Forget Loyalty Programs: Customer Service Matters Most to Travelers

Most hotels and resorts offer some sort of loyalty program, allowing guests to accrue points based on stays and purchases that they can later use for free or discounted bookings. Publix’s BOGOs are great, after all; why not set up something similar for hotels?

 

While many guests are avid users of your hotel’s rewards program, they’re likely avid users of your competitors’ rewards programs, too. It’s almost a guarantee, after all, that almost all of your competitors will have their own similar programs in place.

 

Think with Google recently conducted a study  to find what matters most to high value travelers and see which factors will affect where they choose to stay. Loyalty programs were a factor, but not a major one, ranking fourth on the list of considerations that high value travelers focused on.

 

So what was the number one factor that guests took into consideration when choosing where to stay?

 

Customer service.

 

Why Customer Service Comes in First

Many hotels may automatically assume that if their loyalty program is superior to their competitors, that’s all it will take to create true loyalty, but we already know that isn’t the case. So why is customer service so important?

 

Image source: Think with Google

 

There’s several answers to this. The most obvious is that the market is now saturated with loyalty programs that are all so similar that they’re no longer unique; they’re almost expected in many cases. Customer service has become the true differentiator.

 

Excellent customer service will also directly impact a guest’s entire experience with you, from the pre-booking research all the way to the checkout and beyond. It will be the difference between whether they struggle (or fail) to book a reservation with you, get the accommodations they need, and have a positive experience, or whether they walk away dissatisfied (or worse).

 

How quickly and personably you can resolve any concerns will be what sways them, because when it comes to where they’re staying, they need to know they’re in good hands. Strong customer service builds trust, and trust can begin to foster true brand loyalty.

 

Meanwhile, loyalty programs don’t actually impact a guest’s experience at all; it just affects their wallet. And since only 21% of most high value travelers— the kind you really want to get on board– will sacrifice comfort for a lower cost, those savings only amount to so much when they can find something similar elsewhere.

How You Can Offer Exceptional Customer Service to Every Guest

While it goes without saying that being warm and accommodating in person is an important part of customer service, true customer excellence needs to start long before they show up at the check-in desk with their bags in hand.

 

Every guest– and every potential guest– not only expects but demandstop of the line customer service at every turn, and if they don’t see it from the get-go then you’ve already lost their booking. And in today’s world, that means focusing on your website’s online communication with guests.

 

More and more guests prefer to find questions about a potential booking online, whether that’s through your site’s information or through a live chat service. They want the information fast, and they want it without a big hassle or having to wait on hold or go through an automated phone system.

 

It’s no surprise, therefore, that while customer service was the first priority for guests when considering where to book, an easy-to-use website came in at second place. The two now go hand-in-hand for many guests, so in order to deliver outstanding customer care, you need to do so in the communication of their choosing. That means improving your live chat services immediately if you haven’t already.

 

Live Chat for Hotels & Resorts: No Longer Optional

The writing is on the wall here, and with websites and customer service both valued so highly by high-value, high-spending travelers, you can’t afford to skimp out on live chat for your site.

 

And when we say live chat, we’re not talking about robotic, badly-programmed chatbots. We’re not even talking about chatbots that have been programmed really well, because customers don’t want to go through anykind of automated process; they want to be put in touch with an actual human representative who they feel cares about them and can help them immediately. No chatbot can offer the kind of personalized help and attention that high value guests have come to expect, so they’ll let you down in the long run.

 

Instead, human-to-human live chat through your site is the only way to go. While it may sound like a lot to tackle, it doesn’t have to be.

 

CoMMingle Live Chat, for example, offers full, 24/7 live chat management for hotels and resorts so we can pick up the slack while you focus on the guests who are actively staying with you. Potential guests will receive immediate responses from real, highly trained representatives who all have experience in the hospitality industry and will learn the in’s and out’s of your specific hotel to deliver personalized customer service just like you would.

 

Whether you invest in a service like CoMMingle or take on the process yourself, immediate-response live chat isn’t so much a great option as it is a necessary one. It will only become more important moving forward, so stay ahead of your competition and adapt now if you haven’t already. Your loyalty programs, after all, can apparently only help you so much, so it’s best to make investments where they’ll matter post: the actual experience of the guests themselves.

