By Lola Feiger, eHotelier
Messaging apps usage is creating a sonic boom throughout the hotel industry,” wrote Lodging Interactive’s DJ Vallauri late last year. Indeed, within the past couple of years, hotel brands big and small have made headlines for their adoption of various messaging channels, as well as for the development of their own messaging systems within existing apps or apps for the purpose of messaging.
Messaging has a number of characteristics that make it particularly compelling as a guest engagement channel. As a communications medium, it’s uniquely ‘sticky’ (over 99 per cent of all text messages are read by the recipient, and 90 per cent of all text messages are read within three minutes of their delivery), it’s also conversational (much like traditional interaction between guests and staff), and tied to an identity. And unlike phone or face-to-face interactions, history is recorded and context is retained, which means staff can scroll through previous exchanges with a guest to recall preferences and previous requests, regardless of which staff member interacted with the guest. So too, conversations in the form of messages between guests and a hotel represent valuable data that can, for the first time, be analyzed individually and in aggregate.
But beyond messaging’s suitability as a communications medium, it’s real value is that it’s increasingly how consumers want to communicate, be it with friends or with businesses. In fact, 2017 is a fortuitous time for hotels to be capitalizing on this consumer trend, as messaging with businesses is becoming increasingly mainstream. As venture capitalist Mary Meeker observed in her 2016 Internet Trendsreport, messaging is rapidly evolving from a social medium to now facilitating business to consumer conversations as well. A 2016 study from Twilio found a resounding nine out of ten consumers want to use messaging to interact with businesses. And OpenMarket found a similar degree of consumer enthusiasm when the same question was asked in the context of hotels. In their December 2016 study, 90 per cent of respondents from the US and the UK said conversing with hotel companies via text message would be either “somewhat” or “very” useful.
Because of messaging’s appeal to consumers and suitability as a means of guest engagement, much has been made of its benefits for hotels. In a short period of time, messaging has been heralded as a way to increase guest satisfaction, help with guest recovery, improve revenue, improve staff efficiency and wasted spend, improve TripAdvisor reviews, and drive guest loyalty. Large hotel brands that have implemented some form of messaging in the past couple of years have reported improved customer service ratings and higher net promoter scores (in the case of Hyatt) and increased on-property spending (in the case of Starwood). Commune Hotels and Resorts (now Two Roads Hospitality) introduced text messaging for guests in 2015, and Two Roads’ former CEO Niki Leondakis told the audience at the International Society of Hospitality Consultants annual conference that the service paid instant dividends: “The employees now were using a tool that they’re familiar with and that they like to use. We found that the opt-in rate from the customer was over 90 per cent. The customers are choosing to text back, so now we’re finding out things that really we’ve never known. They’ll tell us that there’s a burned-out light bulb in the bathroom. They will tell us their TV remote is slow to respond. They’ll tell us things that normally they would check out and never even say, so service recovery is now increased.”
While the personal, real-time, and convenient nature of messaging is likely to improve service delivery and guest satisfaction, what’s generally been overlooked in the conversation around messaging is how it can be implemented to its full potential. Like with any guest engagement tool, its usability and the convenience is provides is highly dependent on the extent to which it is integrated with the rest of a hotel’s operations.
To understand why implementing messaging as a standalone piece of hotel software warrants reconsideration, consider a typical exchange a guest might have with the front desk: shortly after checking in, Mr Shashou texts the front desk asking for a set of extra towels and a cup of coffee. As is typical with many exchanges with the front desk, the front desk staff are rarely the staff responsible for executing the request. If messaging has been implemented at the hotel as a standalone solution, once the front desk agents is alerted to Mr Shashou’s message, he or she will have to call housekeeping to place an order for towels, and then call F&B to place the order for the coffee. If Mr Shashou is eager to shower after a long journey and impatiently texts the front desk again to inquire on the status of his requests, the front desk agent will again have to call both housekeeping and F&B to check on both requests. As the front desk agent executes these many requests on behalf of Mr Shashou, a line of new guests is forming at the front desk, waiting to check in. If it’s just Mr Shashou texting, and his questions can be resolved quickly, this text exchange and attendant follow up might not be much of a burden on the front desk staff. But now consider this challenge at scale. What happens when the hotel is full, and tens if not hundreds of guests are texting the front desk simultaneously? Even hotels that implement messaging with the best of intentions – to provide the ultimate in convenience to their guests – are setting themselves up to fail.
Requests initiated via message are just like any other guest request – rarely destined for just one hotel staff member or department. Guests are just as likely to request room service as they are turndown service as they are dinner recommendations from the concierge or front desk. All of these requests are serviced by different departments within the hotel. Just like the more traditional phone operators and their switch boards, hotels that integrate messaging with a staff-side request management system are able to seamlessly dispatch all these requests as individual tasks to the right departments and employees. No extra burden is placed on the front desk, and guests reap the full rewards of a truly digitized operation – not one with a shiny, modern interface and a mechanical turk scrambling frantically behind it.
So too, implementing messaging as a standalone communications method makes it difficult to tie together different pieces of guest profile information that would aid in better service and delight your guest. Consider again our hypothetical guest, Mr Shashou. Mr Shashou, as many guests do today, happens to have shipped his luggage to the hotel ahead of time and ordered items from Amazon to use during his stay. The luggage and packages have arrived and are being stored with the front desk. If the hotel’s messaging solution is integrated with its staff-side technology, this information about Mr Shashou’s packages would be tied to his profile information and easily apparent to the front desk agent texting with Mr Shashou about his towels and coffee. The front desk agent could tell Mr Shashou his packages have arrived and send them up with his other requested items, saving the front desk time, and delighting Mr Shashou with convenient, personalized service.
Indeed, the hotels we’ve seen that have implemented messaging successfully and are seeing meaningful increases in guest satisfaction are the ones approaching messaging holistically. While it is easy to recognize the upside of messaging, what’s almost never said is that just adding messaging to a hotel’s arsenal of tools, without the staff technology infrastructure and operations to support it, might in fact be more of a detriment to delivering superior service than a benefit.