While no one really knows how many Americans will travel for the holidays this year, those who do and opt to stay in hotels will be expecting specific changes to the customer experience. In high demand will be customer service technologies that allow guests to make quick booking decisions and even faster changes to reservations, ask questions, and avoid contact with hotel staff if they so choose. To learn more about why hotels should consider implementing these types of technologies, HT spoke with John Thomson, Head of Business Development, Americas, Sitel Group.
How do you think the pandemic will impact CX for hotels this year?
As we have all seen over the past seven months, the pandemic has been particularly challenging for the hospitality industry. However, the industry is planning for a potential end of year uptick with the holiday season ahead. Research found that 43% of holiday travelers plan to stay at a hotel or vacation rental this year, with hotels slightly more popular than vacation rentals. With uncertainty around the safety of staying with family or friends for the holiday, those who are traveling for the holidays may opt to change their usual plans and pay for a hotel. Additionally, those looking for a holiday vacation and are already working remotely may be enticed by the idea of a “workation,” or a work from your hotel package, which many hotel chains have been promoting during the pandemic. While we won’t see record breaking travel as we did last year, Americans are still looking to get away and hotels are providing them with that opportunity.
How will technology play a role in customer experiences this year? Is it different than in previous years?
Investing in technology is more important than ever for hotels as they look to make guests feel safe during their stay. While investing in cleaning and sanitation technology is of course crucial to bringing back guests, enhancing the customer experience through technology is also important. With so much unpredictability shadowing this holiday travel season due to a third surge in the U.S., it’s critical for hotels to implement customer service technologies that allow guests with fast and easy access to booking, to easily make changes to their reservation, and to ask questions about safety protocols and much more. Additionally, adding keyless technology and contactless experiences that make hotels low-touch environments are crucial to enhancing consumer trust in hotel safety during the pandemic.
What are the top technologies hotels should leverage to best position themselves for superior CX this holiday season?
1. Online Support (24/7) - Particularly during times of uncertainty, consumers want to reach a brand any time, night or day, if they have a question, concern or change. In fact, even before the pandemic 82% of consumers expected brands to be available 24/7 for customer service. This doesn’t mean hotels need to hire more overnight staff or create new positions - it’s simply about implementing the right technology. Investing in digital assistants and creating an omnichannel presence across channels such as online chat, phone support, email and social media is crucial to meet consumer demand.
2. Provide Self-Service Options - Through the pandemic, when experiencing an issue with a brand, more than a third (35%) of consumers would rather find the solution themselves online than reach out to customer service (up 7% since before the pandemic). The main reason most consumers prefer self service is simply because it’s faster (52%). Speed is key for CX in any industry, but particularly for hotels this year, with travel plans still in flux for many Americans. If consumers are looking to solve simple issues such as understand what a hotel’s cleaning protocols are or change their reservation dates, it’s crucial that hotels provide an easy option for guests to do so on their own when it’s most convenient for them.
3. Create a Personalized Experience - With anxiety high during the pandemic, even for those choosing to travel during the holidays, personalization ahead of and during their stay is key to making guests feel comfortable in the hotel environment. Nearly three in five (57%) Americans say personalization is important over email, chat, social media, etc. For hotels, this means utilizing the data arsenal most brands have at their disposal to create experiences and offerings that suit the needs of each individual guest.
4. Keyless and Contactless Guest Experiences - The need for contactless guest experiences has skyrocketed over the past eight months. Solutions such as apps and QR codes that work for various aspects of the guest experience, such as check-in and check-out, keyless room entry, room service, customer feedback, and in-room requests are becoming more important in mitigating consumer safety concerns when staying at a hotel.
What kind of technology innovation are you seeing from hotels? Are there any examples you think are important to discuss?
We’ve seen many of our clients make innovative use of artificial intelligence (AI) to support CX during the pandemic. For example, hotels are implementing AI bots to answer frequently asked customer questions related to COVID-19. This kind of solution is extremely practical for hotels because it can be implemented and scaled up quickly, and it also diverts customers away from other channels, allowing live agents to better support those with more complex needs. Additionally, we’re seeing the use of chatbots for guests while checked in to the hotel, including features such as ordering room service, requesting new towels or pillows and more.
What kind of technology will make the biggest impact on travelers this year? What about in 2021?
We asked consumers what technologies they felt made the most positive experience in travel and hospitality - 17% felt digital representatives (e.g., chatbots, voice automation, etc.) created the most positive experience, while 16% said virtual reality (VR) (e.g., product/service simulations) and 15% said artificial intelligence (AI) (e.g., personalized recommendations, etc.). As the hospitality industry continues to find new ways to succeed through the evolving travel landscape, utilizing data to better serve customers and provide personalized experiences will be key.