Hotel & Travel Inspirations via Instagram

Finding the next adventure through visual imagery on social media

 

The best travel stories are relayed through visuals. But where once it was common to look for travel inspirations through magazine photos and enticing advertisements, we now use social media to search out those new experiences and adventures.

 

In today’s social media driven world, interest in a location or hotel is fueled by visual assets shared through social networks. What started out as sharing experiences with peers created communities of people sharing the same interests.  Powerful visuals are incredibly engaging. They can help build an emotional bond between your hotel and your guest that are shared with people within your guest’s networks. And there is great potential for guests to make purchasing decisions based on the emotional connection they make with your hotel.

The Power of Instagram

One of the most powerful tools to tell your hotel story is through Instagram.  With now more than 800 million active users, 8 million Instagram Business profiles and 80% of users following at least one business on this platform, Instagram is satisfying viewer hunger for imagery and, with this, comes the growing influence on travel decisions.

 

Posts with a location get 79% more engagement and User-Generated Content has a 4.5% higher conversion rate. This gives credence as to why Instagram is such an effective marketing tool.

 

Lodging Interactive offers hotel twitter and instagram marketing.

 

 

Everyone is buried in day-to-day activities and look to the magnificent landscapes and far-away places for a release from the mundane. Photographers take extraordinary photos of beautiful places that leave us breathless. Travelers find a special little nook and hotel nearby that offers a unique experience.

 

Lodging Interactive offers resorts exceptional hotel internet marketing.

 

 

All of these images make us want to be there too. We want to experience and see what the photographer or traveler saw. It’s more genuine than just looking at a magazine, ad, brochure or pamphlet. The visual story shared will be authentic and being authentic is what today’s traveller expects. Going from seeing the visual on Instagram to making a hotel booking is a far cry from what it was a decade ago.

Instagram Influencers

But visuals on Instagram are not only a place to inspire travelers to be or do what others have done but also gives people the desire to create and share their own original adventures. This gives rise to influencers who can provide an incredible ROI.

 

Through these Instagram visual assets, hotel digital marketers have a great opportunity to tell a unique – impactful story, build guest loyalty, raise brand awareness and increase engagements. So be different than other hotels on Instagram. Leverage your place in this medium – use Instagram Stories or Live videos and tag places in your posts so that it allows people to easily discover your content when searching those places. Dare to be different!

How Hotels Can Make the Most of the Guest Mobile Experience

mobile experience

Two-thirds of the world’s population has a mobile phone and, with this global rise of mobile usage, people have higher expectations from their mobile exchanges with hotels. When guests or prospective guests have a great mobile experience with a hotel, it sets a high service level they expect to get every time.  It’s when this level is not met that it can start to impact negatively on your hotel. As a result, it has become critical that hoteliers learn to leverage their mobile marketing to capture those mobile bookings.

Google recently conducted a study into mobile brand experiences. What we would expect came out in this study: Speed & relevance are a must for a positive mobile experience. But what the study also brought to light is that even a neutral mobile experience could morph into an experience with negative outcomes. So in the world of mobile marketing, how could your hotel make every mobile moment count toward booking possibilities?

Four ways Increase Hotel Guests Mobile Experience

 

Ensure quick load time:

Google’s findings showed that 53% of the time users will abandon a site if they experience a slow, poorly designed mobile site or app. The last thing your hotel wants is for a guest or prospective guest to abandon your site because pages didn’t load quickly enough. Information sought should not take more than 3 seconds to load and searches should be easy to navigate on your site.

Create relevant content:

If the user’s mobile experience was a positive one, nine out of ten would again make purchases from that brand, according to Google’s study. And 60% are less likely to make recommendations or purchases if their interaction was not helpful. Providing high quality content in the moment your guest or prospective guest is searching for helpful information and guidance will give them the power to make their booking decisions. So hotel marketers need to look at how their mobile audience views their website and be on the pulse of your guests needs during their travel journey.

