Ms. Wenzl

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

Creating Customer Engagement in a Customer-Focused Company

By Megan Wenzl, Associate Editor, ReviewTrackers

A personalized guest experience is important in today's hospitality industry. Guests can voice their opinion about a hotel in seconds because of the Internet, and their feedback is contained in sources like social media sites and online reviews. Potential guests read this information when they are looking for where to stay on their next summer vacation.

Guests will post online reviews about their experiences. According to research by ReviewTrackers, 45 percent of hotel guests are likely to leave to a review after a negative experience, while 37.6 percent of hotel guests are likely to leave a review after a positive experience.

Guest feedback is not only there for guests to research to find the hotel, it is also there for the hotel executive to make sense of: the feedback contains information for executives to analyze and extract insights to that can help improve the guest experience. Relationships with guests are important for guest loyalty, and the type of relationship hotels develop with guests stems from an engaging and personalized experience.

Guest Loyalty Example: Boyne Mountain

When I was growing up my family went to the Boyne Mountain Resort every winter for ski weekends. We came from the congested Detroit area, so it was a relaxing, refreshing break from the city. We ate at the resort's restaurants. We went ice skating and tubing. We talked with the chairlift operators and skied on groomed trails. We had great instructors when my brother and I were learning to ski. We felt a connection to the resort. We became lifelong guests - so much so that when I was a senior in college, my parents even bought a condo at its sister resort, Boyne Highlands, where the same service was provided: a consistent experience across all of Boyne's resorts.

One of the reasons we went back to the Boyne Mountain every winter for many years was because of the guest service. The resort provided a positive, engaging guest experience. The lift operators were friendly - they knew me by name, they cared about their job, were passionate about snow sports, and they helped guests get on the chairlift safely. The engagement and relationships with the chairlift operators was evidence enough that this resort knew the importance of a personalized experience for their guests.

The Guest Experience is Key to Success

The hospitality industry is evolving at a rapid pace. Executives and organizations must implement strategies to improve and innovate the customer experience. As technology advances, the guest experience will continue to change. While tech advancements make services like guest booking and payments quick and easy, guests are also looking for one other piece of the puzzle that many hotel executives are struggling to strategize for: a personalized experience.

Marriott, for example, used the Charlotte City Center Marriott in North Carolina to create a hotel laboratory in an effort to innovate based on guest feedback. This laboratory has a variety of themes, including communal spaces, modern guest rooms, locally sourced products, and on-demand services such as a Flex Fit center, according to an article published in Skift. It is a complete renovation of the Marriott brand. This type of innovation is important for Marriott.

Humanity as a resource - the type of people who deliver a service - is one of the trends that will shape the guest experience in 2017, according to Skift. Another trend for 2017 is that hotels will be community centers, as they were in the past, but will need to solve the challenges of today.

While Marriott is innovating and redesigning its hotels, new non-traditional hotel brands will enter the hospitality industry. For example, in fall of 2018, Shinola, in partnership with real estate firm Bedrock, will open a 130-room boutique hotel in Detroit. Shinola, a Detroit-based watch company, is creating a "thoughtfully-curated hospitality experience." More on that later in the article. Let's look at the importance of a customer-focused organization.

Create a Customer-Focused Company

Hotels are making big moves for creating a more customer-focused company. The Four Seasons spent $18 million on guest profiling features for its website. We have entered the era of increased engagement and personalization. In 2017, even smaller chains and boutique properties will be making similar strides, especially given that on TripAdvisor, highly engaged hotels delivering personalized content generate nearly four times more page views and produce 30 to 40 percent higher engagement with revenue-driving products.

Guests want to feel a connection to a hotel. A consistent customer experience across multiple touch points is important for that connection. In order to do this, all teams within the company should be customer-focused. This starts with a hotel's employees. If the employee experience is negative, the customer experience will be too. If your hospitality organization is not customer-focused, recognize the need for change.

Guest Loyalty

A personalized guest experience will affect guest loyalty.

This year, customer experience is the primary differentiator in attracting loyal guests. In order to inspire real customer loyalty, hotels must to differentiate themselves from the competition. As I mentioned above in the guest experience section, a trend that is influencing customer experience is a hotel's involvement in the community. This is something that the watch company Shinola is doing well (and they haven't even opened the hotel yet) - but they have built a company that has goals and values that matter to the community in Detroit.

"We're starting with the reinvigoration of a stories American brand, and a storied American city," according to Shinola's website. "Because we believe in the beauty of industry. The glory of manufacturing."

