I recently experienced my “first” stay at a Boston hotel. A frequent business traveler prior to the pandemic, I hadn’t stayed in one for the last year and a half. I was excited: This was a moment — an event, even!
By Steve Peltzman, chief business technology cfficer and head of FeedbackNow, Forrester
While the staff was excellent and check-in was quick and easy, I soon noticed small pandemic-induced changes that impacted my own guest experience. These included a breakfast restaurant that was shut down in favor of an on-site Starbucks, no room service, and the fact that during my three-day stay, my room wouldn’t be cleaned unless I requested it.
I admit that none of these unexpected changes were significant enough to impact my overall experience. Nevertheless, these unexpected changes affected my customer experience. To me, it felt like a missed opportunity on the part of the hotel to wow me and convince me to return as a customer. Staying at a hotel was an event I planned to tell people about, but unfortunately, these subpar experiences were the main topic of my story.
According to Forrester’s 2022 predictions, consumers will lean on the brands that offer a sense of relief and immediate comfort. In 2022, consumers will turn to uplifting, pleasing products and experiences that offer a reprieve from the ongoing uncertainty. To live up to and exceed customer expectations, brands will need to step up!
Surveys alone no longer cut it
Moving forward, the singular, go-to customer experience (CX) tool of the past — the survey — is no longer adequate to build hotels’ customer experience strategies or run their daily operations. Surveys can provide deep context from the questions asked but can fall short in some areas, especially in this uncertain climate.
For example, unless the guest expects to return to the hotel on a regular basis, there’s really no self-serving reason for the customer to respond to a survey after they’ve left and their experience is over. Secondly, surveys rarely provide an insight into the in-moment experience, which is critical for brands to understand and address if they want to engender customer loyalty. Finally, surveys are after-the-fact assessments of sentiment; they help you correct issues and seize opportunities to delight tomorrow’s guests, not today’s. Hotels can’t afford to only concentrate on tomorrow’s guest experience; they must delight guests who haven’t checked out yet — literally or figuratively.
Per Forrester, more than 60% of customer experience professionals say their businesses lack closed-loop processes for CX feedback — an important lever to build customer goodwill and engender long-term brand loyalty. This is why hotels need to take a now approach: Gather low-friction, high-volume feedback at the time and place of experience and operationalize that feedback so it can be acted on in the moment.
For example, collecting a simple, quick “how was your check-in experience?” piece of feedback (click green for positive, yellow for just OK, red for negative) at the front desk won’t provide the deep context of a survey, but it will be useful in ways that surveys never could be. Hotels can look back at this real-time data and discover (and optimize for) previously hidden patterns and trends, correlating with factors such as weather, staffing levels, and occupancy levels. Additionally, evaluations of new policies (e.g., stopping daily room cleaning) or new choices (e.g., Starbucks only versus reopening a breakfast restaurant) can be performed using simple A/B sentiment testing.
Let’s take the hotel I mentioned earlier, which shut down its breakfast restaurant in favor of an in-house Starbucks. If they had collected high-volume feedback around the question of “how was your breakfast experience today?” near the restaurant before it was shut down and collected the same at the Starbucks afterwards, the hotel could have easily compared the results and quickly determined the enormity of the situation.
The Predictive Customer
Thinking even more real-time, hotels can use a constant stream of guest feedback to have alerts sent when satisfaction levels suddenly plummet, allowing them to take action in that moment. This is what we call real-time customer experience operations — the deliberate deployment of systems and processes to sense, analyze, and improve on customer experience in the moment, as conditions change.
Yet hotels should be aware that there is another more advanced era coming: predictive customer experience operations. Predictive operations capitalize on technology, data science, and machine learning to understand the factors and actions that drive great experiences and great revenue outcomes. Mastering these dynamics allows organizations to be in the driver’s seat as they predict what will happen and can prevent a bad situation from ever happening in the first place. For example, using a predictive analytics solution, a hotel can correlate patterns and predict behaviors such as guests’ tolerances for slow check-ins plummeting 30 minutes after it begins raining. A hotel can then use this data to ensure that extra help comes to the front desk 20 minutes after it begins to rain.
The hotel industry used to be able to sit back and let other more technologically savvy industries such as e-commerce, video streaming, and advertising lead the way. Travelers’ newfound expectations and the economic pressures due to the pandemic are now forcing hotels to embrace technology sooner to deliver better customer experiences. Travel regulations, events, and expectations are evolving faster than the survey data cycle, so real-time and predictive customer experience operations will be hotels’ only choice to meet this new dynamic environment going forward.