Avoid interruptions:

Perception is everything. Who hasn’t experienced annoying pop-ups or ads while conducting a search that block content view.  Google found that 46% percent of their study participants would not make a purchase if their mobile search was interrupted. Hotel mobile marketers need to keep this in consideration or run the risk of a negative perception of your hotel.

 Keep omni-channel consistency:

Most hotels today use more than one platform to connect with guests. Whether it’s your hotel website, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, your guests want a seamless experience so it’s important that their mobile experience is consistent across all channels that they are engaging with your hotel.

Giving your guests control over every step of their travel journey is the best way your hotel can strengthen your relationship with them. Providing them with the right tools and information for a smooth interaction makes for the best mobile experience with your hotel that could create booking opportunities.

Lower Hotel Guest Satisfaction Associated with Bookings made through OTAs

The 21st annual J.D. Power 2017 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study was just released. The study measures overall hotel guest satisfaction and this year’s study showed that guests are more likely to be less satisfied with their stay when booking through independent travel websites.

 

Here are some key findings of the JD Power 2017 study:

  • OTA vs. Direct Booking: Guests are more likely to experience issues that decrease their satisfaction with their stay when booking through an independent travel website instead of directly with the hotel.
  • Reward Membership: 75% of hotel reward members are more inclined to book directly with a hotel than the 47% that are not members, and guest satisfaction is higher.
  • Mobile Apps and Reservations: The number of online reservations made on mobile devices has risen to 25%, up from 14% in 2014. Of these users, most are in a younger age group or business travelers. 38% of guests who have a hotel’s app on their mobile device don’t use it during their stay. Only 4% use the mobile app at check-in and only 1% at checkout but guests that do use the app show they have a greater satisfaction with their stay.
  • Loyalty: Those guests who use a hotel’s mobile app have a greater satisfaction with their stay and greater loyalty to the hotel.
  • Social Media: 86% of people who experience a problem are very likely to post to social media. Despite this, those who share their experiences via social channels appear to be more satisfied overall.
  • Hotel Reviews: 52% of guests have read a hotel review in the past month and 46% of these guests wrote a review in the past six months. Also, people who read and write reviews are more likely to have higher guest satisfaction.

An increase in mobile usage has caused a growth in mobile app services in hotels. This presents both opportunities & challenges for hoteliers. Major chains like Marriott and Hilton have launched campaigns promoting direct bookings with promises of discounts and perks.  But Phocuswright estimated that OTA’s will have increased their share of online U.S. hotel bookings to 52% by 2020.  With this growth comes the likelihood that guests will finalize their booking through an OTA rather than book direct with a hotel.

 

Bookings through OTAs are notoriously associated with lower guest satisfaction. Over the last 10 years, the CoMMingle division of Lodging Interactive has seen this come to light through our own analytics in reputation management for hotels.

One way to influence your reputation is by incorporating mobile apps into a hotel stay because it is associated with higher guest satisfaction. It makes guests more willing to share their positive hotel experiences on social media.

 

The fact of the matter is that mobile apps have become central to the guest experience. The challenge for hotels to have guests book direct are many but hoteliers can help themselves by creating and strengthening guest relationships and providing great customer service. The best way to combat dissatisfied guests who booked via an online travel site is to be armed with a strong mobile and social media strategy that will provide quick action and resolve issues. To do this, hoteliers will need to seek resources to help them know their rankings on various online sites and social media channels. With these tools in hand a hotel can get enough control over distribution to entice those direct bookings and increase revenue.

Google’s Focus on AI-First and the Implications for Your Hotel

What seemed like something far into the future is right here, right now.  Alexa, turn off the bedroom lights. Siri, find me a luxury hotel in downtown Chicago. Hey Google, show me photos from my stay at Hotel ABC. Asking assistance or search using your own voice simplifies what you want and the right result should happen, right?  Read on for Google’s Focus on AI-First and the Implications for Your Hotel.

Well behind what seems like simple voice commands are companies like Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and especially Google blazing the way through AI and machine learning. In fact, Google’s May 2017 keynote made clear that they were moving away from their mobile-first approach to an AI-first focus.

