There’s no weariness quite like the fatigue and impatience that sets in at the end of a long day of travel. You’ve made it through security gauntlets, cramped seats, noisy kids, and traffic to arrive at your destination. What’s next, a long line of your fellow crabby travelers, or a quick trip straight to your comfy room and minibar? As an hotelier, you know which of these customer experiences translates into greater loyalty, advocacy, and revenue.
When it comes to business and personal travel, customer expectations have always been high; customers increasingly expect more convenience, personalization, and flexibility from hospitality brands. Online booking options, mobile technology, and social media reviews have made the market intensely competitive. Customer loyalty is a key driver for revenue growth and competitive advantage. In fact, a recent Forrester study commissioned by Sabre Hospitality found that a 1-point score increase on their Customer Experience Index provides $6.52 in annual incremental revenue per customer—a significant cumulative impact, especially for larger brands.
The same study found that two-thirds of leisure travelers and more than half of business travelers claim they are not loyal to any hotel brand. The study’s findings point to intelligent applications of technology and data as primary avenues for improving customer experience and loyalty, with an emphasis on integrated enterprise solutions. Feel-good experiences engender loyalty more surely than cost or convenience, and loyalty translates directly to good news for the bottom line. How can we begin to incorporate technology that leaves customers raving about their experience and returning for more the next time they travel?
One of the big pain points for customers—the dreaded check-in process—presents a huge opportunity for hotels that extends well past what happens at the front desk. Solutions for scanning and verifying IDs and passports, including mobile scanning and self-service kiosks, are transforming the check-in process and providing a key link between customers and data-driven, integrated hospitality platforms. With mobile scanning, check-in can begin anywhere (even remotely) and be completed in less time with fewer errors. Advanced scanning solutions quickly and accurately read all data off drivers’ licenses, passports, and other official identity cards, automatically populate data records and store a digital replica of the ID for regulatory and security purposes.
Once a guest’s ID data has been scanned into records, it can then be cross-checked with other databases (DMV, credit bureaus, etc.) to verify the customer’s identity. The data can also be connected with the hotel’s enterprise systems for security, billing, and customer service management, as well as personalization and loyalty programs. The ability to quickly and accurately gather this data at the point of entry eases and enriches all the subsequent processes and interactions that rely on such data. These days, customers expect that you have their information and will use it to provide them with a more polished and personal experience. The information scanned at check-in can also be used for seamless sign-up to loyalty programs. Hotels and casinos have found that insights and information gleaned from this data allow them to tailor rewards to guests’ preferences and analyze guest spending patterns in response to various promotions.
A recent Software Advice study of hotel guest preferences found that 60 percent of respondents would be more likely to choose a hotel that allows check-in and keyless entry via smartphone, and 37 percent are more likely to choose a hotel with lobby technology such as self-service kiosks. This follows the general preference of Millennials for automated customer service options. It’s also reassuringly good news for hotels striving to deliver better customer service while controlling staffing costs. Front desk agents can spend more time on personal greetings, solving exceptions, and addressing complaints when they are freed from manual data entry tasks. A serene, smoothly run lobby makes for a more welcoming space than one crammed with guests waiting to check-in.
ID scanning solutions are a key facilitator for an industry that expects to see drastic increases in foreign visitors over the next few years. The U.S. Department of Commerce forecast in 2012 that the number of visitors from China would increase 274 percent by 2016 with visits from Brazil up 135 percent and from Russia up 131 percent. According to the U.S. Travel Association, international travelers face two major challenges: Visa issues and unwelcoming arrival experiences. There may not be much a hotel can do about the visa or customs issues, but improving arrival experiences is essential to capturing the loyalty of both overseas and domestic travelers. Advanced scanning solutions are able to “read” passports from foreign countries better than desk agents, eliminating not only errors and frustration caused by language barriers. On the other hand, any security concerns or regulations prompted by an influx of foreign travelers can be better addressed if their identities have been accurately scanned, verified through cross-references with official databases, and digitally recorded.
Looking ahead, it’s clear that hotels and the services they offer will be increasingly customer-centric. To deliver personalized experiences and technology-based amenities at competitive rates, they will need to rely on integrated systems driven by customer data. It all starts with a quick, reliable ID scan and a friendly smile.
About the Author
Yossi Zekri is president and CEO of Acuant, a provider of identity solutions. Acuant’s award-winning and patented credential management solutions automate the intake, processing, and verification of unstructured data from ID documents.