The digital age has dramatically reshaped customers’ expectations of companies and brands. Whether through demands for "transparency" or greater options for online services, customers have made it clear that to remain relevant, companies must not merely adapt, but innovate. The hospitality industry is no exception.
And whether the company is a small seaside bed and breakfast or an international hotel chain, the call to action is the same. The mobile, cloud and social media tools available must be leveraged for greater customization of services. But, what does this mean, how does it look on the ground, and what do businesses in the hospitality industry need to know to survive and thrive?
Build a Brand that Customers Like and Trust
With formidable “middlemen,” ranging from Airbnb to Travelocity, that promise competitive discounts, ease and multiple options, companies in the hospitality industry must prioritize the creation of a coherent and compelling brand. In order to avoid being overshadowed by online broker agencies, they must forge real relationships with their customers that allow them to stand out and be seen as trustworthy and distinct. Whether it’s through unforgettable music videos, like Virgin Airlines, or through aligning with a particular demographic’s values of health and sustainability, like many “eco-resorts,” a brand needs to differentiate itself and discover its unique market. In that vein, its presence on social media, collaboration with influencers and generation of meaningful content will all contribute to a critical blend of visibility and recognition, of being known and being known for being the best.
Leverage Your “Brand Champions”
User-generated content, whether it be the personality-driven musings of a lifestyle blog or the sincere review of a satisfied guest, should be leveraged to garner engagement and develop brand awareness. The truth is that guests, especially guests who are millennials, trust the experience of other guests. The connectivity the digital age enables is like "word of mouth" on steroids. And just as you work to integrate your different digital platforms, you must work to integrate what you say about yourself with what others say about you. If done well, this endeavor can secure you a reputation that will be a strong asset in increasing ROI. At Marketing Zen, we sometimes refer to this as the “transformation” stage, where a positive guest review or appreciative note is framed and promoted to generate interest and attract future customers.
Treat Feedback Like Gold
User-generated content won’t always be positive. Sometimes, customers will have difficult criticisms or complaints. The important thing is to see this negative feedback as an opportunity to understand your guests’ desires and concerns more thoroughly and to take action.
Do people consistently express that there aren’t enough activities for kids, that the pool area needs more shaded seats, or the booking process is needlessly complex? Remember, a negative comment that is met with a positive and proactive response can earn you even more social media points than a glowing review. For example, if a customer complains that a certain drink was out of stock in the hotel bar, instead of responding with defensiveness, apologize for the inconvenience, affirm that consistency between the menu and the inventory is a value of your company and offer a drink on the house on their next visit. Other readers will see this public exchange and their takeaway will not be the mistake, but the courtesy with which it was addressed.
Make It Easy for Customers to Shop for and Buy Add-Ons
As more customers expect to access reviews, check-in for their stay and purchase add-ons from their phones, it’s imperative that hospitality brands offer that option and make it simple. But, mobile-compatibility alone is not enough. According to Forrester’s Consumer Technologies, 50% of consumers transition between devices while carrying out simple tasks like online shopping or using a maps app. How can that experience be made seamless when a guest is booking a room or a spa package?
The formula is to focus on the user experience, don’t let data get lost across channels and think creatively. It boils down to personalization and convenience. For example, for a luxury hotel, can concierge services be incorporated into a chat message on the main website? Can its recommendations be tailored to the guest’s interests?
The question is literally, “what can you make available at your customer’s’ fingertips?” And, it’s not only the customer who benefits when you can collect data across multiple channels. For customers that are routed through online travel agencies, data can make the difference between those customers’ loyalty going to the intermediary or to you. If your organization has the customers’ data, your sales and marketing teams can use it to target them with special offers and savings and persuade them to book directly.
Embrace Digital Tools To Become The Best Version Of Yourself
Disrupt the thinking that reserves digital solutions for your “client experience.” Instead, begin brainstorming about the many ways in which digitizing can increase speed and functionality within your organization. How can you use new technology to address old issues? Can you use tablets for remote guest check-in during especially busy times? Are there systems that can coordinate communication between the housekeepers and the reservation manager that save time and resources? Is there a program or app that rearranges shifts to more precisely match the ebb and flow of customers? By being on the same wavelength as your customers, you can harness the power of the digital age to satisfy guests, increase profits and work smarter, rather than harder.
Innovating in the digital age for the hospitality industry is about embracing a mindset that weaves together cutting-edge technology, guest-centric systems and consistent branding. It’s less about isolated upgrades and more about integration and connectivity.