OMG: Hospitality is “I-L” (In Love) With Mobile Messaging

By Steve French, Global VP of Product Management & Marketing, OpenMarket for Hospitality Technology Magazine

Excellence in any consumer-centric industry thrives on one overarching principal: giving customers what they want, how they want, and when they want it. Success depends on what resonates with customer(s) the most. With the number of mobile devices reaching nearly 93 percent of the world’s population, the consumer is increasingly “on the go.”

The rapid adoption of mobile dramatically changes the “what,” “how” and “when” variables of the business success equation, as numerous customer service studies have highlighted the positive impact of mobile on a customer’s experience.  How a business engages with customers using the mobile channel is now more important than ever, particularly for the travel and hospitality industry, which has deep roots targeting the “on the go” consumer.

To meet this opportunity head-on, organizations in the global hospitality industry are using mobile messaging as an integral part of their approach to improve the customer experience. While many businesses are quick to turn to mobile apps or over-the-top services as a means to meet their customer-facing mobile goals, few realize how ineffective they actually are.

Flurry Analytics reports that most mobile apps are used for entertainment (gaming, messaging and social networking), and not for business purposes. So, while there appears to be a large rollout of apps from restaurants, resorts, airlines, and other companies within the travel and hospitality industry, there is still a large gap between mobile app availability and effectiveness in improving the customer’s experience.

In today’s hospitality industry, mobile apps are most effective when delivering an extremely rich user experience. Apps can also be effective when targeted at the top 5-10 percent of VIP customers. The reality, however, is that the average traveler will not download all of the mobile apps for each service they use.

Conversely, traditional mobile messages like SMS achieve open rates of up to 90 percent within minutes of receipt, and are available on all of the six billion mobile phones worldwide – offering a clear and direct channel for customer and employee engagement and communication. As mobile messaging integrates directly with the standard features of a mobile phone, hospitality businesses are using it to their advantage more than ever before, and in many different ways. They are interacting with customers throughout their entire lifecycle – using two-way SMS for reservation confirmations or surveys, redeeming coupons via MMS, and using SMS or simple push notifications to send travel delay alerts.

As recent research from global mobile engagement provider OpenMarket points out, many organizations within the hospitality industry are already using mobile messaging to drive customer interaction and to gauge their satisfaction. One unique example of this is a global airline that is leveraging SMS to distribute “boarding experience” customer surveys to passengers after they board. Not only does the survey make customers feel valued and important, but it also elicits feedback while the customer’s experience is still fresh in his or her mind. Furthermore, flight attendants can view the feedback in real-time, which enables them to promptly alleviate any complaints or problems.

Hospitality employees are also benefiting from mobile messaging technology. As the workforce industry-wide is always on-the-go providing customers with the best service possible, mobile messaging is a great way to update and inform employees of changes that may impact work. Whether it’s a technology system outage, changes in daily schedules, or an emergency notification alert, businesses can reach critical stakeholders with an immediate message on their mobile device – improving employee communications, engagement and productivity.

As we enter into 2015, there undoubtedly will be an opportunity for every business to improve its mobile capabilities and leverage what Forrester calls the “mobile mind shift” – the fundamental change in people’s attitudes and expectations driven by mobile device adoption. This will be especially important in years to come for businesses hoping to reach millennials, the largest and most diverse generation in U.S. history. This group is expected to have an economic impact and purchasing power of $2.45 trillion in the next year, and it prefers to be reached via mobile – with 90 percent of millennials preferring messaging to the other technologies for communication.

Therefore, before jumping on the mobile app bandwagon, ask what are customers’ and employees’ needs? Be sure to understand the goals of your mobile engagement strategy:  which audience are you targeting and what business outcomes you are trying to achieve in the near future, and the long run. Is it just the top five to 10 percent, or nearly everyone you do business with externally or internally? Chances are it’s the latter, and in an industry where customer is king, you should be looking to engage them across the entire lifecycle via a ubiquitous, effective and efficient communication channel – mobile messaging.