When Does the Guest Experience Begin? Sooner Than You Think.

If you want to improve online bookings, pay attention to the experience guests have while using your website.
Michal Christine Escobar
Senior Editor (Hotels)
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Much has been written about prioritizing and personalizing the customer experience during their on-property stay. However, some hoteliers still fail to realize that the customer experience actually begins much earlier than check-in. From exploring rooms and rates to researching amenities and special offers, so much of a guest’s experience happens before they even walk through the hotel doors. Thus, the importance of providing an excellent guest experience from the moment they land on your brand’s website cannot be overstated. To learn more about this topic, HT spoke with Mark Smith, president of customer journey analytics company Kitewheel.

When does the hotel guest experience truly begin?

While most of the hospitality industry would say this question is a no-brainer, and the experience starts when the guest walks through the door, they may want to rethink their answer. The customer experience truly begins when a potential guest visits your hotel’s website. Upon arrival, potential guests expect a top-notch experience while navigating and researching rooms, rates, amenities and more on the site, as well as hyper-relevant follow up experience after the visit, including offers, deals and reminders. Each providing a potential opportunity to preview what the experience will be like when the in-person guest experience actually begins.

Why should hotels focus on the guest experience this early in the booking process?

Recovery for the hospitality industry relies on bookings, and bookings only happen when a potential guest can find the room, amenities and price that suites their needs. Today, those interactions all take place for the most part online, way before the guest even walks through the door. Notably, customer experience has actually surpassed product quality and price as the most important piece of customer satisfaction. If their experience online is making irrelevant suggestions or feels inconvenient in some way, such as an overabundance of reminder emails or nonsensical suggestions, it can cause the potential guest to abandon the booking process and void the transaction altogether.

Additionally, according to a 2018 survey from Google, 76% of customers reported that they would be “likely” or “extremely likely” to sign up for a brand’s loyalty program if the brand tailored information and experiences based on their individual past behavior. Loyalty programs can also be extremely lucrative, according to a 2017 study from Forrester, which said 60% of respondents agreed with the statement, “loyalty programs influence where I make purchases.” Therefore, hotels should focus on cultivating a customer loyalty program that is tailored to individual guests from the start of their buying process. Doing so will be extremely important in helping the hard-hit hospitality industry reach normal, pre-pandemic levels of operation.

More broadly, as the hospitality industry continues down the path to recovery, hotels cannot afford to lose valuable customers due to a lack of customer experience at the start. A major key to recovery is bookings, and bookings rely on unparalleled customer experience from the start of a potential guest’s experience to the end.

What is "customer journey analytics"?

Customer journey analytics (CJA) are the backbone of customer experience and what drive experiences online. CJA are the backend pieces of information that combine customer data mining discovery, predictive analytics, AI and other hyper-relevant data with real time insights. Businesses, like hotels, can then analyze and understand how customers are interacting with different touchpoints on their website. CJA also include real-time interaction management that allows hotels to provide relevant real-time messaging, such as predicted weather for the timeframe guests are booking their stay for. From there, hotels can guide customers down relevant online paths, or journeys, to serve up what each individual customer is looking for, such as location, type of room, relevant special offers and more.

How does it differ from other data sources hotels have on guests?

Unlike data collected during a guest’s stay, such as their basic contact info, CJA encompass specific data that combines guest’s preferences related to previous bookings, with data collected specifically online through a customer’s searches and inquires on a hotel’s website. This data can be easily obtained and utilized to improve the online customer experience with the implementation of a journey management software that allows businesses to look at the customer on the backend and optimize their journey.

How can hotels use customer journey analytics to improve the guest experience?

CJA can be utilized in many ways to improve the customer experience. By implementing a journey management software, hotels can clearly see each customer’s journey from initial website visit to final booking, or website departure. Using backend CJA via the software, hotels can pinpoint exactly where the journey may be breaking down, or where improvements need to be made. It can also profile customers to remain relevant via suggestions or post visit follow ups, which allows the brand to remain top of mind for the customer, greatly improving customer loyalty. Hotels are also able to test these relevant journeys and improve upon them prior to implementing externally. Additionally, hotels can follow a customer’s journey in real time, while the journey analytics software monitors real behaviors across touchpoints and can be used to make necessary improvements.

Overall, these improvements have been shown to greatly improve the customer experience and loyalty resulting in better business outcomes for a myriad of organizations. It’s time for the hospitality industry to take advantage of what CJA and journey management software can do for them.

Can you share an example from a hotel that successfully improved bookings/revenue/etc. using this type of data?

While not a hotel, but equally as complex and demanding with 600 routes in 32 countries, a leading British airline recently utilized CJA and journey management software to provide its customers with top-notch, personalized customer experience across channels, while keeping flights affordable for its millions of customers. Implementing journey management software involved a channel-independent decisioning engine that connected to the airline’s customer database of 25 million customers, along with additional information systems such as its email marketing platform. From there, it linked relevant data sources to create and send dynamic email messages to customers throughout their journey. Overall, 1 million personalized emails and calls per day and real-time, dynamic email and call center communications allowed customers to experience hyper-personalized and relevant journeys and marketing materials, resulting in 3.6 million frequent fliers in a matter of three months.