In the information age, consumers are more attached to their primary means of information than ever before: the smartphone. Prior to the pandemic, consumers were already living off their phones. COVID-19 has only made consumers want to interact with their phones even more (and other people less). Hotels are not immune to this change among consumers. In fact, many hotels are actually now pushing consumers to use their phones more during the booking and check-in/out process in the name of safety and convenience. While some might argue that this push to digitalization diminishes the hospitable aspect of hospitality, others argue that it actually opens up new avenues for personalization and interaction with guests. To learn more about how the guest experience is changing, Hospitality Technology spoke with Ford Blakely, SVP and GM of Medallia Zingle.
How are guest expectations changing, post-COVID19, especially when it comes to the booking and check-in/out process?
Guest expectations have changed significantly since the onset of COVID-19. Pre-pandemic, guests expected high-touch, extremely personalized experiences. That hasn’t changed one bit, but now safety ranks first and many of those “high-touch” interactions need to take place without the physical touch. Guests don’t want to wait in long lines to check-in or have to go through unnecessary in-person interactions that could jeopardize their health.
We recently commissioned a study to over 1,000 U.S.-based consumers and found that 77% of individuals say that in the future the amount of in-person physical interaction required at a business will factor into their decision of whether or not they visit it. Hotels and their teams are having to reimagine their booking and check-in/out processes and build around contactless experiences that address guests’ new needs and concerns.
How do safety, efficiency and contactless experiences play into these changing expectations?
These new expectations pose significant challenges for an industry that was built on white-glove human service. Not only must hotels ease guest anxiety and rebuild the entirety of their operations around contactless experiences, but many are also doing so with a reduced workforce.
Hotels must clearly and proactively communicate their new safety and sanitization processes with guests before they arrive on property and then keep those lines of communication open in real time throughout the stay to inform and serve guests in contactless ways.
The pandemic has accelerated the digitalization of the industry and more brands are using messaging to communicate with guests. By using the guests’ preferred method for communication and with a device they already have in their pocket, hotels can remove non-essential in-person interactions from check-in and checkout and even coordinate other services in real-time to minimize physical contact.
With messaging and the right technology, hotels can automate many of these messages and workflows at scale, using artificial intelligence to understand guest intent and even escalate complex issues to the right staff. Right now, hotels don’t need overly complex tools, they need technology that can streamline operations and make it easy for them to welcome guests back confidently.
What technologies do you offer that help hotels address these changes in guest expectations?
Medallia Zingle’s intelligent messaging platform can help transform up to 80% of in-person interactions to contactless experiences, remove friction from key touchpoints, and increase operational efficiency and guest engagement.
By proactively sending guests a personalized pre-arrival message via text or another preferred platform hotels can communicate their new health and safety procedures and alleviate guest concerns. Many of our hotel customers use these welcome messages to offer contactless check-in and checkout options that enable guests to bypass the front desk and receive a ‘room ready’ message when the room is available. This cuts down on the number of people in the lobby and the added tension created by long lines, while also taking a significant burden off the front desk staff, who are now being called upon to help in many other areas.
Guests can also use messaging to communicate with the hotel to coordinate housekeeping services when they’ll be away from their room to minimize contact, order room service or communicate with the hotel’s concierge or front desk with any other questions or service requests.
Our platform isn’t just allowing hotels to safeguard the experiences of their guests. By combining messaging with workflow automations and artificial intelligence, Medallia Zingle can provide the ability to infer customer intent and respond automatically, send personalized one-to-many messages and be synced to other technologies to expedite service response and recovery.
With hospitality teams under pressure to do more with less as a result of shifting resources, our platform enables teams of any size to manage proactive and personal outreach at scale and monitor dozens of conversations at the same time, all while limiting the need for in-person interactions.
How have your clients been able to use contactless technology to their advantage?
One of our clients is The Hotel at Auburn University, which was thrust into a unique situation when COVID hit. The hotel never closed but the university, which is its main driver of business, did and so business slowed to a crawl. Its occupancy has hovered around 25% since March, yet guest engagement increased by 300%. Why? The hotel knew that to effectively communicate with guests who were still booked to stay, and who they knew would have certain anxieties about travelling, text messaging was the way to go.
Medallia Zingle’s technology has also enabled the hotel to deliver a 100% contact-free check-in process where guests can encode their own keys and receive a text message with their room number.
Johnston McCutcheon, front office manager, was only a couple months into his new role when COVID-19 hit. Here’s what he had to say about how Medallia Zingle helped him and his staff meet new guest expectations for contactless booking and check-in/check-out processes:
“Our mantra through this pandemic has been to create peace of mind for guests. We know that there’s so much apprehension and anxiety associated with travel today, so we want to make sure our guests arrive fully relaxed and aware that we are doing everything we can to keep them safe. Leveraging Medallia Zingle to communicate with them in real-time has helped us achieve this goal.”
“At first we thought we really needed this information on our website and in confirmation emails, but how could we make sure we reach our guests? The best way is being right there in their pocket with a text message. It is so much more effective than an email.”
“Even though we’ve been operating with a skeleton crew, we are still able to allocate resources wherever we need to. So if someone texts and says they are part of a wedding party and asks for help with 40 boxes of hydrangeas, we can help! Texting has helped us use our resources more efficiently and still take care of guests’ needs.”
Any other comments?
The future guest experience is unfolding before our eyes. Many areas of business look dramatically different, but the truth is, what makes a remarkable guest experience is the same as it has always been. That is, listening to customers and addressing their needs and expectations. By taking the time to understand the impact that this crisis has had on their guests and developing the proper strategies hotel teams can deliver experiences that not only allow them to get back to business faster but ensure longer-term success.