Mr. Jost

Mobile Technology

Texting as a Customer Engagement Channel

By Benjamin Jost, Co-Founder & CEO, TrustYou

Guests constantly hop across different communication channels. To keep pace with them, hotels must migrate through these various platforms to remain engaged. Most modern hotel executives recognize the importance of communicating with guests on the medium in which they are most comfortable. However, identifying and implementing approaches that makes these meetings possible can be more difficult than these executives consider. After all, anyone can send a text message. But meeting and tracking an SLA across an SMS creates an entirely new set of hurdles.

Let's momentarily set aside the challenges to discuss the benefits of implementing a messaging solution in a hotel setting. Implementing a messaging platform that enables easy communication with customers can mean less time spent trying to reach out to individual customers. We all have witnessed and experienced the time when hotel employees called their guests directly to confirm reservations and receive feedback. From phone calls, the industry progressed to utilizing emails for customer communication. Now we're seeing hotels communicate through various social media channels and even text messages (SMS) to engage with their guests.

Messaging can directly serve the folks staying at your facilities. From a customer perspective, a hotel that incorporates a robust messaging platform offers convenience. Guests can communicate and provide feedback to hotels by using the venue in which they're most comfortable, from Facebook Messenger to email to text messaging.

Some hotels have even begun working with external technology vendors or created self-made apps to chat with their guests. Regardless of the approach, incorporating messaging into customer experiences means that employees are spending less time calling individual guests. This transformation creates a faster way of handling communication. In addition, if hotels can manage all conversations on one platform, they can improve workplace efficiency.

Benefits of messaging technologies go beyond simply "speed." Hotels can utilize their newfound agility to engage guests more frequently and provide more services. Many of our hotel clients incorporate messaging directly before, or even during a guest's stay. A quick text message asking for special requests can make a guest feel more welcome and develop a more organic interest in them as individuals. Next time you stay at a hotel, consider how sending a text asking for extra pillows, and simply having them in the room upon your arrival would impact your view of that hotel. Speed allows for better service, which drives higher satisfaction and increases the likeliness of return visits.

Another benefit that hotels can gain by employing messaging is the the ability to resolve issues quickly and efficiently. To quote a common idiom "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". Many guests are uncomfortable calling the front desk with minor issues, feeling as though they'll come across as being a "bother." Many of these same customers are far more comfortable putting these concerns into text, either in a message so that a hotel can act instantly, or in a negative online review after their stay, placing hotels in a defensive position.

Aside from all the benefits hotels can gain by engaging with their customers, messaging can also be used to measure employee efficiency and manage projects. When a customer sends a request through the messaging platform, the documented request can be tracked, and ultimately become actionable. For instance, a GM can track how long it takes each employee to complete certain tasks. This information can identify which hotel team members are hustling to ensure guests are having great experiences, and who might be taking a little more time than is necessary.

Executives will also be able to gain insights into whether the problems were properly managed through examining the following messages. If a guest issue has been marked as "solved," but the guest has to send follow up requests, there is the potential to identify gaps in training. Through messaging, hotel leaders can gain a better understanding of how their staff is working and identify their best performing employees.

My company, TrustYou, conducted research into 10,000 messages that had been sent through our platform, from 6,388 guest conversations. We found that roughly two-thirds of the messages sent captured guest opinions on hotel services and amenities. If a hotel learns quickly about a guest's negative feeling, they can move quickly to address their concern. If a hotel learns quickly about a positive emotional experience, they can act just as quickly to expand their impact.

In the same study, we also found that messages reveal the true level of guest satisfaction regarding their experience. Guests utilize different types of words to describe their experiences and express their satisfaction or concerns.

Among key findings, we learned that roughly a quarter of messages (26%) had to do with a guest's room, while reception (15% or messages) and overall hotel (14%) were also regularly mentioned. In other words, more than half (55%) of all messages sent through our messaging platform were items that are regularly discussed in online reviews. In fact, taking things a step further, nearly two thirds (65%) or messages had to do with a hotel's services or amenities.

Understanding the words that guests use in creating real-time feedback and responding to this feedback is a tremendous way to improve their experiences and also impact the online reviews that are left for hotels in the long run.

There's another ancillary benefit that messaging apps can bring to hotels. Those companies that utilize messaging for post-stay feedback may be surprised. We've seen response rates as high as 98% for locations that use messaging to request that their guests fill out a post-stay survey. This feedback, of course, can inform how hotels operate.

There are some very real considerations that hotels should be aware of when they decide to explore a messaging approach or solution. One of the critical questions hotels should consider is how messaging will integrate with workflows, both in call center environments for larger chains, and in front-desk environments for individual properties. This question can be incredibly complex.

Should customer service (or even marketing) teams be tasked with connecting with guests directly before their stay, and then pass the contact over to the front desk at a property? Or does it make more sense to have the property handle discussions directly with guests before check in to build an initial rapport with their soon-to-be visitors?

These are a couple of the questions that each hotel should examine for themselves, while also engaging their messaging solution provider for best practices. Answers will often differ depending on the size of a hotel chain, the workflows those properties already have in place and the current technologies in an organization's stack.

In general, hotels can incorporate messaging to improve and expedite every step of a guest's stay. From the ability to make special requests in advance of check-in, through finding a sense of familiarity with the guest service person upon arrival, and from real-time feedback on issues and offering room upgrades, messaging apps are powerful tools to improve the customer experience.

Regardless of each organization's circumstance, all hotels can incorporate messaging in each step of the guest journey. From check-in, hotels can utilize messaging to offer room upgrade options and even ask for real-time feedback as customers check in. During the stay process, hotels can interact with guests and fulfill any requests they make quickly with the messaging platform. In the check-out process, hotels can respond to guest messages and prepare check-out documents so that guests don't have to wait in line. In this stage, hotels can also send brief requests for post-stay feedback and offer guests the option to seamlessly answer surveys and write reviews while still on the premises, allowing hotel employees to ask any follow up questions and resolve issues on the spot.

More than ever, guests are communicating across various platforms and channels, making it difficult for hotels to meet their guests in their method of choice. Snapchat recently put forth a pair of glasses that stream real-time video. Is there any doubt that guests will, at some point, send video of their concerns to hotel employees working at the front desk (a room with a leaky faucet, for example, seems ripe for this type of feedback)?

But smart hotels, meaning those that incorporate flexible messaging solutions into their operations, will be able to meet those guests and exceed expectations. By understanding and incorporating the right messaging platform, hotels will be able to save time, resolve issues faster and increase the level of guest satisfaction. This means more return visits, and potentially, more direct bookings for those return visits. In sum, implementing a messaging platform will drive short and long term growth through enhanced customer service and improved online reviews. In addition, these benefits can be attained with very little effort from each hotel, as there are inclusive platforms built to offer these capabilities out of the box.

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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