How the Hospitality Industry Can Build Loyalty and Trust in the COVID Era

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How the Hospitality Industry Can Build Loyalty and Trust in the COVID Era

By Chris Knothe, Principal Industry Consultant, Hospitality & Gaming at SAS - 10/20/2020

Editor's Note: This is part 2 in a two-part series of articles. To read part one, click here.

 

Customer behaviors and expectations are not what they were ten years ago. Or five months ago for that matter. For hospitality companies, making it through the pandemic and thriving afterwards will require understanding what the customer experience will look like tomorrow and throughout the next decade.

Drawing on insights from the Futurum Research Experience 2030 report, this second of two articles takes a look at two critical pieces of the equation: customer loyalty and digital trust.

Loyalty begins before a customer becomes a customer.

Customer loyalty is the sum total of everything a brand does. Everything the consumer sees, hears, or experiences – before, during and after any interaction. Now more than ever, hospitality companies must embrace this idea. Customer demands and expectations will only be higher in a post-pandemic world.

Yet according to the report, “44% of consumers say only three (or fewer) brands provide a high level of customer satisfaction.” But wait, here’s the kicker. “90% of brands say they provide the highest level of satisfaction to drive loyalty.”

Clearly there’s a disconnect. If used wisely, technologies like AI, automation and analytics will help bridge this gap. By 2030, brands in North America will be relying on mobile apps, smart home systems, and 5G/high-speed networks to deliver on these key drivers of loyalty.

And 86% of North American brands report that their engagements with customers will increasingly be through intelligent systems such as AI-powered chatbots.  All of these systems will create valuable data that will help guide the best decisions.

These technologies will also be critical to providing personalized interactions, without necessarily having to come face-to-face with the consumer. Because as eager as customers are to get back to traveling and leisure activities, many will be apprehensive about traveling, staying in hotels, eating out, going to sports venues. The hospitality industry will need to create a culture of safety that reassures its customers that its public spaces and amenities are clean. Even the best brand loyalty can’t hold a finger to simply feeling safe.

Digital trust is hard to earn and easy to lose.                    

Of course, the pandemic is not the only thing customers are wary about. They’re also deeply concerned about what’s happening with their data. Customers want the personalized touches that make their experiences more immersive and rewarding. They just don’t want the digital baggage that comes with it. That’s why trust-enabling technologies and a security-first mindset are the key to deeper customer relationships.

According to the report, 50 percent of consumers believe brands are hiding “bad things” they’ve done with user data and privacy. 78% of consumers believe they should be able to see what data a brand has captured about them, and be able to change, update, or delete it whenever they desire.

Of course, hospitality organizations rely on personal customer data to make decisions. So, whether it’s creating a fully-immersive customer experience or automating a routine service request, it must be part of an informed experience on the part of consumers – one that engenders trust.

And it isn’t just online data consumers are wary of; they’re concerned about how data is captured in the physical world as well. It’s no wonder that 64% of consumers don’t like being tracked or recorded on camera when in a store, at an event or in public. Yet, that is the direction many brands and organizations are moving, with an eye on learning as much as possible to about their customers and patrons.

The integrity and security of customer data needs to not only be a good policy, but an integral brand promise. Trusted transactions, data security, data governance, transparent auditability are no longer simply responsible policy goals. They’re customer differentiators.

Thriving in a post-pandemic world

As the possibilities to transform data into insights become greater, technologies like AI and analytics are only going to become more prevalent. Not only to provide organizations with about a better understanding of their customers, but to navigate the Covid-19 crisis and beyond.

And no matter how uncertain the current state of the hospitality industry is, it’s clear that without mutual respect between brands and consumers, true customer satisfaction cannot exist today and certainly not in 2030.

That’s why fostering loyalty and trust throughout this pandemic and into the next decade will take more than rewards programs or discount codes. It will take more than technology. It will take creativity and understanding. It will take committing to transparency and delivering consistently rewarding, personalized experiences. It will take a new mindset, one that puts the customer at the center of everything.

About Chris Knothe

Chris Knothe is Principal Industry Consultant for SAS Hospitality & Gaming, which helps hotels and casinos utilize advanced analytics to maximize the value of their data. Prior to joining SAS, Knothe led Duetto’s Hospitality Solutions division, helping hotels across the globe implement innovative revenue optimization strategies. Knothe brings an extensive background in both hotel operations and SaaS technology solutions.