Every new year presents us with an opportunity to start fresh and improve ourselves for the future. As we start to get our personal resolutions ready, we should also recognize the opportunity that 2019 presents us to find new ways to differentiate and improve our guest experience. Of course, one way to do this is to leverage technology that solves problems for not only your guests but for your teams as well. With no shortage of gadgets and buzzwords to weed through, here’s a look at some of the technologies and trends that will surely help shape the landscape in 2019 and provide you with an opportunity to provide a stellar guest experience.
Unleash The Data Floodgates
Knowing your customer down to the smallest of details is essential to good customer service today. Data holds the key to unlocking these actionable details. And as technology continues to advance, so too does the amount of data that we have at our disposals. As Mary Meeker said in her annual trends report, data gathering, sharing and optimization is ramping up at a “torrid pace,” going from 12 zetabytes (12 trillion gigabytes) in 2015 to an anticipated 47 zetabytes in 2020 and 163 zetabytes in 2025.
In other words, there’s no shortage of data that you can collect on your customers. From browsing history to customer service records, basic information forms, and surveys recording preferences, you can gather endless information to get to know and service your guests better.
As we head into the next year, learning how to harness this data is going to be essential to providing guests with the personalization they expect. Hoteliers need to make the transition beyond simply using preferences to inform emails and promotions to leveraging data to shape the entirety of the experiences they provide. Trends tell us that a personalized experience isn’t enough anymore; guests today want a hyper-personalized guest experience.
In order to provide one, hotels are going to have to think of new and innovative ways to collect data and then quickly and seamlessly use it to meet and exceed expectations. For example, Virgin Hotel Chicago adjusted its rewards program to be less of a rewards program and more of a preference program. In the program, appropriately called “The Know,” guests put in information about themselves in exchange for things like coupons to dine at the hotel’s restaurant. It gives them the chance to give dietary preferences, select what types of liquor they’d like in their mini bar, and what kind of cocktail they’d like waiting for them at check-in.
Programs like these allow guests to exchange personal information in exchange for a better experience. Because Virgin delivers on this exceptional experience, it helps alleviate any privacy concerns guests may have. Plus, Virgin now has a treasure trove of guest data that they can use not only during the guest’s stay, but in upselling opportunities, email marketing campaigns, and promotions that will keep guests coming back for more. And in a world where 64% of leisure travelers and 52% of business travelers don’t show loyalty to any particular hotel, creating hyper-personalized experiences goes a long way towards cultivating it.
Gartner predicts that by 2020 more than 40% of all data analytics projects will relate to an aspect of customer experience. As more and more companies across industries start to take notice of the importance of a good CX and how critical data is in achieving one, we can expect the hospitality industry to follow suit.
Smart Rooms & Self Service For The Win
The “smart home” has left the bedroom and transitioned to the hotel room. Hotels of every shape and size are incorporating self-service capabilities that ‘smart’ technologies offer to meet the needs of their guests at every point of their stay.
Hotels like Hilton allow guests to check-in and set their room preferences -- from temperature to how dim or bright the lights should be -- before they arrive. By implementing self-service options, you help reduce wait times for guests trying to find information and request service.
Yotel is also embracing the digital revolution by allowing guests to check in via their airline-style kiosks. The kiosks, which are set up throughout the lobby, allow guests to avoid lines, select preferences, and set them up with their room quickly and easily. With studies showing that people estimate that they waste at least one hour a week waiting in lines, these self-service options not only alleviate waste times, but frustrations as well.
But self-service doesn’t stop at check-in. Earlier this year, Amazon and Marriott worked together to develop their own Alexa for the hospitality industry. Guests can use their voice to do anything from order room service to simply switch on the television. However, if you don’t feel like chatting with an Alexa, Starwood hotels has you covered. When you look in their smart mirror, you don’t just see your reflection, but you also get a view of the weather, sports scores, and even your twitter feed.
At the Godfrey Hotel in Boston, when you walk into a room, the television automatically syncs with your phone and loads your social media, Netflix, or Hulu account giving you easy access to all your favorite content. Meanwhile, in New York, the Renaissance is using its interactive digital concierge service to offer suggestions and information on restaurants and sights.
More than 60% of U.S. consumers say that their go-to channel for simple inquiries is a digital self-serve tool. By giving guests options for self-service and offering them smart rooms, you’ll be able to provide a memorable and effortless experience in 2019.
Real-time Communication Will Make Or Break You
Of course, even with the introduction of new and exciting technologies that do some of the work for you, you still need to master the basics, such as communication. And today, this means real-time communication. Why, you ask?
In December 2017, hotels on the Zingle platform received over 140,000 messages from guests. That’s roughly 4,500 messages a day that teams are fielding regarding everything from service needs, recommendations, complaints and general information inquiries. To handle this deluge of communication, savvy hotels leveraged 103,811 automated responses to answer some of the more common questions in a more efficient manner.
Communication is the underpinning of customer service and can ultimately make the difference between good and bad service. Of course, that can have a negative impact on your bottom line. A NewVoiceMedia survey reveals companies lost $75 billion in 2017 from customers switching to competitors due to bad customer service.
This isn’t new. What is new, are the evolving expectations on the speed at which customers expect to be serviced. Research has found that guests expect hotels to respond to their text requests in a matter of minutes. The use of technology that is able to centralize, route and respond to these requests in an efficient way will continue to evolve alongside guest expectations.
And while chatbots and messaging technology will become increasingly important in allowing hotels to service guests, they will also be leveraged to feed those data pipelines that can be used to further customize the guest experience.
Prepare For A New Reality… That Includes Robots
As time goes on, hotels are going to have to find ways to incorporate more immersive and interactive technology in order to provide better and more memorable experiences that differentiate themselves from their competitors. 2019 is poised to be a big year for virtual and augmented reality as hotels either find ways to incorporate it, or face the unhappy reality of losing guests.
And just like the other technologies mentioned, savvy companies are leveraging VR and AR to enhance every aspect of the guest experience. Travel websites like Expedia have previously talked about plans to roll out a 360 VR experience that enables guests to view available rooms and explore the amenities offered to them before booking.
When done right, AR/VR promises to not only create a better booking process, but it can also be used as a marketing and sales tool to showcase a hotel’s amenities and experiences. Hotels like the Atlantis in Dubai offer not only a 360 view of the room but a tour of the whole hotel. The Marriott also packages VR content for potential guests, highlighting top amenities and experiences in and around their properties. The best part is you don’t even need to own a VR headset as sites like Facebook allow you to view them thanks to their 360 video features (OK… so maybe this isn’t VR in its truest sense).
From Hilton to Intercontinental, physical bots have joined their digital counterparts in entering the hospitality industry. However, hotel teams don’t need to panic about losing their jobs -- just yet. Nonetheless, they do provide real value for their ability to perform mundane, repeatable task that can free up staff to service guests elsewhere.
From performing tasks like delivering towels or carrying luggage, to acting as an onsite concierge to make restaurant recommendations and help plan out excursions, this use of bots is not only novel and a source of memorable differentiation, but it can also be quite utilitarian.
While we don’t need to look as far as the next 50 years, it’s critical that we look ahead and identify the technologies that will meet the changing needs and expectations of our guests. By getting ahead of the curve, you not only differentiate the experience you offer now, but you can help cement your success for years to come.