Adding Spontaneity to Personalized Guest Experiences

Posted on:June 1, 2018, in Blog by Aurobindo Sarkar

Is it better to just send a reminder to your guest about their spa appointment or offer to re-schedule the same (to avoid cancellation charges) if the customer is held up in traffic and likely to miss the appointment? Is it better to wait for the guest to place a room service order or offer them their favorite meal with a real-time loyalty points redemption option, making it more attractive for the customer to place the order?

We are well past the point of providing a turndown service, complimentary drinks, or responding to guest requests only when asked.

One way to personalize customer experiences is asking your customers to specify their choices or needs in advance (probably makes sense at a macro-level, i.e., room type, airport transfers, etc.). But, in the current moment, is the situation the same as originally envisaged or planned during booking? What happens as deviations occur from these plans in real-time? These could include delayed or missed flights, lost luggage, or inclement weather to name a few. Are you actively responding to these deviations or situations as they evolve? Is your on-property staff informed and equipped to address your customers’ changing needs? Are you arming your staff with the right information at the right time to engage with a specific guest face-to-face, within-the-current-context?

We say there is a lot more you can do with your existing personalization efforts by introducing real-time context in your customer engagement and interactions (as they happen).

Memorable experiences are made of seamless end-to-end personalized customer engagement – from booking to on-property experiences. Anticipating customer needs and exceeding their expectations is a must-have in the hospitality sector. For example, these can be as simple as efficient room booking with all of the guest’s preferences already in place, or offers to make reservations at a local restaurant based on previous visits and cuisine choices. Such engagement (while you have exclusive access to the customer during their stays) can help drive up your web or mobile app usage for future visits.  However, a step beyond well-designed initiatives and plans for customer delight is injecting spontaneity into your guest interactions, to take personalization to a whole new level.

Personalization has always been one of the top objectives of the hospitality industry. Having a deeper understanding of different types of guests and what they value at different times or under different circumstances provides the basis for such personalization. For example, families traveling with kids will appreciate play areas and discounted adjoining rooms while couples or honeymooners will appreciate a completely different set of offers and amenities. Similarly, a person staying with you alone on a business trip versus the same guest accompanied by her spouse on a leisure trip are two completely different scenarios. While business travelers will typically appreciate high-speed internet access, desk space, and lounge access, a leisure stay (accompanied by spouse) may be better aligned with candlelight dinners and the wine selection. Is this sufficient for delivering exemplary customer experiences?

There are also a few one-off examples of real-time “inspired-by-Uber” use cases that have been implemented by the industry. For example, tracking the journey of your room service order delivery or recommendations on dining places based on real-time information. However, we believe “real-time” needs to be approached in a more comprehensive manner. The scope of use cases to be defined need to cover the entirety of customer journeys – from start to finish, and every step along the way. Additionally, solutions that enable you to go-live with your cases in days rather than weeks or months, and also allow you to dynamically create new guest experiences, or change existing ones in real-time, are the next generation enablers of customer experiences.

Customers, especially digitally savvy millennials, are drawn to OTAs for the convenience they provide as a single source of information on offers, reviews and amenities. Whether it is a lack of awareness with respect to the availability of best rates on hotel sites or the customers genuinely believing they are getting the best deals through an OTA – it is clear that a large segment of customers are coming to the hotels through them. One way to deal with this competition is to replicate what the OTAs are doing – aggregate data, and display price comparisons and reviews on the hotels’ own websites. However, post-booking OTAs have a minimal role to play and the guest is with you, exclusively, for a majority of the time. We believe hotels have both the opportunity and the time to engage with their customers at a deeper level.

“The OTAs are crushing it. They are growing much faster than the U.S. hotel market. In fact, 2016 was the first year when OTA lodging bookings in the U.S. exceeded total hotel website gross bookings. And they’re growing even faster overseas in the more fragmented hotel markets of Europe, Asia and elsewhere.”
– Douglas Quinby , Hotels vs. the (OTA) World

While the OTAs may be ahead of hospitality businesses from a pure technology perspective, the hospitality businesses have access to much richer data for driving personalization use cases and customer delight initiatives, more effectively. Appropriate data points from past transactions and interactions (at any of your properties or on any of your digital channels) can be brought to bear in your current interactions, in more meaningful ways (than OTAs). However, more often than not this data is scattered across the organization. The ability to rapidly integrate these diverse data sources (and include new ones like social media feeds, travel review sites, etc.) into a common platform is a key pre-requisite to leverage this data. Furthermore, combining this data with real-time context can enable spontaneity in guest interactions, while improving conversions at all points or moments in a customer’s journey.

We believe AI will revolutionize many aspects of your customers’ experiences. Leveraging AI to drive, both, the guest’s online (virtual) and on-property (real) experiences will be the key enabler for delivering superior customer experiences to your guests at scale. In addition to presenting the best offers at any given moment to helping you understand customer intent in real-time. AI can help you design and execute appropriate personalized interventions to achieve the desired outcomes for your business and the guest. For example, seamless, contextual, real-time hand-offs between a virtual and on-property concierge can help make your guests’ experiences flow smoothly. For example, continuing virtual interactions (for example, via chatbots) with face-to-face interactions can help you better anticipate and proactively address individual guest’s needs.

Many hotels are implementing innovative use cases and leveraging technology to address their personalization requirements. However, in the absence of a comprehensive real-time customer engagement solution, there remains a crucial gap in their ability to deliver exemplary personalized customer experiences. So, whether you are striving to provide a normal routine for your guests (while away from home) or white-glove treatment, it is clear that it is not just about that choice between a welcome drink and a cup of coffee but also about what the customer needs or would appreciate more in that moment.

Finally, we believe, what your guests will remember the most (and talk to their friends about) are those spontaneous, little thoughtful things you did for them, at all the key moments, during their “journey” with you than anything else … really.

References:

1. 4 Hotels Providing Customer Experience That Goes Beyond the Pillow Mint, Ryan O’Leary
2. Customer Segmentation for the Hotel Industry, Brian Hill
3. Hotels vs. the (OTA) World, Douglas Quinby
4. Why millennials are important for hotels looking to increase direct bookings, Victoria C Lawson

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