The hospitality industry may be the industry most heavily affected by COVID-19. People have not traveled; they have hunkered down at home while holiday destinations and business travel hubs have remained empty.
Things are changing fast. People are ready to spend the money they’ve saved and are eager for a change of scenery. Try booking lodging in a desirable location this summer—it’s near impossible. The lodging industry is going from famine to feast and has both the challenge and an amazing opportunity to engage guests in a different way as they return.
First, the challenge: How can hotels create a great customer experience when there is less direct engagement with guests? Technology prior to COVID-19 already began to make it easier for guests to bypass the front desk upon arrival. Smartphone apps allow guests to choose their rooms, request upgrades, and even open their room door with digital keys.
The traditional initial interaction with guests at check in—the front desk—is being redefined. Post-pandemic travel will likely see more guests embrace this contactless check-in method.
The hospitality industry has always had a captive audience, as customers are literally guests. However, the industry has been traditionally mindful about intruding on the guest experience. While they have sought feedback about a trip or visit, it is often entertained by the guest after they return home and the passion about their trip has faded. They’re removed from their experience and it’s too late for the guest-establishment to change that experience. By taking a different approach, the hospitality industry can overcome the increasing challenge of not engaging with guests directly and still provide a higher level of service during their visit.
The truth is, even before the pandemic widened the physical separation between guests and hotel staff, most customer-experience programs failed to effectively respond to customer feedback at all, let alone in a timely fashion. According to an April 2021 commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Alchemer, Smoke and Mirrors: Why Customer Experience Programs Miss Their Mark, 76 percent of respondents said customer feedback is not being effectively addressed in their customer experience (CX) programs.
The study found, “Organizations fall victim to process inefficiencies, deprioritized initiatives, and a lack of automation that prevents them from acting on the customer data. An altered sense of reality further undermines progress. Many organizations think that, because they’re collecting customer feedback, their voice of the customer (VoC) program is proceeding as it should—even if they aren’t acting on this data.”
This reality can be easily altered. For instance, imagine this: After a guest arrives at the hotel and settles into their room, they receive a text with access to a guest experience guide (GEG) rather than a traditional survey. Here, the guest is asked a series of questions about their immediate needs: Did they remember all their toiletries? Is their room the way they like it? Do they need reservations for breakfast, lunch, or dinner? Do they need a meeting room? Do they want the concierge to investigate outings? Based on the answers to those questions, the lodging company drives processes and guest operations to make the guest’s current visit perfect. After the GEG is submitted, a housekeeper brings up a toothbrush and a hypoallergenic pillow. The dinner reservation is confirmed. The guest receives tickets to a concert or show. In short, providing feedback directly affects the immediate guest experience.
Because the lodging company has earned the guest’s engagement, they can also ask other questions that otherwise go unanswered. How was the reservation process? How was check-in? By providing value-add for the guest, travelers are more likely to answer a few extra questions that helps the company improve the broader experience. This concept could be extended beyond lodging to all aspects of hospitality.
With new technology and a customer population less willing to engage face to face, it’s harder than ever to provide a great customer experience. CX or VoC programs need to evolve to effectively respond to customer feedback. By focusing on ways to engage and respond to guests during their visit, the hospitality industry can overcome the challenge of a more distanced clientele. Post pandemic, organizations that embed their data collection and response into their daily processes will lead the way in driving greater customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Insights to Action
An April 2021 survey of more than 300 customer experience (CX) decision-makers conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Alchemer found that while most leaders believe their organizations are doing a good job of collecting and analyzing feedback, fewer than one in four are incorporating those insights into their decisions and operations. This means that customers are not seeing the results. Below are three key findings from the report.
Set up the program for success. Even though organizations are investing in customer experience programs, they are falling short when it comes to prioritizing feedback and improving their operations. CX must be fully embedded and built out across hotels to close significant gaps in performance.
Pay attention to these three areas. Businesses must hone in on three areas where CX programs typically fail: quality, embeddedness, and process. Most organizations believe that their CX programs are mature, but in reality, they are disconnected from key people, processes, and technology pillars. As a result, hotels can’t back up their perception of excellence with their actions; 96 percent of survey respondents reported their organizations experienced negative business impacts due to these challenges.
Integrate processes. Any feedback received must be analyzed, acted on, and integrated into a hotel’s operations and business processes. Without putting these findings into action, feedback is essentially useless.