Personalized Engagement Is Key to Stellar Customer Service in the Sharing Economy
It used to be thrill enough for hotel guests to check in quickly, go up to a room that’s clean, and get turndown or room service upon request. If a brand was really lucky, the patron would snap a photo complementing the brand and post it to social media.
Now, hotels have so many more factors to think about when determining the quality of their customers’ experience. In addition, the sharing economy has pushed many would-be customers over to the unique experiences available to them via short-term, private lodging websites that have transformed the travel industry. To maintain and continue to grow market share, hotel customers must be treated with an experience that keeps them coming back. Brands need to blend traditional methods of keeping their customers happy — excellent rewards programs, fresh cookies and coffee in the lobby, smiling faces greeting them at each door — with more up-to-date methods hospitality professionals now have at their fingertips.
The internet of things (IoT) and increasing digital experience options have expanded the ways that hotels can anticipate the customer’s needs before they arrive, personalize their stay, increase customer referrals and create repeat customers through social engagements — all in a way not available to customers that switched to a sharing economy lodging option. There is a wide range of ways hotels can impress their customers these days — from personalized room greetings that appear when a guest turns on the TV, to single-point-of-sale bracelets that double as room keys, to in-room iPads that power everything from the blinds to hotel staff requests. Some properties have even adopted robot concierges that can answer guests’ questions at all hours of the day. While the sharing economy offers a one- or two-time interaction with a local, it cannot provide the consistent feeling that a customer is truly catered to and cared for. Established brands with a focused on differentiated customer experience maintains this edge.
However, the only way to know if all of these methods are working, is by measuring them. Without data, a hotel has no way of knowing if its latest high-tech feature is a help or a hindrance, and guests only need one bad experiences to try a new brand. And perhaps the most difficult part of this equation is measuring a blend of both traditional and cutting-edge customer service touch points. But measurement is in a poor state. This article from Medallia will discuss the importance of measuring and learning from guest interactions.
The key to getting all these key performance indicators to add up to success is to have a comprehensive customer experience strategy. This should break down into three categories:
Learning from guest data to anticipate the needs of customers before they arrive
Personalizing the stay and experience based on stored and distributed data
Increasing customer referrals and creating repeat customers through social media reviews and engagement
To understand what your customer will need in the future, it’s important to know what they — and guests similar to them — have needed in the past. Even for companies that are new at tracking IoT and digital devices onsite, tracking customer information isn’t. Every big-name hotel these days has a customer relationship management software system with an extensive history of information. By applying the same rigorous marketing metrics to IoT devices that they do to a CRM, hotels can blend this data to gain more granular insight into what their patrons want.
It’s important in any tracking system to segment customers so they align with marketing personas to determine their needs. Once these are all captured, companies can make projections on what these guests may need in the future. Perhaps that pool-loving family needs more towels in their room, or the desk agent should ask during check in if the business traveler needs a wake-up call or a reminder of the Wi-Fi code. These small, proactive actions can add up big when it comes to creating repeat customers.
These interactions aren’t just happening in person, though. There is a wealth of raw data on customer experience available via social media and mobile. A robust customer engagement strategy must include a way to get a signal through this noise, since digital data will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 42% through 2020, according to IDC Research.
Handling social media and guest data needs to go two ways for hotels. They must track the engagements — mentions, photos, reviews — to intake that content to help make their decisions. But they also must engage customers at those endpoints to create a two-way conversation and close the loop. Research has shown that hotel properties that respond to social media reviews outperform properties that don’t. According to this study, for example, hotel brands that respond to 50 percent of reviews on TripAdvisor increase their net promoter score by 1.4 points, and see an average 6.4 percentage point increase in occupancy rate and have overall reviews that average 6 percent higher than their local competitors.
The key to making these customer interactions personalized is to take lessons learned at a national or global brand and engage at the local level — this local engagement is, after all, often the appeal of sharing economy lodging options. Further by giving local properties guidance coupled with greater personalized discretion when responding to online reviews, companies can discover new ways to boost their customers’ experience.
Getting customer engagement right in the digital age is both a science and an art. Traditional guest services, delivered with quality and care will never go out of style. But now hotels have to create an even more personalized and special experience than a local host offering a live-in-the-city experience. By measuring key customer touch points before and after guests arrive — now available through a wealth of digital information — hotels can create a comprehensive customer engagement strategy that transforms guests into lifelong clients and keeps them coming back to a more traditional hospitality option.