 

From Mobile-first to AI-first

Mobile-first meant that, when designing websites, you would first need to design your mobile website and then work your way up to create a responsive desktop design. Since most web searches are now on mobile, Google had their primary search engine index based on mobile version content.

Now Google’s focus is toward applying AI to solve problems and accomplish tasks through relevant searches that rely on the use of conversation – natural language – instead of typed keywords. Essentially they are using natural voice as an input to computers and using training to make it easier for speech recognition.

They have even gone so far as to use enhanced picture attributes for image recognition – not saying a word but simply snapping a photo of a marquis with a band or play’s name and, just from the photo, know to search out dates/times for the event displayed.

AI and the Hotel Industry

Google’s latest focus shows how they expect artificial intelligence to become a very large part of our lives – from products to services – and the hotel industry has and will feel its effects as well.

Google says 20% of mobile queries are voice searches and, with 1.2 billion mobile web users worldwide, voice queries with the likes of Cortana, Google Now or Siri will continue to grow. The result will be users moving away from desktop and using only mobile or home-based products like Google Home, Apple’s HomePod or Amazon Echo for their searches.

In the hotel industry, some brands have already begun to incorporate AI into hotels.

Leading Hotels of the World has been using AI to improve the hotel research and booking processes. There’s also AI concierge Connie used by Hilton Worldwide or, more recently, AI Rose at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Then there is AI chat bot Edward at the Radisson Blu. Now the latest to consider guest and employee services through AI is Best Western who is testing Amazon Dot devices in its hotels. In all cases, these AIs are designed to deliver the best guest experiences and at the same time alleviate some staff workload.

For hotel industry websites, you will need a strong mobile-friendly site providing relevant content to create the best possible mobile user experience. From personal mobile devices, to home to hotels, the rocketing presence of AI into the world – and into the hotel industry – is a sure thing and Google is leading the way. So hoteliers need to be ready for the next wave of what it takes to provide great customer service.

Conversational Marketing is The Future of Hotel Customer Service

Use of messaging and chat apps at hotels are fast becoming the preferred means to communicate with guests and, with this, come the endless possibilities to build relationships and increase sales. Hotel guests can chat in real-time and receive valuable and convenient customer service. This builds a trusting relationship that will go a long way toward loyalty and guest retention as well as lower overhead costs with efficient daily operations.

The technology is not new but primarily it is the exponential increase of mobile usage in recent years that is at the heart of the resurgence of messaging and chat apps. A Forrester Research study shows consumers spend nearly 78% of their time on smartphones and more than 3 billion consumers world-wide are heavy users of instant messaging platforms.

Conversational Marketing and Building Hotel Guest Relationships

The implication of conversational marketing might be to drive sales but its use now-a-days is more toward providing good customer service.  Uber’s Chris Messina coined the term conversational commerce and, simply put, it refers to the trend toward interaction between consumers and businesses through messaging apps, chat apps, and voice-activated technology. Consumer engagement can be through a human representative, chatbot or a fusion of the two.

For hotels it provides an excellent tool for hotel staff to automate customer service messages to guests. This increases hotel staff efficiency and provides a great guest experience. Hotels can interact with guests to quickly answer questions, resolve issues and provide personalized recommendations  – all in real-time and at the guests’ convenience.

 

conversational marketingIn the artificial intelligence market, there is now IBM’s Watson Technology. It’s essentially a supercomputer system that answers questions using natural human speech with filters for intent and context.  The likes of Facebook, Google and Microsoft have their own versions that are free within their platforms.

 

Facebook Messenger is now able to accept payments through chatbots that not only increase guest engagement but create the possibility to translate the conversation into booking transactions without ever leaving the application. This makes it easy and convenient because it means there is no jumping back and forth between website and text conversations. Reducing the number of sources hotel guests need to turn to will shorten the distance between a prospect and a booking.

 

Conversational Marketing and The Hotel Guest Journey

Regardless of how conversational marketing reaches you, guests want help, advice and direction while they work through their decision-making process. It should be an effortless process for your guests and gives a chance to establish a better rapport with your guests and prospective guests. A quick turn-around to questions/inquires, convenience and personal attention mean everything to your guests. So it’s vital to have the conversation stay natural – human – real.

