The hospitality industry has been seen, by some, to borrow heavily from retailers when it comes to establishing customer loyalty. As a result, myriad schemes have been developed in recent decades to combat the increasing wave of competition.
Technology has helped continue this upward curve in recent times, with data-driven programs fueled by the explosion of mobile devices creating both an opportunity and a headache for the sector as a whole.
Where once there was almost tribal loyalty, the combination of increased competition and increased information at the fingertips of customers has gradually eroded any sense of favoritism.
A more empowered customer with less attachment to specific brands causes a problem for those who have spent billions on loyalty schemes and programs, fed by data analytics tools and mobile technology.
And then the COVID-19 pandemic started…
Huge swathes of the hospitality sector were suddenly forced to close their doors in what was quite obviously a devastating blow. But it also hit the reset button on their reputation with customers.
As hotels, leisure facilities and restaurants welcome back customers, they should be aware that consumers' priorities have totally shifted.
Where once price was a big differentiator, your safety measures will determine whether or not a customer buys from your hospitality business.
To demonstrate this, more than two thirds (67%) of consumers who took part in our latest survey admitted their loyalty to their favorite brands would be impacted by the measures they put in place to deal with COVID-19.
This shows us that safety measures are hugely important in deciding where people will go in their leisure time. This should provide a clear focus for the hospitality sector in terms of what to prioritize for the foreseeable future.
But it is also clear that there is a lack of trust among consumers. More than half (53%) said the safety measures put in place have been inadequate or poorly managed.
Simply put, the hospitality sector cannot afford to miss this opportunity. Carefully crafted loyalty programs that rewarded repeat usage have suddenly been replaced by a desire to feel safe and secure. And that is something destinations can provide with relative ease.
The measures being put in place are wide ranging, from limiting numbers and social distancing to deep cleans. Take payment terminals as an example. All customers will eventually have to engage with a payment terminal, particularly with the preference to pay by card rather than cash. This leads to an often-high volume of people using a single payment terminal within a short period of time. This has understandably caused anxiety. Just 38% of customers trust staff to correctly disinfect payment terminals after every use, with more than half (53%) believing the responsibility to clean them should be taken away from staff members and passed to trusted technology solutions.
This study suggests that consumers are more likely to visit destinations that meet that most basic of need; the desire to feel safe.
Those who work in the hospitality sector are putting themselves in harm’s way to aid economic recovery and should rightly be regarded as heroes of the pandemic. However, they simply will not be able to conduct the kind of deep clean required to truly rid a store of Covid-19.
Many industry bodies and national governments around the world have preached of consumer confidence in order to entice people to spend once again, yet there remains a valid fear that any further alteration to their experience would force people back indoors. Safety measures are all well and good, but if they become too invasive, will they put customers off? When it comes to tech solutions to solve the safety issue, those fears appear unfounded.
Technology such as Ultraviolet-C (UVC) light, for example, which has been around for decades, is seeing a huge upsurge in demand due to its ability to rid traces of Coronavirus. With practical applications of this technology, it is one of many ways in which technology is keeping people safe in hospitality and retail environments.
The overwhelming majority (89%) of consumers said they would accept a delay of up to 30 seconds between each transaction at payment terminals if it meant a thorough clean.
What this research tells us is that consumers taking their tentative steps into the ‘new normal’ have a very simple need. The hospitality industry must take note and adapt accordingly if it is to take advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity to win the hearts and minds of customers for the foreseeable future.
About the Author
Nick Cockett is the Chief Operations Officer at The Cennox Group. A familiar face at industry events around the world, he is an authoritative voice within the financial, retail, hospitality and gaming industry. With more than two decades of experience, Cockett has held senior directorships at ATM Parts Company, Travelex, CashZone and British Airways. During the COVID-19 lockdown, he demonstrated his commitment to customer safety by personally designing an innovative UVC Keypad Cleaner to neutralize Covid-19 in less than 20 seconds at payment terminals.