Mr. Jost

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

Journeys That Shape Customer Experience

By Benjamin Jost, Co-founder & CEO, TrustYou

As a whole, the travel industry has been clawing its way forward to improve customer experiences. Many hotels have experimented with implementing various digital platforms and adding personalized factors to their communication systems to facilitate these improvements.

Taking a step back, however, we need to first understand "customer experience" before we can address challenges therein. Throwing technology at the problem may seem like a simple solution, but instead, it's only adding complexity and muddying the waters when it comes to creating clear, and obvious paths to improvement.

According to the "How-To Guide: Customer Journey Management" report released by Ovum, customer experience is not a solitary concept but a holistic idea that includes a series of journeys a customer takes to create an overall experience. Generally, a guest journey consists of about four to five stages and each step plays a critical part in forming customers' relationships with businesses. As such, the idea of improving "customer experience" needs to be broken up accordingly, and hotels should focus on each journey in order to create meaningful changes that improve guest satisfaction and impact the bottom line.

While "throwing technology at the problem" is the wrong approach, making strategic decisions to implement certain technologies can easily identify room for growth and expedite improved guest experiences. Think about the number of technological touch points a guest has when booking a hotel. Guests often conduct extensive online research about hotel options and communicate with various sources before making a decision. Then, having decided where they want to stay, they make reservations through online platforms where they make further interactions with different companies.

In order to understand and improve each step of the guest journey, hotels must understand how customers utilize different platforms to communicate. By recognizing the common journeys and behavioral patterns most customers take, businesses can invest in the right technologies and in turn, improve the overall customer experience. Here are the three main journeys a guest typically takes and adjustments that can be made in each stage:

Booking

When a customer decides they want to travel, their first step is researching the location and hotels through multiple online channels. Today, there is a flood of information readily available and customers are actively using web platforms and leveraging social media to receive advice from their communities. Today's consumers are also extremely dedicated to finding the optimal options for their individual needs, and are more dependent than ever on online interactions. Someone who travels with a pet and has a glucose allergy will spend time online identifying pet friendly hotels with nearby Celiac-friendly restaurants.

Therefore, it is vital for hotels to have strong online presence as well as credible reviews to facilitate the customer's decision at this pre-booking stage. As more customers rely on web search, hotels should invest in technologies that increase their visibility on the web and lead to a higher number of click-through conversion on Google or other web portals. In addition, displaying credible reviews on websites while providing the most updated information in the right area is the key adjustment hotels executives must consider. If this process is done successfully and the right technologies are implemented, potential customers will likely notice and it would lead them to actually making a booking.

Regardless of how much time hotel executives spend on marketing their properties and establishing strong online presence, booking is the most important step in the process as it leads directly to sales results. In this stage, it is critical to remember that the factor customers look for the most is convenience. A large percent of consumers make their reservations through OTAs, but that doesn't mean hotels should simply keep the status quo in their own booking software.

Loyalty programs and customer accounts (where customers can easily log in and have most of their information stored online and accessible) can improve the checkout process. The speed at which booking occurs can also have an impact (Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon, once explained that every second of online lag lead to a 10% decrease in customer likeliness to make a purchase). When you look at companies that are competing with the hotel industry, such as AirBNB, they have built a series of tools to cut down on the number of steps it takes to book a stay, such as their "book immediately" option. Hotels can learn from this; removing friction from the booking phase will lead to an increase in direct bookings.

On-Site: Once a guest books their stay and the actual traveling has taken place, it's important for hotels to effectively communicate with their guests. Consumers recognize the essence of communication more than ever, and personalized communication with clients is extremely important in shaping the customer experience.

The ways in which guests choose to communicate, both with their peers and (more recently) with their hotels, have diversified immensely. Thus, it is crucial to engage with guests via different channels and recognize the medium that is the most convenient and effective to them. Some of the most prominent platforms include text (SMS), Facebook Messenger and email. Hotel executives and their customer service teams should use such channels to provide the most up-to-date information.

There have been many cases of hotels attempting to communicate with their guests through self-made apps. While the single channel approach is great, requiring app downloads to consumers often leads to failure as it is missing the convenience factor for those customers. In fact, most consumers keep apps on their phone for less than a day, meaning all of the development work that goes into building and maintaining an app for customers is being done for an app that won't be on their phone for the duration of their stay.

Rather than building a custom app and persuading the consumers to download and utilize the platform, it is important from the hotel perspective to implement a single, all-connected platform where their staff can easily speak with their guests from a shared inbox with one platform login. Additionally, hotels should make their best efforts to build personal relationships with each customer and store each guest's needs in a safe database so that the customer can be served better when they visit again.

Post-Stay

Out of all the stages, the post stay process is the lengthiest and requires the most work from businesses. Generally speaking, guests are going to leave feedback in some way shape or form. This can come through online channels and social media (more than 3 million hotel reviews are written each week), or through hotel survey. As guests return home from their trips, hotels can take control of the channels guests will utilize for feedback by engaging them to solicit information via surveys.

Establishing a solid survey platform is one of the key technological adjustments that many hotels should consider employing. By doing so, hotels can acquire valuable data to improve customer experience and such reviews could be used as a part of marketing efforts in the pre-booking process for future customers. Sending customer satisfaction surveys via texts is also a great way to encourage response as it has been found that such method leads to open rates as high as 98% (source; stat from TrustYou website).