 

Effective conversational commerce can successfully get your hotel to increase customer satisfaction and foster meaningful relationships. Hotel marketing strategies should carefully consider ways to provide a better customer experience by fusing with emerging technology that will help make those engagements turn into bookings.

5 Top Hospitality Trends for 2017

There were many changes for the hotel industry in 2016, from technological advances to millennials growing influence.  So what hospitality trends can hoteliers expect in 2017?

Choice Hotels’ online survey shows some interesting travel trends for 2017.  In terms of domestic destinations, it showed people are willing to spend more to explore new places.  Also, regardless of destination, most would splurge on food and beverages while 30% of budgets would be spent on accommodations. With these results in hand, hoteliers have a lot of considerations to get a piece of the action.  Below are the top 5 hospitality trends we think you should look for in 2017.

Texting and Chat a Mainstay in Customer Service

Guests seek out real time customer service and crave the human touch. Whether it’s planning a wedding, business function or an ideal hotel stay, they want prompt service and clear information to make choices. Working with a person, not a machine with robotic responses makes the guest feel welcome and cared for. Also, people want on-the-spot service when they need those towels or want to know what eateries are in the area. Texting hotel staff helps them get what they need during their stay and live chat gets them what they need to make the ideal stay or party arrangement. Both present opportunities for hoteliers to efficiently and effectively reach out to their guests.

Live Chat for Hotels

Live Chat for Hotels

Technology and Need for Information Security

Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer just something seen in a sci-fi thriller. From maid service to concierge duties, hotels have expanded their use of AI for efficiency and service not to mention lowering labor costs. But with new technology comes the need for increased security. Hoteliers will have to factor in account security to protect data and guard against identity fraud.

Mobile Usage Continued Increase

Most searches are conducted on mobile and, according to eMarketer travel research, 51.8% will use mobile devices for their travel bookings and it’s expected to rise to 86.4% by 2019.  Using a smart phone for bookings, check-ins and room service have begun to take over the traditional methods but hoteliers can expect it to become the norm.

Mobile Friendly Websites a Necessity

With the onset of Google’s mobile-first indexing, mobile friendly sites will become a necessity. With more searches happening via mobile, search terms will become more local so meta data will need to be tailored to include location. Speedy search results will also need to become a priority for hotel marketers in order to reap the benefits.

Millennials Leading Way to Future

Millennials are looking for unique guest experiences and are not driven by the same travel needs in days of yore. No packaged deals for this crowd! It’s all about living the entire experience from the time they begin their destination search to foodie experiences and throughout their hotel stay. So hoteliers will need to find ways to create shareable and unique experiences to appease the millennial appetite.

Cultural shifts, changing market trends and guest behavior will demand new strategies so as not lose out on any opportunities for optimizing revenues. Are you ready for 2017?

Millennials Mobile Usage Frequency & Security Concerns

Millennials mobile usage frequency & security concerns are shaping the way we do business now and will continue to shape how the hotel industry does business in the future.  Mobile phones and payment terminals have become best friends. Carry cash? Nah. Just whip out your cell to make mobile payments with Apple Pay or Samsung Pay. Wait on bank lines?  Nah. Just login to your bank account with your mobile device and….voila!  NFC payments made in a few minutes.

Millennial Mobile Usage Statistics

Using mobile devices to conduct transactions has become second nature to millennials.  It’s convenient, easy and quick.  Mitek, a mobile capture and identity verification provider, conducted a survey of 3,010 smartphone users. They found that one fourth of those surveyed between the ages of 18 and 34 used mobile for their transactions and purchases at least once a day. While 29% said they used mobile a few times per week. One in five said they used their mobile device to pay for things once or twice per month.

 

But 42% of millennials believe the benefits of using mobile for transactions are being weighed down by rising fraud and security concerns. With more companies adding steps to verify identity, 20% said there were just too many verification steps involved with their mobile devices. As a consequence, 19% said their mobile experience was not as good as their desktop experience.

 

Lodging Interactive Mobile Experience

 

 

Millennials are more likely to put their trust in technology-based companies for their transactions, like PayPal and Square, rather than traditional banks who require multi-step identity verification.  The point to keep in mind is that criminals aren’t selective whom they target but rather in how easy it is to get into accounts.  So we all need to remain diligent in account security.

