A technology company that aims to improve the customer experience at hotels while increasing revenue for the property is setting out its expansion plans for the European market.
MediaConcepts produces customised websites and booking processes as well as a mobile concierge and focusses its attention on smaller hotel groups and single properties.
Founder and chief executive John Bowen is a self-confessed tech obsessive and hopes to use the latest technology to improve the customer experience in the hospitality sector and save hotels cash on operating costs.
“What we do differently is to not just sell the product,” said Bowen. “Our customers, generally, have been with us for a very long time. They stay with us because we understand the industry and focus on the customer journey.”
“It’s not just about one thing, like the website, it is how the customer is served the whole way through. If you look after the customer, the rest of the business looks after itself. If a business has got happy customers, it they come back more often and spend more money.”
MediaConcepts therefore looks at how hotels interact with their customers pre- and post-stay as well as while they are there.
“A lot of hotels have got disparate systems and what we try to do is bring them all together and give them a pragmatic solution from start to finish,” said Bowen. “One of the worst experiences a customer can have is going to hotels in the same group and filling in all the same forms again. That can be the same hotels in different cities or even be in the same building.
“But hotels are great followers. They want other people to do something first.”
He blamed OTAs for helping to create the problem, because they use temporary email addresses to keep customer data back from hotels in order to own that customer, ahead of the hotels, so they can bag the repeat custom. This, he said, makes it harder for hotels to tailor the experience to exactly what the customer wants.
MediaConcepts aims to help smaller hotel chains to compete with the advertising of OTAs. “They can’t afford the overhead,” said Bowen. “Some of the smaller hotel groups don’t even understand personalisation and are putting out the same messages to everyone. One of our new clients has a Malaysian property and has the same home page for Chinese and UK customers, including pictures and text. But we know that customers from those countries are typically looking for different things.”
MediaConcepts – born out of technology companies focussing on security and customer relationship management – is using artificial intelligence to combat this issue. Its systems can be used by hotels to show certain room types or make more out of features of the hotel that are relevant to the potential booker.
“Everybody in Europe knows that there’s a certain standard in the UK, so it’s taken for granted,” Bowen said. “But if you are talking to a Chinese traveller who hasn’t travelled abroad before you need to re-assure them. You need to serve them different things.”
MediaConcepts’ technology also helps build customer profiles in real time, based on search results. “If you are searching for a family holiday, then you’ve probably got a family,” said Bowen. “You have to give customers exactly what they are looking for.”
MediaConcepts’ star attraction is its mobile concierge app Priscilla, which lets guests view information and access hotel services through their smart phone.
Before the stay, it sends a welcome email reminding travellers of currency, tells them about the weather, which plugs the hotel takes and directions on how to get there.
It can even act as a room key for certain hotels, guests can check-in on the app, book a taxi, and get recommendations for local activities and places to eat.
Guests can use Priscilla to change lighting and heating in the room, access entertainment and research other hotel facilities such as room service.
It’s smart technology saves preferences too, so if you like your room a certain temperature it will be set to your requirements when you arrive. It can even pick out your favourite TV channels, based on previous viewings.
Hotels and hotel groups pay MediaConcepts a monthly fee to use the app, which can be white labelled to fit the brand.
Bowen has just moved back to the UK after spending many years over in Singapore, and his move mirrors the company’s push in the European market.
MediaConcepts is based in Singapore and Bowen says the firm would focus on gradually introducing itself to the market and while getting things right than try and push rapid growth that could risk problems.
“We don’t want to expand too fast,” he said. “We are all about the customer experience and it’s harder to deal with issues on a large scale.”
In Europe, ten hotel groups are signed up so far and Bowen says the first step is upgrading them from legacy systems. “There’s a lot of bad tech out there,” he added. “So it’s a big task.”
“One of the things I see so often in a lot of the existing systems is that they just do part of the job. But we need to deliver a great customer experience all round,” said Bowen. “If it’s not the best possible experience, it’s of no use to the customer.”
He noted that some hotels had tried adding iPads to rooms but that they were not being used because they didn’t solve a customer problem.
“It’s all about choice,” he continued. “Some people might want technology they can use to turn off the light switches – but we make sure that there are still physical light switches too. Then the consumers choose how they want to interact. It’s the same with chat bots. Some people still want to pick up the phone.”
And data collected can be useful to hotels too.
After the stay, when customers complete surveys and feedback forms – which can be done through Priscilla – the AI can work out which room you were in so can pin results down to certain rooms. Most problems, he said, boil down to a bad night’s sleep. “There’s a huge correlation between a bad night’s sleep and small things in the room; that might be a tap dripping or an LED light being on,” said Bowen. “These are problems that can easily be fixed – but hotel managers never stay in their rooms.”
After that, MediaConcepts can work out when guests are likely to stay again and can even be used to help housekeepers quickly return lost items – such as passports – to customers by sending a picture of the missing item. Bowen said that in cases where there is a language gap, this system is more effective than traditional lost and found.
Staff in some of its partner hotels have been using it to interact too – which was not an intended design feature. “Quite often people use our products for things we wouldn’t expect,” Bowen said.