High-end hotels are the ideal proving ground for the ability of social and digital media to enhance luxury brand equity. Most up-market brands are scared stiff that the accessibility of digital media dilutes the exclusivity essential to luxury branding, but they are wrong.
Yes, exclusivity is an intrinsic luxury brand value, but so is personalization, and no traditional platform offers prestige brands the same potential as social and digital media when it comes to personalizing a customer‘s experience. With that in mind, here is a day in the life of a guest at a “digitized” luxury hotel, or rather, real-life examples of how luxury hotels should leverage social and new media to cultivate greater brand loyalty and equity.
7 AM PST: You hop on a flight from LA to New York. Before take-off, you tweet, “Headed to NYC. Looking 4ward to drink poolside @ThompsonLES.” When you land and turn your mobile on, you have a Twitter response from @ThompsonLES, which reads, “We look forward to having you. Shall we reserve you a lounge chair?” The number one cause of customer dissatisfaction in the luxury hotel business is a lack of immediate staff attention. This is why the primary gauge for determining a hotel‘s star rating is its staff-to-guest ratio, but with a simple tweet, the hotel has made that ratio moot, and provided you with immediate, personalized options for your desire. Not a bad start.
NOON EST: You deplane at JFK, grab your bags, and head out to the taxi cue. You tweet, “Ugh. Never gonna get a taxi. Line is miles long!” Because your hotel has already followed your Twitter account, and will continue to do so until you check out, they respond, “Shall we send a car for you?” You know that Dial7 is about the same price from JFK as a taxi, so you say, “Yes,” and within minutes, the hotel has ordered the town car and you‘re on your way long before the sods in the taxi line.
1 PM: Upon check-in, you are provided an iPad pre-loaded with the hotel‘s branded app that offers the concierge‘s suggestions for dining, entertainment and site-seeing, and provides quick-access to purchase theater tickets, transportation, room service and more. You take it up to your room where you find a handwritten note on your pillow. (Yes, there is still a place for traditional personalization in the digital hotel). The note reads, “Thank you for finding us tweet-worthy. Please use the enclosed for a free poolside drink. Your lounge chair has been reserved.”
2 PM: You‘re showered and feeling better, although you wish you didn‘t have to go that darn meeting. You use the iPad to send a quick message to the concierge, and when you step off the elevator, the taxi is already waiting for you.
4 PM: The meeting is over, thank god, and you‘re feeling the physical effects of a long morning of travel and two hours of corporate meetings. You catch happy hour poolside with you private lounger and free drink (though you buy one or two more), and you tweet, “Long day. Thinking about a massage @ThompsonLES spa tomorrow before I fly home.”
6 PM: When you arrive back in your room, you notice you have a message on your hotel iPad. You open it, and it takes you directly to the hotel‘s Facebook videos, and in particular, a video illustrating the hotel spa‘s offerings. Beneath the video is a “click to reserve spa treatment” button. You do. And before setting the iPad down, you use the hotel‘s custom app to select and reserve a table at a recommended restaurant. You shower again, change, head downstairs, and again, the taxi is waiting for you.
11 PM: You arrive back at your room after a long day. Your bed is turned down, and again, on your pillow, is a hand-written note. It reads, “We‘re sorry that you‘re leaving tomorrow, but if you like, please text your airline and confirmation number to 212-555-5555 and we‘ll have your boarding passes waiting when you check out.”
9 AM THE NEXT DAY: You‘re awake, refreshed, and satisfied by the room service breakfast you scheduled the previous night on your hotel iPad. You have your massage, then head downstairs where the hotel‘s staff hands you an envelope with your boarding passes. You reluctantly return the iPad to them, after a one-click check out process via their custom app, and head to the waiting taxi.
10:30 AM: As you board your flight you tweet, “Wonderful time in NYC at @ThompsonLES and glad to be headed home.” When you land at LAX, you notice you have a tweet. It‘s from the hotel! “We loved having you. When you visit again please use code XYZ for a complimentary upgrade. Thx, @ThompsonLES.”
You think to yourself, “I will definitely stay there again,” because through a cost-effective and streamlined process of integrating social and digital media into their customer experience, the hotel succeeded in providing you quick and personalized treatment.
You don‘t know that there was only one person in the hotel offices managing all the tweets and iPad requests from the current guests. You don‘t know that, operationally speaking, it‘s far cheaper for the hotel to provide customer service this way.
None of that matters to you. You feel special, and in the world of luxury service branding, “special” is the name of the game.
Contributed by Duke Greenhill, founder and CEO of Greenhill+Partners, a creative agency based in New York City.