Guest Post: The role of customer experience in hospitality

Guest Post: The role of customer experience in hospitality

Base every decision on the impact for guests,  says John Owen, hospitality and cruise sales manager EMEAI at Mitel 

Fresh out of the hottest European summer on record, 2018 is proving to be a boom year for tourism in the region. According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, Europe experienced an 8% increase in international tourist arrivals in 2017 and by the end of this year, we can expect even further growth. How can businesses in the hospitality sector maximise on the growing interest in Europe as a holiday destination?

It goes without saying that exceptional customer service is crucial in the hospitality sector. Whether we’re dining out, staying over, or seeking entertainment, we expect to be well-looked after at home and on holiday. One bad restaurant experience, for example, is enough to deter us from ever returning.

What’s more, with the popularity of reviews websites, such as TripAdvisor and social sites, customers can easily spread a negative opinion far and wide. But on the flip side, a friendly welcome and a clear indication that the restaurant cares about and understands our individual needs will leave us describing the experience favourably to our friends and on forums, or even returning ourselves for another visit.

To better understand consumer behaviour, and what’s driving it in the hospitality sector, Mitel recently undertook a global study of consumers. The results shed light on some interesting customer priorities, which I believe can help businesses in this space truly maximise the opportunities created by increased visitor numbers.

What are customers saying?

Nearly a quarter (24%) of consumers believe that organisations in the hospitality sector do not recognise that customers make choices based first and foremost on the experiences they provide. It may come as a surprise to hear that the product or services on offer becomes a secondary priority to customers. Meanwhile, one in five believe that brands in the hospitality industry are completely unaware of the importance of customer service altogether.

According to those asked, simplicity and speed is most important for a great customer experience in the hospitality industry. This is followed by availability of customer service – customers want to know that they aren’t going to be kept waiting if they have a question or concern.

However, as tourist numbers reach record levels, these customer expectations pose an issue for overwhelmed hospitality providers. When the volume of customers is potentially extremely high, speed and availability of service can both suffer. This is particularly worrying because, when it comes to customer service, there’s no room for a drop in standards – it only takes one bad experience to ruin a reputation with a customer.

Meanwhile, hospitality customers who we spoke to said that good customer experience is known to improve their loyalty, customer satisfaction and ultimately their willingness to recommend the brand. Word of mouth recommendations are crucial in this industry, as are online reviews. For example, according to TripAdvisor, 83% of users will “usually” or “always” reference reviews before deciding to book a hotel and a one-star increase in online reviews can justify a hotel in raising their average daily rate (ADR) by more than 10%, with no fall off in occupancy levels!

How can hospitality businesses service increased demand, while maintaining the supreme level of service that will ensure repeat custom and strong peer recommendations from customers?

The value of technology

Growing use of cloud communications and applications, combined with emerging technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots, and natural language processing (NLP), are creating new ways for companies to nurture and build customer relationships more efficiently.

Advancements in technology can be simple yet can have a significant impact on customer experience. Imagine arriving at your hotel, checking-in remotely and downloading your room key onto your smartphone. You get to your room and pair your mobile device to the room phone. You’re then able to use your mobile to control the TV, sound system and blinds. Even communication with the front desk can all be managed through the app. Upon checking-out again everything is completed through the app, allowing you to pay your bill and book a taxi to your next destination.

Mitel’s Connected Guests suite of applications and services is a purpose-built hospitality solution available in the cloud or on-site that enables hotels to optimise the guest experience, allowing staff to more efficiently manage workflow and maintenance schedules; improve efficiencies at the front-desk and offer every guest a personal service tailored to their exact requirements.

The good news is that customers are extremely open to engaging with technology as a means to improve customer experience. Over half (51%) of global consumers believe that machine-to-people interactions, whereby customers deal with technology such as a chatbot, will positively transform customer experience. Today, consumers are open to the idea that exceptional customer service isn’t solely determined by face-to-face or voice-to-voice exchanges; it’s a omnichannel and, frequently, machine-enhanced process that ties together voice, video, social media and online channels to deliver a seamless and highly-personalised experience.

Maximising the long hot summer

Every decision hospitality providers make, whether it’s a customer-facing change, such as a new service, or a back-end change such as new technology integration, should be based upon a consideration of: “will this have a positive impact on the experience for my guests?”

The current tourism influx to Europe brings huge opportunities to those in the hospitality sector – the winners will be those who implement technology to provide a connected and greater customer experience, while improving efficiencies for stretched employees.

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