Mr. Patterson

Technology

App-ocalypse: How Hotels Can Thrive in the Post-App Economy

By Drew Patterson, Co-Founder and CEO, CheckMate

It's no secret that consumers are more addicted to mobile than ever before. The average American spends five hours on a mobile device each day. Hotel brands-always eager to capitalize on lifestyle trends-have taken notice, and it shows. Nearly every major hospitality company has its own mobile app (and several have more than one). Over the last few years, we've seen hotels race to create newer, sexier apps, valuing bells and whistles over practicality. From a QR code scanner to music streaming to live video chat, brands have tried nearly every gimmick imaginable in an attempt to lure consumers to their apps.

Guests Are Just Not Into Your App

That approach is increasingly problematic for several reasons. Perhaps the most obvious reason-at least in hindsight-is the fact that it goes against the very core of the hospitality business, which aims to provide service, comfort and convenience. There's nothing convenient about asking your guests to download yet another doodad that'll take up valuable phone storage and introduce even more visual and mental clutter. Already, competing apps and messages have become noise that's easily tuned out-do your guests really need more of this? Do they need a replacement for human interaction, or a seamless way to improve communication,increasing personalization and decreasing response time?

Don't take this personally; it's a crowded field out there. Travel is not the only industry taking notice of consumers spending more time on mobile devices than ever before. The problem is that as the time spent on mobile increases, the number of apps used per day decreases. As I mentioned in a Hotel Executive website post in November, the Apple store alone has more than 1.5 million apps. But that doesn't mean users are engaging with these apps. In fact, user activity is becoming much more focused: the average consumer spends 79 percent of her or his device time on just five favorite apps. And only 10 percent of apps downloaded are used more than once. It's a huge challenge for businesses-especially in "infrequent purchase" categories like travel-to develop an app that's regularly discovered, downloaded and used.

According to a recent study, a grand total of zero hotel offerings appeared on the list of 25 most downloaded travel apps. The top travel performers are typically online travel agencies (OTAs), and with good reason. Mobile is well suited to OTAs' strengths, such as search, exploration and price aggregation.

Post-App Economy Plays to Hotels' Strengths

I've been developing and introducing technology solutions for the hospitality industry for almost 20 years. For the most part, each evolution--launch of the OTA, birth of metasearch, introduction of private sales--has meant higher cost and lower control of product, pricing and guest for the hotel. Let's just say I've heard the term "necessary evil" more than I care to mention. BUT, the post-app economy does not follow this anti-hotel trend. While apps are expensive to build and market and require continuous updates, the post-app economy plays to hotels' core strengths, works within existing frameworks, and requires fewer financial and technological resources.

Forward-Looking Hotel Brands, Take Note

  1. Stop wasting resources on new and "improved" apps that, in all likelihood, are doomed to become just another bit of noise that's easily tuned out.

  2. Under no circumstances should downloads of your mobile app be considered a measure of success. Better to see mobile technology for exactly what it is: a useful tool to help increase traditional benchmarks like occupancy, guest satisfaction and brand awareness.

  3. Focus on personalizing communication with guests in their preferred mode of communication.

What is the Post-App Economy?

The post-app economy consists of rapidly growing messaging channels that provide brands and businesses with real-time opportunities to interact with customers. This economy includes both established channels like SMS and web chat as well as new platforms like WeChat and Facebook Messenger (which announced 800 million users at the end of 2015). Oh, and a little company called Google will launch a messaging app in 2016. All of these channels allow for real-time, one-to-one communication, providing an alternative model for the development and distribution of a mobile experience.

SMS Capability is Like Breathing, Everyone Can do it

I often hear hotel executives ask, "But is this just a Millennial trend?" and my answer is an emphatic no! According to a Pew Research Survey on U.S. smartphone use in 2015, texting is the most popular feature and 98 percent of all SMS messages are opened/read. And while 100 percent of Millennials are texting, so are 98 percent of people 30-49 and 96 percent of people 50-plus.

The post-app economy is marked by an embrace of existing messaging channels that provide brands and businesses with real-time ways to interact with their customers.

These messaging platforms, already preferred by consumers, provide an appealing alternative for all parties involved. The post-app economy is beneficial to consumers, sure, and it's also a boon to hoteliers. Why? Because it actually plays to the industry's focus on personalization and customer service through five benefits:

  1. Convenient for Guests

    Messaging services of the post-app economy enable easier discovery and use than standalone apps. Messaging services are present on every user's phone, and daily interactions with friends and family have habituated consumers to these communication channels. By contrast, separate hotel apps are hard to find in a Top 10-oriented app store, take up scarce space on a user's phone and are often forgotten in the moment.