After receiving constructive feedback, meticulous analysis of the reviews is required in order to make the necessary changes. In many hotel settings, the information obtained from surveys is essentially quarantined, left in the hands of a marketing department or operations team, never again to see the light of day. This approach dampens the ability for hotels to learn, first hand, about their guest experiences, and more importantly, can hinder a hotel's ability to generate new and recurring business.

Once reviews are completed and hotels have finished reviewing feedback, this information should go back to the start of the traveling cycle and inform each journey along the guest experience. As a part of the post-stay process and in preparation of the start of the customer journey, employing reviews from previous customers and careful analysis of what comments are appearing first and impacting the overall score should be conducted. A software that allows guests to publish their reviews directly on the web portals in this process is also a change that could be adopted in order to lead to better web prominence for many hotels.

Although the importance of customer experience is recognized across the industry, executives have been struggling to effectively improve guest experiences, and have often found challenges investing in the right technologies to help facilitate improvement. This means many hotels have skipped a step, and have failed to analyze the step-by-step journeys that customers take. Only once this is complete can hotel leadership carefully develop technological strategies to address each stage.

Benjamin Jost is co-founder and chief executive officer of TrustYou. Benjamin is an expert on social semantic search and is leading the big data revolution in hospitality. Prior to TrustYou, he spearheaded the Southern European M&A team for one of the world’s leading renewable energy providers and oversaw hundreds of investment cases covering a profusion of renewable technologies. He started his career in venture capital at Siemens Venture Capital and Xange Capital. Mr. Jost holds a MsC in engineering from the University of Technology in Munich and conducted research at the ENST Paris and the University of Washington Business School, Seattle. Mr. Jost can be contacted at 011 49 176 83074860 or benjamin.jost@trustyou.com Extended Bio...

HotelExecutive.com retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by HotelExecutive.com.

Receive our daily newsletter with the latest breaking news and hotel management best practices.
Hotel Business Review on Facebook
RESOURCE CENTER - SEARCH ARCHIVES
General Search:

FEBRUARY: Social Media: Interacting with the Hotel Customer

Nisha Thakkar

While social media has become a mainstream marketing channel, there are many variables that hoteliers are not taking advantage of to increase their revenue. Unlike other mainstream marketing avenues, social media is not static, as platforms continuously find ways to increase engagement with both users and advertisers. As social platforms have realized their massive marketing opportunities within their user base, they have increasingly capitalized on their clearly defined users by providing advertisers access to them. Today, the popularity of social channels has created a “pay-to-play” model that leaves many business owners and managers perplexed as to which channels to focus on, and the right budget to allocate in order to maximize return on investment (ROI). READ MORE

Cass Bailey

These days, a lot goes into choosing the perfect hotel. Hotel choice no longer depends solely on the location, price, and amenities; it depends on experience. Customers have become more interested in experiential features instead of whether or not the hotel has a five-star review. As the phrase goes, many “do it for the gram.” When looking to book their stay, the Instagram generation is interested in things that are eye-catching and worthy of sharing with their followers. Just searching the hashtag “wanderlust” reveals millions of images of different travel experiences from around the world. READ MORE

Tim Sullivan

As hoteliers’ key audiences spend less time on the Web and more time on their smartphones’ social apps, it is crucial for hotels to have a digital engagement strategy that creates meaningful interactions on social channels. Desktop still converts higher, but the path to a booking is a journey full of touch points across social. Now that social media platforms are maturing, hotels can go beyond targeting their own guests to discovering new profitable audiences. They can reach and drive sales for all sides of the business: leisure, corporate and group sales. However, before hoteliers think about social engagement, they need to cover the basics of personalization and one-to-one marketing. READ MORE

Chris Teso

Social media has traditionally been approached as a marketing tool for top-of-funnel activities. However, the activities associated with generating awareness, like creating viral posts and taking advantage of real-time marketing moments, are difficult to measure and even harder to link to real business value. Yet, marketers innately know that social media has real opportunity as their audience is there—in volume and in frequency. As a result, a new trend is emerging among hotel marketers that takes distinct advantage of the direct follower model of social networks: the marriage of the loyalty program with social media marketing. READ MORE

Coming Up In The March Online Hotel Business Review




Feature Focus
Human Resources: Inspiring a Journey of Success
In an increasingly competitive environment where hotels are competing to attract, and more importantly, to keep top talent, Human Resource managers are realizing the need to focus on improving their Employee Experience. Smart managers are embracing the idea of Employee Wellness which translates into a system of physical, mental, emotional, and purposeful well-being. Some organizations are even providing free counseling for their employees and their dependents. The goal is to nurture, support and engage with their employees in a way that increases productivity, improves customer service, enhances loyalty, and creates a more harmonious work environment for all. Along with this development is the need for more effective, ongoing training. Many HR managers rely on external training firms for this, but there is a growing trend which taps the experience and expertise that already exists within the organization. For example, younger employees likely have greater knowledge of social media which an older generation might struggle with. Harnessing this peer-to-peer learning can be an efficient and cost effective way of increasing skills, and as a result, the knowledge transferred is likely to be more acceptable and relevant. Finally, HR managers need to foster an environment that empowers people and taps into their full potential, inspiring a personal journey of success. The March Hotel Business Review will take a look at some of the strategies and techniques that human resource directors are currently developing in order to achieve success.