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Hands On

The Hospitality Industry Uses Technology to Make Customers Feel at Home

Every brand is trying to come up with new ways to retain customers and improve their experience, but these five hospitality companies really stepped it up

Lauren Dowdle
September 05 2017

Every brand is trying to come up with new ways to retain customers and improve their experience, and hospitality brands are no different.

The wide-reaching hospitality industry covers everything from lodging and food/beverage to areas of the tourism industry. It’s one of the fastest-growing industries, with a global industry revenue of $550 billion in 2016.

As the younger generation grows and becomes the key audience —millennials already make up a third of hotel guests — you’re going to see the hospitality industry try to cater to them with digital-savvy techniques.

You’ve probably already noticed this trend, like how you can check in/out via your mobile device, use your phone as a room key (assuming it hasn’t died from a day of travel) or plan a trip using travel chatbots. Businesses across the hospitality industry are working on ways to retain their customers with a variety of technologies.

But to make our cutting-edge list, these five companies really stepped it up to keep customers coming back again and again.

Put Analytics to Work

There’s no such thing as too much customer data. That information is going to help you personalize and improve their experience — and also distinguish the optimum time to engage with them.

One boutique hotel chain, Denihan Hospitality, combines analytics from their customer and transactional data with online customer feedback from review sites. That gives them a wealth of information from both internal and external sources about customer’s preferences, how the chain can improve and which factors will lead to future conversions.

Red Roof Inn took the idea of analyzing data to a new level that’s resulted in a 10-percent year-over-year growth for the company. They put together a data-based strategy to reach their customers looking for a place to stay after they realized that about 3 percent of flights are cancelled every day.

They pull weather information, flight plans and cancellation data to target mobile users in the affected areas. The company’s approach shows customers they understand their needs and are there to help. Knowing the right time to reach out to clients can make all the difference.

Remember: Collecting data is great, but it’s only useful with retention if you do something with it.

Get ‘Em While They’re Hot

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could read your customers’ minds and reach out to them at just the right time? You can, and you don’t even need to be psychic.

One way the hospitality industry is engaging customers in real time is by adding beacons. These sensors use Bluetooth technology that can share information or notifications with mobile devices within a specific proximity.

Marriott International places beacons throughout their restaurants, spas, lobby and other spaces. They then use them to send customers discounts or promotional messages that relate to where they are in the building.

For example, a customer near one of the hotel’s restaurants might get a pop up that happy hour is from 5 to 7 p.m., while some nearing the spa might receive a message that massages are 15 percent off.

Not only do the beacons improve the customer’s experience, they also help the company collect data on their behaviors — like where they spend the most time and which offers are popular. That will help you figure out what’s important to them so you can focus your retention efforts there.

This Bluetooth technology can also allow customers to request services, view a map of the property, contact the hotel or learn more about what’s available on the property.

Give Customers Loyalty Options

We’ve all seen hotel, airline and travel loyalty programs where you use them a certain number of times, and you get points for a free stay, flight or trip. That’s all well and good, but to make our cutting-edge list, companies should do more than provide internal incentives.

Take Choice Hotels for examples. They give their customers a faster way to earn rewards if they stay during weekdays — and not just rewards to stay at their hotels. Customers can choose from Choice Privileges Points, airline miles, fuel rewards, Amazon.com credits, digital gift cards and even a coffee card.

They give customers options to pick what type of reward is best for them, instead of deciding for them. That not only helps build customer loyalty, but it also personalizes the customer’s experience — both important parts of retention.

Personalize Customer Engagement

Providing a great customer experience is important for the entire hospitality industry, but it’s the main selling point for cruise lines. So to improve the overall experience and also predict what their guests want, Carnival is rolling out a new platform in late 2017.

This innovative platform will include the wearable Ocean Medallion, an Internet of Things (IoT) network and digital experience portal called the Ocean Compass. The Ocean Medallion saves information like the guest’s food/drink preferences, preferred activities and communicates with readers around the ship. This item also unlocks their room and can be used to make payments, similar to what Disney offers with their MagicBand.

The Ocean Compass is a guide guests can access on touchscreens around the ship and on their mobile devices. Think of it as a personal concierge service where they can make reservations, view activities and get suggestions.

All of these digital features help improve the customer’s experience — great for retention — but they also give the cruise line data on their guests’ favorite activities.

Put Your Service to the Test

The hospitality industry is all about treating customers like they’re your guest. (Go ahead, I’ll wait as you belt out the famous Disney tune, because I know you only live to serve.)

Even with all of the new technology options, it still comes down to your team’s personal touch — whether it’s at a hotel, on a plane or in a restaurant.

In the wise words of Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

And if you’re able to make your customers feel welcome, special, comfortable and that you’re loyal to them, you’ve got a winning recipe for retention.

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Lauren Dowdle

Lauren Dowdle is an award-winning writer and magazine editor based in Nashville, Tenn. Her nearly decade-long writing career has covered everything from landscaping to marketing — plus being interviewed by Jay Leno and winning a backhoe-operating contest. When she’s not behind the keyboard, you’ll find her spoiling her four furry babies and exploring the city with her husband.

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