 

Though privacy issues are not as strong in millennials as they were for previous generations, the security concerns are still very real. With more than 46% of the population as millennials are expected to be in the work force by 2020, companies will need to find better solutions for mobile payments.

Live Chat Messaging Apps and the Future of Hotel Customer Service

Uber testing driverless cars in Pittsburgh.  Siri giving us directions and information. Boomerang Respondable helping us write effective emails. Messaging apps providing quick responses to queries. Artificial Intelligence that only seemed possible in a Star Trek episode is in our daily lives right here and now. So hang onto to your FitBit because hoteliers will need to step it up a notch with what’s in store for the future of hotel customer service.

 

Messaging apps usage is creating a sonic boom throughout the hotel industry. Though they have been around for more than 10 years, messaging apps have experienced a resurgence that has grown beyond their use in retail. With the explosion of mobile usage and messaging apps allowing for easy integration into websites, hoteliers need to be mindful of the potential use of live chat apps in expanding their follower base and generating revenue.

 

There is no magic to it. The technology has been around for many years and the recipe to creating a successful digital imprint is already in the hotel digital marketer’s cookbook – just add some simple spices to reap the benefits of live chat apps:

 

  • Inviting dialogue and encouraging exchanges is already part of your hotel’s online strategy but with live chat apps this has never played a more important role. It will be the differential between your hotel and competitors. You need to keep the chat conversation real by adding a human touch to your chat – no robotic responses. Making better guest experiences means more loyal followers. The value of peer-to-peer marketing is limitless!

 

  • Responding in real time is the true strength of live chat apps. Which room has the perfect beach view? What restaurants do you recommend? What rooms are available for my wedding date? Answering questions like these in real time through a live chat app will provide your guest with instant gratification and the incentive to click onto that final booking.

 

  • Providing guidance as potential guests navigate your website is another strength of chat apps. If your visitor gets stuck while trying to finalize a booking, they are relieved to see someone is on standby ready to give the instructions toward their final booking. Your live chat agent saves the day and the guest experience is sweet. A two-fold benefit: Great customer service and a customer loyalty opportunity.

 

  • Delivering the greatest customer service all comes down to relationships formed with guests. Whether it’s your hotel staff or your marketing department/agency, the first impression is what sets the tone of your guest’s entire stay and what will become the tone of your online presence. Live chat apps provide the perfect venue to set a lasting, positive tone that resonates across all online platforms and using the feedback you will get to improve services is invaluable!

 

  • Boosting bookings and reducing costs are two important end goals to your marketing efforts. Just think of all the time you save in follow up when you can provide the answer quickly through a chat message. Better response time means better online reputation. Better online reputation means more bookings. More bookings translate into more revenue.

 

Messenger apps are providing a completely new way to expand your hotel’s organic online presence, provide great customer service and create new revenue opportunities. Don’t miss out on the chance to make your mark. Welcome to the future!  For more information on how your hotel can benefit from offering guests a Live Chat experience in a cost effective manner, please visit: LiveChatForHotels.com.

So you want to win a hotel website award?

Over the years, we have entered many website competitions for our customers.  In episode 49 of the #AskDJV show, we discuss what it truly means for your hotel to win a website award.

After entering and winning numerous website awards and trophies, we have come to find that it really doesn’t help our customers at all.  Sure, there’s the prestige of saying that you won an award, but what does it truly bring to you in terms of your bottom line?

We have discussed awards on our website in the past and this week’s episode of the #AskDJV show is sure to shed a whole new light on the meaning of website awards and why we choose to no longer participate in them.

Customer Satisfaction

In the end, it’s all about what makes you, our customers, happy.  We feel that you are happier when your bottom line increases – when you see things like:

  • An overall increase in hotel bookings
  • Increase in relevant traffic to your property
  • More F&B Revenue
  • Greater RFP Submissions

We have decided that we will spend our time and money wiser, making you happy.  In the end, it really isn’t about how many awards you’ve won, but how successful we make our customers.  Wouldn’t you agree?