The hotel industry may be one of the fastest growing sectors in hospitality, but it is also operating in a highly competitive environment, with increasing pressure from new challengers such as Airbnb and VRBO, and Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) like Expedia and Google Hotels.
And as the competition rises, so do guests’ expectations. Accustomed to highly engaging interactions with customer-focused brands such as Amazon, Netflix, and Uber, today’s consumers—particularly millennials, who now make up over one-third of the world’s hotel guests and will account for more than 50% by 2020—have come to expect personalized brand experiences that reflect their personalities and preferences, even when it comes to choosing and staying at a hotel.
The writing is on the wall: In this hyper-competitive environment, elevating conversations with prospective and visiting guests in a meaningful, relevant way is critical to staying top-of-mind, improving satisfaction, and driving repeat stays. Traditional hotels that fail to innovate and differentiate with new customer-centric technologies risk losing mindshare—and market share.
Personalizing Each Customer’s Journey
Hotel and resort guests travel thousands of miles to enjoy their chosen destination. Naturally, they want to make the most of their journey, from planning to visiting to arriving back at home; in fact, consumers research hotels on an average of 38 websites before booking in order to ensure that their stay meets their individual needs. Let’s consider how hyper-personalization can optimize customer engagement and enhance experiences before, during, and after a hotel visit.
Typically, new guests begin their customer journeys with research, either on Google, rental websites, or hotel websites. They may explore the availability of rooms for certain dates, look for things to do at or nearby the hotel, or even call or email the hotel to get more information. All of these activities give the hotel a clearer idea about the customer’s intentions, which can, in turn, individualize the booking experience. Let’s take this example:
John is a regular customer who visits the same resort every May and books the same one-bedroom suite on every visit. Upon arrival, he always orders his favorite meal and wine through room service before hitting the casinos. The month before he typically books his yearly stay, he receives an email:
“John, your favorite suite is available May 24-28! Be sure to book your stay soon.”
And, once his booking is made, the confirmation message will let him know that his favorite lasagna casserole and wine will be ready in his room upon his arrival; would he like to keep the same order?
Personalizing the pre-booking experience of a new customer is more challenging, but not impossible. Insights from the customer’s browsing history on the hotel website, for example, can be used to deploy offers that resonate and make the customer take action:
Susan rarely makes time for herself, so she has decided to take a solo vacation to a luxury resort. She begins planning her trip by browsing a resort website for room availability, and then looks specifically for information about their group activities to meet new people during her stay. Everything is to her liking, but she wants to explore a few more options, and does not yet complete her reservation. The next day, she returns to the website and a message pops up:
“Book now and get 25% off on our resort-wide Meet & Greet Dinner!”
Now Susan has a relevant reason and incentive to make the decision to finalize her reservation—she has been presented with the right message for her, in the right place to facilitate booking, at just the right time in her trip-planning process.
Individualized experiences like these should continue seamlessly once guests are on-site, by which time the hotel has accumulated a significant amount of information about the guest’s needs and preferences. From offering benefits such as using the mobile app to reserve a place in line at a much sought-after nightclub, to providing helpful information as guests walk around the facility, to keeping guests informed of activities that may be of interest to them and fit in their schedule, a “digital concierge” can go a long way in wowing and delighting customers with next-gen personalization. This is how it could work for Susan:
Susan has arrived at the resort for her week-long stay. After settling into her room, she decides to take a walk to explore the resort’s shops and restaurants before the Meet & Greet Dinner she has registered for tonight. As she rounds up a corner and approaches the Resort Cocktail Bar, her phone pings with a notification:
“Welcome, Susan! Women’s-only happy hour starts in 10 minutes in the Resort Cocktail Bar. Tap here for the location.”
Even after guest has left the resort, following up with post-visit messages ensures that the entire customer journey remains memorable. While this is a good time to ask for feedback, it is also a great opportunity to make guests aware of unique new offers related to their interests, gleaned from what they did during their stay. Post-visit engagement can encourage guests to return to the same property, or to another property of the same brand; it can engage regular guests and encourage first-time visitors to become regulars; and it can follow up with guests as the time for next visit gets closer.
After a week of enjoying herself and meeting new people, Susan arrives back at home relaxed and highly satisfied with her stay. She finishes unpacking and settles down to catch up on email, when a new message appears in her inbox:
“Ready to do it all again: same time, same place? Susan, set your room aside for next year’s trip today and earn a 10% discount on an all-inclusive package!”
With memories of her amazing stay fresh in her mind, Susan is in exactly the right context to click “Book Now” and begin planning next year’s vacation at the resort.
Suffice it to say, winning a customer’s business and loyalty requires hotels to formulate an engagement strategy that is hyper-contextual and hyper-personalized. It’s not about simply offering discounts—it’s about making the guest’s experience convenient and smooth by demonstrating an understanding of their needs. And here’s the kicker: the customer-centric technologies leveraged by their competition is what will enable traditional hotels to up their game, too.
New Technology for New-Age Engagement
An engagement strategy such as the one that personalized Susan’s resort experience not only requires customer data for in-depth knowledge about guests’ preferences, but it also requires the ability to ascertain exactly what actions will surprise and delight guests and when to trigger these actions.
This means utilizing data on guests’ unique histories and preferences, such as:
- Past transactions (CRM)
- Loyalty status
- Cross-channel activity (website, mobile, email, phone)
- Current on-site location
- Services they have used or are using
- Catalog and inventory
In most hospitality enterprises, these disparate sources of guest data operate in silos. They key is to create a personalized “segment of one” by stitching together data from across databases and digital touchpoints to establish a unified view of the guest in full context. This information must be continuously updated to provide comprehensive intelligence and insights at any given time for both guest services and marketing purposes.
The demand for this level of guest engagement is driving a step-function change from traditional, batch-driven marketing and interactions to more event-driven, real-time and highly-contextualized hospitality experiences. The technology that supports this level of influential personalization is a new stack; a new generation of systems that can enable an enterprise to touch every guest in a hyper-personalized manner at scale.
At the heart of such personalized engagement is Machine Learning (ML), which ensures that as the system ingests guest data, it is able to learn and act on customer affinity and intent. AI-powered tools then determine a ‘zone of influence’ for each guest, or the situations in which the probability of an action or transaction is highest. Once the influence zone has been determined, the most appropriate and relevant action is triggered—a personalized message, offer, or notification for the guest, no matter where they are in their journey.
Power Personalized Hospitality with ZineOne
It is clear that hotel industry’s competitive landscape, evolving guest behavior, and technology advancements are driving change in the way these hospitality providers engage guests. Today’s hyper-online, tech-savvy and impatient travelers, who live in the world of Uber and Amazon, demand unique and meaningful experiences that are relevant and personalized to their tastes, needs, and desires.
ZineOne, the most intelligent data platform for the new age of smart customer engagement, offers hospitality providers a Customer Engagement Hub for the highest levels of intelligent, in-the-moment, efficient customer engagement. Powering personalized and differentiated guest experiences, ZineOne ensures that your brand will not only meet, but exceed guest expectations at every touchpoint to boost both loyalty and revenue.
Ready to delight guests with personalization before, during, and after each stay? Contact ZineOne to get started.
Other articles of interest:
- Adding Spontaneity to Personalized Guest Experiences
- Real-Time Customer Engagement Hub for Hospitality