. However, by embedding a well-written heads up into a series of prearrival emails or text messages – perhaps accompanied by some nearby dining suggestions – you can avoid this problem altogether. It’s not the ideal solution (which would be to have your kitchen remain open during lunch if you had the staff), but it won’t leave you vulnerable for negative online reviews.

Specific Features to Seek Out

In demoing ReviewPro’s Messaging Automation with Kessler, there are a few prominent features that every hotelier should be aware of when evaluating their workflows for efficient prearrival communications with guests.

  1. Omnichannel messaging cascades. Some customers want to hear from hotels by email; others want quicker, shorter messages through SMS or third-party instant messaging services like WhatsApp (platform of choice for Europeans) and WeChat (platform of choice for Chinese citizens). This is beyond any hotelier’s control and yet it benefits us to be as flexible as possible in order to have our messaging properly received and acted upon by guests. With enhanced delivery logistics, you can set a cascade of preferred outbound channels that’s different for each outbound messaging campaign. For instance, your first choice for the three-days-out message may be email, but if this channel fails to deliver (like for an OTA email alias), the message will then automatically attempt to send a text to the guest’s phone. And if that secondary option also fails, the system tries via WhatsApp.
  2. Profile-specific views. With a one-way push of guest profile data from the PMS, outbound messaging can be designed to target narrow workflows so that personalization is enhanced even before the customer is onsite. At its most foundational level, the pre-stay welcome communications should be split for first-timers and returning guests. Ditto for leisure guests and clients of corporate accounts. Now think about how you can engineer the pre-stay comms for direct bookings versus OTA guests: for the latter a goal could be to focus the messaging on phone-based channels and loyalty conversions, for example.
  3. Dynamic inserts. So, you have a delivery cascade and have set up different outbound campaigns according to some broad characters of your guests. The next enhancement would be for your messages to dynamically appear in the customer’s language of choice based off of their email or phone account settings. As well, the messaging should not just be blanket text but address the customer by their name and arrival date. With the flip of a switch, templated links for surveys, upselling (via a partnership with Oaky) and express check-in or check-out (via a partnership with MyCheck) can all be inserted.
  4. Delivery statistics. Such reporting works much like the digital advertising funnel we are all familiar with. You have the messy raw data uploaded to your outbound comms platform. From there, the service can tell you which emails or phone numbers are actually valid. Then, of those validated guest accounts, you get a percentage actually delivered. And for all this winnowing out, you can map it over weeklong or monthlong stretches to report on KPI improvements for delivery and guest interactions in order to guide the evolution of your pre-stay messaging.
  5. One-off text alerts. The beauty of modern messaging platforms that can connect a desktop application right to the guest’s phone is that you can easily set up one-time SMS campaigns intended for information that’s important in the moment. For example, say the elevator breaks down. Rather than have an already busy front desk agent warn every guest passing through the lobby, a quick ping can be sent out to reassure everyone in house that it will be fixed within a few hours.

Defense Then Offense

Above all, the goal of these five features is to help establish a threshold for your service capabilities in as labor-free a manner as possible so that guests are fully up to speed on what’s happening on-property and are never disappointed. Again, it’s all about the labor which is in short supply for the foreseeable future. That’s the defense – managing expectations during this crunch so that no one is disappointed.

But the beauty of feature-rich outbound communication tools like ReviewPro’s Messaging Automation is that they let you set up a great defense then go on the offense via post-stay feedback support and upselling integrations. By building and evolving differentiated campaigns over the entire guest journey, a hotel can gain more visibility on how to improve operations and that means happy guests. And with easy-to-insert upselling or cross-selling calls to action, hotels can get more spend per guest, and that means happy hoteliers.