How hotels can embrace digital

Few sectors have managed to out-run the digital age. The hotel industry once looked a promising candidate, relying on timeless attributes such as location, reputation, and good old-fashioned service.

However, as recent years have proved, the change has been seismic. Whilst those attributes remain essential, the economics and operating model of the industry have been fundamentally transformed by the information age.

Look at almost any service industry which has ‘gone digital’, and you’ll notice a few recurring themes.

  • Easy and free customer access to huge amounts of comparison data
  • Abundant and efficiently curated customer opinion and commentary
  • Tenacious and far-sighted entrepreneurs, committed to upending the status quo

As the axes power have shifted to the opinion-brokers and intermediaries, the environment has become one of ‘evolve or perish’.  With new rules and an infinitely more complex game, what must hotels do to stay ahead in this new paradigm?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the words of Legendary American author John Maxwell:

“A leader sees further than others see, sees more than others see, and sees before others see.”

So let’s begin with that.

 

Seeing further

Leading hotels know the customer experience begins long before check-in. Moreover, they know that the foundations for the guests’ subsequent stays – their ‘lifetime value’ – are laid long before the first visit has even begun. Repeat business, and direct relationships with guests (with the added benefit of removing intermediaries from the value chain) can be vital to the economics of a hotel. Payment terms must be fair and clear, and payment methods must be reliable, unobtrusive, and highly secure, such as Sage Pay’s pay@reception.

Just as an airline aims to win the battle for the customers’ heart long before boarding, with limousine service, luxury lounges and priority check-in, the customer experience in hospitality must be flawless at every touchpoint. Any aspect of the guest experience likely to trigger an unfavourable on-line review must be cauterised before the guest can power up their laptop. In today’s world, everyone is a journalist and a critic. TripAdvisor wields enormous power and is trusted as an unimpeachable source of information. The market is groaning with competitors such as Booking.com, Expedia and Kayak. The message is clear – look after your guests and they will happily advertise for you.

To compile a ‘best hotel’ ranking system in a given area, category or price bracket, comparison sites carry out standardised calculations based on both volume and quality of reviews. Encouraging your guests to record their positive experiences will greatly enhance your ranking, driving more business. Of equal importance is ensuring the unfavourable reviews are responded to swiftly and unemotionally, with fact and objectivity. The customer is often right, but by no means always!

 

Seeing more

Whilst it may be true that a valuable cohort of older, more affluent, and less digitally savvy customers exist, rest assured that tomorrow (and, frankly, today) belongs to the digital native. To understand them it’s essential to think as they do, and to be aware of where in the cybersphere the key hubs of information, opinion and influence lie. Data curation in the digital environment is an interesting paradox in which pure objectivity, e.g. hard, empirical data, such as price, location or facilities – meets aggressive subjectivity, gamesmanship, and commercial influence e.g. the black art of ‘optimisation’ and paid search. Optimisation means the understanding of the algorithms, or ‘rules’, which govern how internet searches are processed. If you’re a dog-friendly hotel it’s worth ensuring your content strongly features terms that dog owners might search by. Paid search means bidding against other businesses to appear more prominently on search results.

However much you ‘tune’ your online activity for effectiveness, the main booking engines – booking.com, Expedia etc. – are now so comprehensively signposted and synonymous with value that it’s become extremely difficult to ignore them. Most hotels have decided that trading some margin for increased occupancy is worth it.

 

Seeing before

Be honest – did you see AirB&B coming?

The hospitality market is continually changing. Social media allows users to carefully edit and curate the shop window of their lives. In response, many forward-thinking hotels have created focal features and areas which encapsulate the image they wish to project. And the Instagram generation flock. Just as the value of global mobile advertising spend breezed past desktop ad spend last year, so voice search – the ultimate short-cut for the time-poor – is likely to dethrone mobile over the next few years. Optimising for both will be key challenges in the coming years.

Hotels expecting long term success cannot afford to stand still. The speed of technological obsolescence increases every year. It’s critical not only to remain abreast of the technologies that are shaping the industry as a whole, but to truly know your guests and how they arrived at your door. Not least as they may be starting to use a technology or website, or following an important influencer, you are yet to hear about. This is especially true of millennials, and Gen Z who pride themselves on being the first to discover about new tech and power-shifts online.

 

Signing off in style

Best-in-class payment systems are critical to successfully rounding off a guest’s stay, and ensuring the overall experience is remembered for all the right reasons. You probably can’t win their heart at this moment, but you can certainly lose it. Checking in and out, and settling payment, typically happen when the guest is preoccupied, time-pressured or mentally engaging with the day’s next challenge. So anything other than a swift, light-touch and frictionless process will be unwelcomed, and potentially negate all the hard work that has gone into creating a flawlessly executed guest experience.

Sage’s PCI-compliant pay@reception is designed specifically to support this critical stage in the customer journey. It has been created ‘customer-first’ and allows the hotel to fit the payment process to accommodate the guest’s behaviours, rather than the other way round. Oracle Payment Integration ensures seamless interaction between EPOS and the slick, wireless Sage terminals. So checkout can take place anywhere, and need no longer be a frustrating bottle-neck in the lobby as the guest anxiously contemplates the traffic on the way to the airport. It also takes dynamic currency conversions in its stride, works with the major acquirer of your choice, and reduces cumbersome and time-consuming data entry. Leaving the guest free to enjoy everything your hotel has to offer.

So next time you’re reviewing your customer journey, why not think about the following key areas:

  • Guest experience is far more than their time at the hotel
  • On-line reviews mean guests trust each other more than they trust brands
  • Booking engines are the industry’s Kingmakers
  • Keep your finger on the pulse of tech
  • Change isn’t scary, it’s an opportunity
  • Choose Sage’s pay@reception to make a great payment experience your guests’ parting memory