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06/06/2017

Hotels: Engage Guests with Texts

Text messaging has been around for years, but it is only now just hitting its stride when it comes to its purpose in business. Pushed along by the habits and behavior of millennials, messaging is the most widely and frequently used function on a smartphone, generating roughly 20 billion SMSs sent each day and 60 billion messages on Facebook and WhatsApp. This doesn’t even include messages on other leading applications like Line, Viber, Skype, and Slack, a majority of which offer the convenience of smartphone and desktop usage.
 
For hotels, messaging presents an unprecedented opportunity to address the needs of customers and identify potential customers. Millennials don’t want the pain of transcribing or making notes from phone conversations. They want to multitask, and messaging fits the bill perfectly. Some travel firms are already leveraging this trend. Booking.com has implemented a texting service that allows users to interact with hotels before and after their stay. More importantly, it also allows hotels to initiate conversations with their guests. Expedia, too, has quickly followed with an identical service.
 
While adopting text messaging as a marketing tool is nothing new, some marketers aren’t using the tool to its full potential. Marketers have long focused on the promotional aspect of messaging to cross-sell and upsell products/services by providing coupons and offers, and now it is being approached digitally. However, it is important to understand that the value proposition of the channel will be undermined if it’s solely used for promotions. According to Rajath Ravikumar, Consultant, Digital Industry Solutions Group at Mindtree, to ensure that text messaging can deliver more value to the business, hotels should focus on other service offerings, such as:
 
  • Account alerts – Hotels can notify customers on any recent and new account activity, such as new loyalty points earned or tracking those that have been spent. They can also send transactional notifications for booking confirmations, online check-in/check-out etc. Additionally, hotels can prompt customers for security authentication to prevent fraud, such as ‘one time passwords’ for online transactions.
  • Appointment reminders – Sending quick reminders of spa appointments, dinner or lunch reservations, fun-excursions, or even car rentals are not only beneficial to the customer, but also your business. The time wasted waiting around for a no-show could have been used cultivating another lead or attending another customer. Nobody likes to waste time or lose money.
  • FAQ (Customer Support) – Messaging can be used to reply to frequently asked questions, like “What’s my check-in time?” or “How do I connect to Wi-Fi?” This frees up agents at the front desk from having to answer phone calls, allowing them to focus on customers that approach them for help in-person.
  • Satisfaction surveys – Rather than collecting feedback the old fashion way, where fill-in survey cards were left in hotel rooms by staff, companies can send a text-based survey that prompts users to reply with a single numeral or an alphabet digit to record their experience. It’s simple, fast and easier for companies to analyze and draw conclusions from customer feedback.
 

Savvy hospitality and leisure companies that are looking to reassess their marketing strategies should not only consider the service offerings above, but also various messaging technologies that can improve the way they text clients. For example, organizations can use chatbots – a mix of natural language processing, machine learning, pattern recognition and data and knowledge modelling technologies – to improve the speed and efficacy of their text marketing capabilities. Chatbots can help hotels engage in basic conversations with customers and produce quick, contextual and accurate replies. When a potential customer asks: “What is your availability for June?”, the app should produce a response that fits their travel dates, budgets and existing hospitality memberships.
 
The bigger innovation in messaging will be when text applications and chatbots are integrated with digital devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home — which are networked with other devices (a TV, for example) and can leverage their capabilities (show a quick video in response to a request). Of course, when fun things like emoticons are thrown into these conversations, everything gets even more engaging.
 
While it’s important to capitalize on trends in the industry, hospitality and leisure organizations should realize that it takes much more than just implementing modern technologies that appeal to customers. The product or approach must be aimed at making the channel more meaningful, producing transparent interactions with customers that are unobtrusive, helpful and deliver more value. When customers find text applications useful, they become fans, helping you bring in more loyal customers into the fold.