During Shop.org's Retail's Digital Summit in September 2016, keynote speaker Jacques Panis, president of Shinola, discussed the experience in the store. "When you walk into a Shinola store, all of the senses are activated, so you can taste our coffee, you can smell the candles burning, you can hear the music playing, etc."

When I walk into the Shinola store in Detroit, I enjoy the experience. The frontline employees on the floor treat you like a real person and not like someone who they are hoping will purchase a product. They provide a brand experience: they make an effort to develop personal connections. Shinola has even been criticized for being inauthentic by journalists and the FTC, but it doesn't affect Shinola's success: It's the overall experience that Shinola consistently creates that drives customer loyalty.

Provide Consistent Guest Service

An important factor in creating a personalized experience and inspiring customer loyalty is consistency in guest services. The most successful brands are not defined by how perfect everything is - it is actually the opposite. The most successful brands are defined by how they respond when something goes wrong.

  • The ability to provide a consistent guest service is a result of understanding guest experiences.
  • Did a guest wait in line for too long to check in to their hotel? Did a guest really like the new hotel room design?
  • Knowing who your guests are can go a long way in making you sure you provide consistent guest service.

Use Online Reviews and Customer Feedback to Create a Guest Experience Strategy

A guest experience strategy be top of mind when hospitality executives and guest experience managers are working to make their hotel stand out from the competition. One of the ways hotels and resorts can make sure they are building a personalized experience is to create a strategy by listening to unstructured customer feedback.

The resources to which companies have access are full of insights into how guests feel about a brand. Companies operating today have been given a gift: the gift of guest feedback. With the opportunity to see guest's thoughts in online reviews, hotel executives can get a clear picture of whether or not they are meeting guest expectations. Guest feedback is an essential tool for understanding why guests are loyal to a hotel. Loyalty could in part be a result of unique amenities, or the way in which the staff interacts with guests (or both).

According to study by Cornell researchers titled, "What Guests Really Think of Your Hotel: Text Analytics of Online Customer Reviews," the text in online reviews provides insight for hotels to improve their operations. The researches analyzed terms that correlated with amenities, experience, location, transaction, and value. Guest experience was mentioned the most in high-tier hotel reviews, while lower tier hotels mentioned value and transactions.

Identifying trends and insight into how customers feel and interact with your brand will help you create a guest experience that will make your guests want to keep coming back. One thing that Boyne, the resort I described at the beginning of this article, did well was they created an engaging experience for my family - an experience that I look back on with positive emotions. I will continue to ski at their resort throughout my lifetime.

This is how you want guests to think of your resort or hotel. You want them to keep coming back. You want to build relationships. That type of loyalty starts with a personalized experience.

Megan Wenzl is the Associate Editor for ReviewTrackers. Ms. Wenzl is constantly seeking out news on the latest industry trends and market movements. Ms. Wenzl has a strong passion for creating and circulating stories that raise questions and move others to seek answers – to think outside the box. With her Associate Editor role at ReviewTrackers, Ms. Wenzl is responsible for honing the voice of the brand through insightful writing based on data and creative logic. Ms. Wenzl has an extensive writing background. She’s written on a range of different topics including customer experience, customer service, online reviews, productivity, leadership, and root beer floats. Ms. Wenzl can be contacted at 866-854-7670 or megan@reviewtrackers.com Please visit http://www.reviewtrackers.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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Feature Focus
Sales & Marketing: Who Owns the Guest?
Hotels and OTAs are, by necessity, joined at the hip and locked in a symbiotic relationship that is uneasy at best. Hotels require the marketing presence that OTAs offer and of course, OTAs guest’s email when it sends guest information to a hotel, effectively allowing OTAs to maintain “ownership” of the guest. Without ready access to guest need hotel product to offer their online customers. But recently, several OTAs have decided to no longer share a data, hotels are severely constrained from marketing directly to a guest which allows them to capture repeat business – the lowest cost and highest value travelers. Hotels also require this data to effectively market to previous guests, so ownership of this data will be a significant factor as hotels and OTAs move forward. Another issue is the increasing shift to mobile travel bookings. Mobile will account for more than half of all online travel bookings next year, and 78.6% of them will use their smartphone to make those reservations. As a result, hotels must have a robust mobile marketing plan in place, which means responsive design, one-click booking, and location technology. Another important mobile marketing element is a “Click-to-Call” feature. According to a recent Google survey, 68% of hotel guests report that it is extremely/very important to be able to call a hotel during the purchase phase, and 58% are very likely to call a hotel if the capability is available in a smartphone search. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.