Owning the digital conversation throughout the travel journey
Communication channels are constantly changing. Most of this change is down to mobile and the need for personalization at multiple touch points. Whether it be communicating through their social media feeds or email, researching places to eat, travel, shop, reading the news or managing day-to-day tasks. This influence from so many channels has affected how all brands communicate with their customers and how they build brand trust and loyalty.
Within the hospitality industry, building this brand trust is just that little bit harder, not only because of a change in guest expectation but also because of the hugely competitive space every hotelier sits in. Within that space, hoteliers don’t just see their local competitors down the street anymore, they have the almighty Online Travel Agents (OTAs) to contend with. Bigger than ever, they have the funding and the clout to reach customers anywhere and anytime and, on any device. This reach can leave hoteliers feeling drowned out by the noise and at a loss of where to start when building those lasting relationships with guests.
This is where we encourage hoteliers to own their digital conversation. Marketing and advertising are no longer about publishing as many print adverts as possible or nurturing those relationships with travel agents and OTAs, it’s about engaging with customers and guests through the channels that are important to them. Converting that unknown guest into a trusted brand advocate and thereby retaining that business through them, their followers, friends, and family is the only way for hoteliers to stand out in this crowded market.
So how is this done? Understanding the strategy and knowing what guests want is key but also coming to grips with the concept of spending your marketing budget in the right place will determine which way you go. So what would you rather spend it on? Always fighting for that new business or keeping your existing business and building relationships with guests who will ultimately become brand promoters? Let’s take a look at what can be achieved by spending it on the latter.
Communicating with Guests
Two of the biggest growth areas that we’ve seen on mobile devices over the past few years is email and ecommerce. 200 million emails are sent out every minute of the day, 53% of these emails are opened on mobile devices (compared with 8% in 2011) and 34% of global ecommerce transactions across all industries are happening on mobile devices. More than ever consumers are receiving information, making decisions based on that information and proceeding to make purchases, all on a mobile device. On top of this, a recent survey found that 72% of adults in the U.S. preferred companies to communicate with them via email.
This is a huge opportunity, as never before has email been such a powerful marketing tool. At Guestfolio, we’ve seen that engaging with your guests at the right time, using the right device improves the chance of retaining that guest and reduces the chance of cancellation. From the moment the guest makes a booking to following up with the guest six months after check-out, we’ve found the perfect medium to ensure guests stay engaged and become the best type of promoters for your brand – all before they even step foot in your hotel. Here are a few of our fundamental ‘must-dos’ when thinking about communicating with your guests:
- Send beautiful, mobile-ready emails: use simple calls-to-action to engage guests and visuals that will entice them. Always stay on message to drive brand recognition
- Find out why they’re traveling to your hotel: learn about your guests and make the communications and their stay relevant to them
- Make it personal: personalize their communication and recognize your guests’ requirements, remember to add your ‘from’ and ‘reply-to’ name so they know who they are communicating with
- Sell your destination: encourage up-selling prior to arrival and share local knowledge with your guests
- Plan check-in: invite them to plan their check-in before arrival so you’ll be ready for them when they arrive
- All of this can be achieved before the guest has even seen the front desk. Using this time prior-to-arrival enables you to learn everything you can about your guest, get them excited about their upcoming stay and drive revenue
Converting Your Guests
Continuing the conversation and connecting to the human behind the guest is the next step. Remember, even though they are at their travel destination, they are still engaged with their community online through their mobile devices, so use this to your benefit. Building a personal connection is challenging if not impossible for each guest, however, hugely important, so, at Guestfolio we consider the use of technology for this part of the conversation invaluable. From the moment the guest walks up to the front desk, to the second they walk out the door after check-out, we believe technology can allow you to make that guest experience unique.
