The Guest Experience: More than Just Technology Rollouts
In my last article on Hospitality Technology, I talked about how Bots build Brands, I touched upon why the center of all decision making for all Hospitality companies is Customer / Guest Experience. With a more knowledgeable and empowered guest, the winner in the hospitality industry is the company that consistently offers an experience its customers will cherish. The industry is abuzz with technology that offers this – SMACIT (social, mobile, analytics, cloud and Internet of Things). It is important to look at these and have a strategy around each. But it's only the confluence of these technologies that truly creates a unique competitive advantage. Thus many companies are pursuing a ‘Digital Transformation’. Unfortunately, many companies understand this transformation only in a piecemeal fashion and struggle to know where to start. The typical questions are:
- Who is the “Guest of the Future”? What might the travel experience look like 3-5 years out?
- What types of insights and information (data) about guests can be used to personalize the travel experience?
- How can suppliers better compete against online travel agencies (OTA’s) and drive more direct bookings to their branded websites?
- How should we think about the future of customer loyalty and rewards programs?
- How should we approach globalization, especially when leading with digital capabilities?
The answer is to look at digital excellence in two dimensions to build a truly digital brand:
- An External focus - Customer Experience (CX) is key to meeting higher customer expectations, having consistency across touchpoints, and to become less siloed in systems and culture. Recently one of the APAC airline executives said, “As ticket prices converge, physical product and seamless service will be more important than ever.” Here are some examples of where technology is an enabler to real customer experience:
- You look at a poster of the Bahamas. On the poster is a QR code for you to scan so you can see the top 3 hotels, rentals and sea excursions.
- After your flight lands – your rental company sends you a message/email that your vehicle is in a certain lane.
- You have an app like TripIt – once your itinerary is up, you get emailed the day before to check-in. If something happens that will affect your flight, it lets you know ahead of time and offer options for another flight. No running to gates with 300 other passengers to get another seat.
- Many companies are offering Travel Diary (Traviary) so customers can post their pictures and comments on their experiences, before, during and after e.g. TripAdvisor. User Generated Content (UGC) is key since the customers own the brand and guest sourcing has become the North Star for the community. The digital generation craves social connections and the ability to earn positive media plays a large role in their purchasing process.
- An Internal focus – Digitize your operations and employee experience (EX). Digitalization requires more than automation. It requires new business, technology and operating models. According to a recent survey of hotel stakeholders, a premium property executive said, “The top barrier to digital adoption is internal organizations’ concern about changes to organizational structure or functions.” Digital operations are allowing niche operators to provide integrated solutions and become a one-stop-shop solution provider across the value chain. These technologies are also enabling start-ups to unlock value faster and create disruptions e.g. WeChat offers payment for bookings and direct deposit services on their chat platforms. And some of the internal capabilities the leaders are building are as below:
- Delivering an intelligent back-office - accelerating employee decisions through analytics leads to cost reduction and superior service simultaneously
- Enabling the connected workforce – employees are so distributed these days across geographies and time zones with no real-time connection to management. Connecting them through the collaboration processes and tools is key to empower the workforce
- Deliver the next-generation colleague experience – as more millennials enter the workforce, you have to ensure that their experience from ‘recruitment to retirement’ is designed and delivering on their expectations
Clearly all customer touch points are dictated by only one word – EXPERIENCE. That is what the process and technology platforms have to deliver and enable the human or system interacting with the customer. And this experience starts much before traveler walks into the property. And creating the right Employee Experience is the starting point for almost all Customer Experience strategies.
Ashu Bhatia is Executive VP with Avanade (subsidiary of Accenture) – North America Advisory services and has significant experience in management consulting in the United States, Europe, and Asia. An MBA from Carnegie Mellon University, he currently works in areas of Strategy, Customer Relationship Management, Big Data/Analytics and has authored an IT Strategy book, Value Creation.