  2. Real-Time Interaction

    Messaging services demand high relevancy. The ping of a new message pulls a hotel guest away from his or her day and into the phone. These are one-to-one, real-time interactions, as opposed to apps that often sit ignored on the back screen of a user's phone.

    A real-time interaction demands immediate responses to consumers' requests and timely updates with new information. The conversation focuses on what's most important to guests during their stay-things like room assignments, amenity requests, room-service updates and noise complaints. These interactions don't replace human interaction; rather, they enhance it because they require real human beings to take action and provide service. This is a welcome change from the previous paradigm, when hotels relied on app developers with little insight into the hospitality business to address communications needs.

  3. Opportunity for Service Recovery In-Stay

    Messaging enables hotels to check in on guests early in their stay. Guests tell us they love this communication and often mention it in their online reviews. The guests that appreciate the communication the most are the ones experiencing early issues--from that musty smell to a leaky shower head. By systematically gathering in-stay guest feedback, hoteliers can identify and resolve service recovery opportunities in real time to avoid hearing about it later on TripAdvisor.

  4. Faster, More Efficient Service

    Interacting with guests via SMS means more than a speedy and efficient response to a request for extra towels or room service. It follows the old marketing advice to "meet consumers where they are" for seamless, intuitive communication. If your VIP guest is, for example, a globe-trotting entrepreneur who spends half her day messaging her team and family, why would you ask her to download and familiarize herself with a new mobile app? Or, as is still the custom in many hotels: why would you ask her to use a landline-that relic rarely found outside hotel rooms-to order a late-night snack? Communicating with guests using the platforms they're already comfortable with is the best kind of personalization: the kind that doesn't require extra effort from an already overwhelmed consumer.

  5. Personalized, One-on-One Relationships

    As Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute, stated at Luxury Interactive Europe 2015 on Oct. 26, "The human element is going to be the top differentiator among luxury brands going forward. As consumers increasingly experience the world through screens, they will come to crave the now-rare human connection. Here is where luxury brands can help themselves stand apart by outperforming their peers at relationship building and delivering a worthwhile personal touch."

    Because hotels provide such personal services-making a guest's bed or shining shoes, for example-they have the potential to build incredibly strong relationships. But that's only if hoteliers respect their guests' privacy and space. In the post-app economy, the main challenge is to limit interaction to communication that's relevant and helpful to each guest. Start bombarding customers with too many promotions and special offers, and you risk losing their all-important trust

What Would an Effective Mobile Communication Strategy Look Like?

Below are some tenets of an effective mobile communication strategy:

  1. Make it multi-channel. Multi-channel mobile communication creates far more guest engagement. The combination of SMS, email, and OTT messaging (such as WhatsApp) will get more guests to interact compared to a native app.
  2. Empower your team with a single, shared inbox. Employees must be able to collaborate when communicating with customers. A single shared inbox for guest-facing staff enables employees to tap into the collective intelligence of your team.
  3. Capture interactions in a searchable, shared database. When employees start a new shift and hear from Room 872, they can simply review the interaction history and pick up where their colleague left off rather than force guests to explain over and over again.
  4. Review guest interaction and response time. Mobile communication gives you better insight into your operations. Hoteliers can review responses by employee, shift, hotel, requests, etc. to identify problem areas and reward stars.

The post-app economy is a terrific opportunity for enterprising hotel companies to get smarter, faster and more personalized in their day-to-day guest interactions. By interacting directly with through pre-existing channels already a part of their customers' daily lives, hoteliers can spend their time and budget where it belongs: on creating and maintaining a best-in-class guest experience.

Drew Patterson is the co-founder and CEO of CheckMate the leading travel technology company building hotel communications tools to deliver a better guest experience. From before check-in through departure, CheckMate’s tools enable hotels and their guests to have a two-way conversation through any means of communication - email, text, or a native app. CheckMate’s mobile tools improve every facet of the guest experience – from a mobile check-in that avoids a wait at the front desk and deals on room upgrades to alerts when one’s room is ready. Through partnerships with hotels, OTAs and TMCs, CheckMate has improved the travel experience of over 500,000 travelers staying at over 51,000 hotels. Mr. Patterson can be contacted at 415-849-3537 or drew@checkmate.io Please visit checkmate.io for more information. Extended Bio...

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