Here are a few tips on how to achieve this and continue that ever important engagement with the guests:
- Learn from the guests’ social activity: use social profiles of guests to put a face to their name and learn about their social activity online prior to room allocation at check-in
- Ask them for their direct email address: approach them with a pre-arrival email via their OTA booking email address to ask for their direct email, provide incentives for guests to share this information prior to arrival
- Use check-in as an opportunity to obtain their email address (if not already shared)
- Plan their stay: use learnings from their pre-arrival activity to help prepare for their arrival and plan for their stay
- Continue the conversation: while they are in-house use this opportunity to learn from the requests being made. What is their favorite wine? Was it their birthday during their stay?
- Give your guests a shareable ‘moment’: leave your guests with something to talk about when they leave. Provide a memorable experience or shareable ‘moment(s)’ that they’ll talk about socially from a location or when they return home
- Actioning the above not only builds trust and a relationship between the hotel and the guest but drives the conversion rate. Conversion is the transformation of a guest from an OTA booking, who will have been communicated through an OTA email address, to a real direct email address – i.e. a potential repeat direct booking guest.
Loyalty is another means to help drive conversion, however, many loyalty systems are built on the expired models of airline systems, one that depletes once points are ‘cashed in’. A guest’s loyalty should never diminish, they should continuously be rewarded over time to encourage more and more repeat bookings.
Of course, earning the guest’s loyalty is much harder today. Not only do you have to convince the guest to come to your hotel, but you also have to win them back. Mastering communication during the complete customer journey will drive loyalty, and getting it right every time will allow hoteliers to achieve a higher retention rate.
Retaining Your Guests
Retention comes about by reaching out to guests throughout the customer journey, as we discussed above, pre-arrival, during their stay and finally, following check-out. Completing the guest journey, however, is where it often gets hazy for some hoteliers, you have their email address, they’ve left the building, so now what?
There is a huge opportunity at this point to use the information you have learned about the guest to help drive the conversation, brand trust, loyalty, and revenue. TripAdvisor is the largest travel website in the world, and with cumulative traffic (mobile and desktop) of over 1.5 million during October 2015 (US, UK, and Australia), it is the website that will drive the highest ROI through engagement. Guests not only go there to post reviews but also to research and book travel destinations. With this continuous traffic, it’s on the hotelier to drive more guests to post positive, more frequent reviews which in turn, will drive increased bookings, brand trust, and guest retention.
Of course, it’s not just through TripAdvisor that hoteliers can drive retention, using online survey tools, email marketing segmentation, and clever social media campaigns, hoteliers can really target and personalize the experience for the guest well after they’ve checked-out.
A few top tips that will help you achieve this are below, again we stress that using a technology platform for this will save on time, resources, efficiency and inform marketing efforts moving forward:
- Online survey: send an online survey to guests 2-3 days post check-out. Catching them at this stage following their trip will give them the time to reflect and share feedback at their best capacity. Again, ensure the survey is mobile-responsive, your guests should be able to complete their survey on the train home after work, or on the sofa after dinner.
- Respond to the survey feedback: for anything negative brought up following a survey, we recommend someone from the team responds. Ideally, a General Manager if possible. This acknowledgment and apology will go a long way with that guest, even if it’s not shared in the public forum. All other feedback is worthy of a response too, even if it’s just to acknowledge and thank them.
- Invite the guest to post to TripAdvisor: invite them to share their feedback on TripAdvisor, actively pushing them to the site is encouraging for a guest to see.
- Respond to their feedback on TripAdvisor: responding in a public forum is even more powerful for the guest to see, as well as for your TripAdvisor ranking. We encourage this as often as possible.
- Send targeted marketing campaigns: use segmentation to send targeted marketing campaigns. Use what has been learned throughout the customer journey to really tailor those messages.
- Carry out targeted social media campaigns: again, using what was learned during their stay, engage with your followers/guests online and drive the conversation around your brand through social platforms.
At Cendyn, we’ve seen time and time again that maximizing engagement during the whole customer journey drives conversion from the OTA space to direct bookings, increases retention rate for the hotel and ultimately drives revenue. Now that we’ve shown you how much can be achieved just through spending your marketing budget in the right place, it’s time to use these mechanisms to drive loyalty and retention at your hotel.