Ms. Tocguigny

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

How Can Your Hotel Use New Technology to Manage Your Brand?

By Yvonne Tocguigny, Chief Creative and Strategy Officer, Archer Malmo

Each hotel will have to find new ways to stay in touch with customers to understand their experiences in time to address problems and avoid brand degradation. We all want to avoid having to buy back our customer's business and loyalty after a poor experience. The ability to manage your brand and retain customer loyalty will come down to two important factors: technology with consistent built-in feedback mechanisms and the availability of choice.

Technology will be deployed to offer your customers a better mobile check-in experience. And it may replace servers in your restaurants. That's not the end. There will continue to be ways that customers' experiences are managed through technology rather than the unpredictable, difficult-to-control individual personalities and judgment of employees. This will be one more way our workforce becomes automated. Some customers will like it, and some won't. How will we know before it's too late? Tests in tech-friendly cities will allow learning what works and what doesn't. It should also help segment the audiences that prefer human interaction to mobile interface. You have the ability to model those customers, and proactively offer them choices in how they wish to shape their stay. Through testing, you should be able to study the profiles of customers with varying preferences then tailor packages and options that appeal specifically to each customer type.

It's not a sure bet to assume that all millennials want an experience that's managed through various forms of technology to shortcut human interaction. Trends in alternative accommodations show that millennials are adopting private home rentals at a greater rate than any other age group. And it's interesting to note how the home rental business is moving closer to offering a traditional hotel experience.

Personal greeters met me at my recent Onefinestay location in Paris and London. This formed a bond that personalized their brand and made me feel extremely cared for. Many Airbnb rentals offer the opportunity to interact with the homeowner and get to know more local residents. The home rental market has realized that after a sleek online booking experience, and the amenity of a helpful mobile app that explains everything about a rental and the location, the next big brand-building triumphs are won through valuable personal interaction.

When I compare the personal service aptitude of the greeters at Onefinestay, who have the enthusiasm and motivation of a smart young startup entrepreneur, to the tired slow person who has checked me in at the desk of a four-star hotel, the differences are stark. I'll tell you, I'd prefer a mobile app to the front desk check-in experience. But what I really want is a faster, more personal greeting that puts me in control rather than making me feel like I'm just another person waiting in line. Is it possible that the home rental market will begin to bleed off an ongoing stream of customers who prefer to see the greeting process be transformed rather than eliminated? And for those who want it eliminated, the tech-enabled keyless entry, devoid of in-person guest greeting or checkout that's offered by many rentals, has already become an option.

The only way to offer what people truly want is to first understand what that is. And as is the case with most innovation, your customers don't know they want the next new thing because they've never imagined it. Because it's truly new, they can't imagine it until they've experienced it.

One of the frightening prospects of replacing the human interface with technology is that in the face of technology, there is no one to complain to when something doesn't work or doesn't meet customer needs. If a robot delivers my breakfast and fails to remember to bring cream for the coffee, the process of fixing that problem will, I anticipate, be far less satisfying than if there were a human there to look me in the eye and say, "I'm sorry. We'll send it right up." After all, one of the very best parts of receiving service is the pleasure of thanking the individuals and feeling a connection and genuine gratitude. Those are the beautiful moments that make hotel experiences grand.

Sensors will Detect Customer Experience Levels

Sensor technology can offer the hotel industry a unique opportunity to learn, pivot and innovate. I imagine it in the form of small response gauges at each step of the hotel customer's journey. Is the room to your liking? Did your room service experience delight you? Does your Wi-Fi work properly? A feedback mechanism as simple as "click if no" will give hotels the opportunity to pinpoint frustrations as they're experienced rather than days later at checkout.

Amazon has pioneered their Dash Button, a Wi-Fi device in the form of a small stick-on plastic button that, when pressed, automatically orders goods over the internet. I believe hotels can and should adapt a form of these to monitor their brand experience and learn about individual customer preferences. The buttons are mounted, using adhesive tape or a plastic clip, to locations where the products are used. Each of these Amazon devices comes emblazoned with the name of a frequently ordered product. You can stick a Tide button next to your washing machine, and when you're almost out of detergent, you press the button and Amazon delivers more Tide.

Users can configure each button to order a specific product and quantity. There may be a Charmin button next to the roll of toilet paper in the bathroom, or an Ivory Soap button on the inside of the cabinet door above the sink. Pressing the button sends a Wi-Fi signal to the Amazon Shopping app and orders new stock. The click also sends a message to the user's mobile phone, giving the user a half-hour to cancel. In May 2016, Consumers' Research pointed out that there were additional uses for these buttons such as ordering pizza, tracking time, and controlling lights and outlets in households configured to respond to such commands. Amazon has introduced a programmer friendly form of an "Internet of Things Dash Button" which allows programmers to make programming modifications to the device.

Real-time customer feedback from devices such as these will provide the opportunity to surprise and delight customers when they want or need it. A service model that is driven by real-time customer preferences, and enabled by technology, could be the holy grail of service. We all know how hard it is to get customers to fill out surveys at the end of their stay, and how inaccurate those data can be when it comes to representing a broad swath of customers' experiences. Knowing exactly when to respond to specific concerns provides insights into what to change, and what types of customers are more likely to need more attention at particular points in their stay.

The ability to provide this level of responsiveness is an exciting prospect. Collecting customer-preferences, aggregating the data for customer segment predictions, and then pre-fashioning a customized experience will go a long way in building brand loyalty.

Choice and Options will Create Brand Preference

As customers are able to shape their experiences in ways that make them feel special, and see how those data remain consistent throughout a hotel brand around the world, I expect this will create a bond and preference that is difficult to disrupt. As a customer continues to add to a profile that specifies preferences from a menu of amenities, hotels have the opportunity to recreate the experiences of the old clubs, a home-away-from-home experience. There is also the option for this to become a new revenue-generating income stream. If we quietly present the option to upgrade to specialty toiletries, have a personal trainer show up for a run through the city, or have a hair stylist come up and blow dry one's hair, new services can enhance the experience and generate revenue. But the real advantage comes from spending less on marketing and discounts to compete for customers.

As long as technology is used in such a way that customers are even more closely listened to and responded to, it offers hotels the opportunity to learn what each customer likes in real time, and provide choices that generate a database of individual preferences that can be used to customize your brand for each customer. We all want to be a 10 on a scale of 1 - 10. That's impossible if we offer the same thing to everyone. Learning what makes a 10 for each customer, then giving them the option to have it, or upgrade to it, will get us much closer. How we offer the choices without seeming intrusive or making the customer feel upsold at every turn will be a challenge to address. Having choices is a choice in itself, so we may provide the option to opt out if that's desired. It all comes back to putting the customer in control, taking care of their needs, and checking back in to see how it was received, then learning. That virtuous circle is about to open a whole new world of possibilities for your customers and your brand.

Yvonne Tocquigny is Chief Creative and Strategy Officer in the Austin office of Archer Malmo (formerly Tocquigny), a leading agency that provides brand development, advertising, public relations and digital marketing services for national brands across a variety of categories. Collecting and building a talented team of makers, thinkers and doers , working within a company culture that complements the uniqueness of Austin. Ms. Tocquigny is regarded as a forward-thinker in the industry, one who looks beyond the norm to reach goals and objectives. She has become a business trailblazer, a leading marketer, a sought-after speaker, a respected writer and a mentor to many. Ms. Tocguigny can be contacted at 512-532-2800 or Yvonnet@archermalmo.com Please visit http://archermalmo.com/ for more information. Extended Bio...

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