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Customer Engagement Thought Bombs

Abigail Lorden, Vice President & Group Brand Director, Hospitality Technology

Like many of you, I attend my share of conferences, always with an ear for some nugget of wisdom from the mouths of speakers. The best ideas are worthy of jotting down in my notebook. “Thought bombs,” I call them. These are the ideas that really resonate, inspire, or shake up my thinking. In an unexpected plot twist, I recently learned that “thought bombs” are rooted in, of all things, Star Wars mythos. Google it. The top hits return talk of Sith Lords focusing their willpower to unleash volatility from the dark side of the Force. I can get down with that. Thought bombs should challenge our thinking, and even disrupt us. 

At this year’s round-up of industry events, customer engagement was a common theme and gave HT’s research team a lot to consider in preparation for the 2018 Customer Engagement Technology Study. The rapid acceleration of customer engagement is nothing if not volatile. Here are my thought bombs from our body of work. Thankfully, I didn’t have to do a stint on the darkside to uncover them. 

Customer experience is a cause without a champion.

Hotels and restaurants are hyper-focused on customer experience management (CXM). Call it what you will — loyalty, intimacy, or simply satisfied customers — the hospitality industry is aggressively seeking technology that can drum up digital guest engagement and loyalty. We’re seeing double-digit growth rates for planned technology deployments in the next year. The problem? Strategic leadership is still a puzzle, and that’s trouble. Despite rapid rollout plans, about half of hotels and restaurants don’t yet have a solid CXM strategy in place. Not surprisingly, there’s no clear champion for CXM projects. In about one-third of companies, the head of marketing owns CXM strategy. In another 25%, the CIO owns it. From there, it becomes a hodgepodge of, “no one owns it,” to “we all own it,” to, “I thought s/he owns it.” 

Rise of the customer engagement platform. 

The hotel industry in particular is showing its hand here, as current tools for making sense out of customer data leave something to be desired. When it comes to learning about guests, hoteliers are in agreement that their property management system is the most critical: 85% use their PMS to mine customer data. However, according to the Fuel’s 2018 Hospitality Technology Study, more than half of hotels (55%) are not satisfied with their current PMS provider. 

HT’s research indicates that the industry may well see the rise of an alternative: the customer experience platform. The ideal solution would provide a pathway to holistic guest data via an open API enterprise platform that’s not PMS-centric. Today, just 28% of hotels have a customer experience platform, but a whopping 78% revealed intentions to move in this direction in 2019. Customer experience platforms are projected to see more adoption activity than any other CXM solution within the next year, beating out chatbots, IoT platforms, location-based solutions and predictive analytics. 

Loyalty is dead. It’s all about intimacy. And your mojo is digital.

This thought bomb was picked up at HT-NEXT in April. The speaker, Mario Natarelli, is managing partner for MBLM and he’s bullish on intimacy. He paints a scenario where traditional definitions of customer loyalty morph into the theory of brand intimacy. Brand intimacy is built on the notion that emotion drives behavior, and in particular, our decision to buy. The deeper the emotional connection, the more a customer is willing to spend — and the less willing they are to live without you. 

Brand intimacy, it follows, is the science of how we build those stronger, emotionally led bonds with customers. The theory is outlined in Natarelli’s book, Brand Intimacy: A New Paradigm in Marketing. Bonds are built through essence, story and — here’s where technology plays a key role — experience. In his HT-NEXT talk, Natarelli  stressed to an audience of hotel technologists that “Digital is central to the bond — it starts the process.” He cautions that while technology can enhance brand intimacy, turbulent technology experiences can dilute it. 

HT’s customer engagement research gives us several tangible examples of turbulence: areas where existing digital technology falls short of customer expectations. We asked a panel of consumers to rate the importance of a variety of technologies to their hotel or restaurant experiences. We then compared those rankings to industry-wide adoption rates. Here are several key areas where the industry falls down:

  • Mobile access to hotel reservations: 65% of customers want it, but only 30% of hotels offer it.
  • Dining reservations on a mobile device: 59% of restaurant customers want it; only 29% of restaurants offer it. 
  • Ability to track food order status: 58% of consumers say this is important, but just 14% of restaurants offer it.
  • Room selection on a mobile device: 55% of consumers say this is important; just 17% of hotels can deliver.

Go ahead. Give them “free” WiFi. They’ll pay you for it. 

Remember the notion that brand intimacy can drive more spend? We’ve found evidence to support it. The majority of consumers in our study are willing to put their money where their mouths are. For example, 66% of hotel guests say they’re would pay more for the technology services they deem important — and “free” WiFi, they tell us, is very important. Free is in the eye of the beholder. If room rates increase but WiFi isn’t an up-charge, our data suggests that the customer will be more likely to stay with you again. 

In all cases, your strategy for customer experience should empower you to make  technology a non-issue. Find the right technology to take the issue of technology off the table, so you can focus on the business needs

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