Craig Rutherford, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Global SMS – February 28, 2018
Why hotels should send more texts.
Way back when hotels used to take most of their bookings directly, email and telephone were great ways to start the customer journey.
But today, online travel agents (OTA) and booking aggregators have disrupted the hotel-guest relationship. In an increasingly competitive market, customers are choosing hotels based on price and average review scores rather than branding and marketing.
To stand out, hotel operators need a way to circumvent the OTA layer and reinvigorate their customer relationships by delivering personalized services and memorable experiences – what we call empathetic interactions.
To do that, you need a direct channel to your customers.
That’s where SMS comes in. It bypasses the intermediaries and connects you directly to the people who are actually going to have an experience with you. That’s a big deal for a number of reasons.
So let’s look at three ways hospitality providers can use text messaging to engage with guests, from the initial booking all the way to check-out and beyond.
- Get things off on the right foot
Booking a hotel through an OTA is a functional, impersonal process for customers. They browse through seemingly endless choices on aggregator sites, pick somewhere with a good rating that’s within budget, and forget about it.
But the interim period between booking a trip and arriving at the front desk is a rich opportunity for real-time customer engagement. Sending a confirmation email that gets lost in a busy inbox (or worse, interrupting someone’s day with a phone call) squanders this potential.
SMS, on the other hand, is brief, direct and personal. And it re-opens an early direct dialogue with your guests that OTAs and aggregators have closed off. A well-timed welcome text a few days ahead of arrival can activate a sense of anticipation and excitement that few other channels can.
Text is also a great way to start delivering value before customers arrive. You could provide local weather and transport information a day before arrival. You could set up an automated check-in service or offer to book a taxi from the airport. Before guests have even crossed the threshold, you’ve gotten their trip off to a great start.
- Providing regular personal touches
SMS is also the perfect channel to ensure your guests get the most from their stay.
It starts when they land, as they get the pre-arranged taxi to the hotel and head straight to their rooms upon arrival, having already checked-in during the ride.
Then, they get two texts from the front desk in quick succession.
The first is an automated Wi-Fi sign-in process, helping guests authenticate with the hotel’s network without needing to provide any additional details or fill out any forms.
The second announces the hotel’s SMS concierge service, welcoming customers and inviting them to text with any requests – from room service, to housekeeping, to restaurant recommendations, to transport queries.
This isn’t just more convenient for guests. It’s also far more efficient for the reception desk or contact centre operatives, who can attend to multiple requests at once rather than one phone call at a time.
- Checking in after check-out
Customer feedback is like gold dust in the hospitality industry. It’s an essential resource to improve services and continually optimize the customer experience.
The act of answering survey questions can also reinforce how guests remember their stay – leaving positive feedback crystallizes what customers enjoyed, and why.
The trouble is, capturing customer feedback using conventional channels is tough. Club Mahindra – an owner of 45+ luxury resorts in India – was seeing a 5% response rate for its paper and email feedback forms.
However, when the resort chain switched to an automated SMS system, everything changed.
They set up an automated survey workflow that texted customers 30 minutes after checkout – when positive sentiment was at its highest, and likely during downtime at the airport or in a cab. The system asked customers to sequentially rate different aspects of their stay (like food, staff, cleanliness etc.) on a 1-10 scale. Poor ratings would trigger automated apology responses, and positive ratings would trigger appreciative thank-you messages.
The new system saw feedback response rates grow by 140%, helping the resort chain improve services and rectify poor customer experiences quickly and directly. This is what empathetic interactions are all about – opening up an honest dialogue with customers at a time that suits them, listening carefully, and responding sincerely.
Opening a new channel for great customer experiences
OTAs and booking aggregators have changed the way guests think about hotels, and mobile technology has changed how we interact with each other. Hospitality providers need to find new ways build loyalty, strengthen relationships and take ownership of the customer experience. SMS is a great way to cut through the increasingly impersonal process of choosing a hotel, and weave personal, empathetic interactions throughout every stage of your guest’s stay.