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...

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