The success of a hotel is determined by happy and loyal guests. While traditionally, hotels have relied on personal service to ensure guest satisfaction, the pandemic has resulted in hoteliers realizing the need for technological innovation and advancement to set the standards of service. The pandemic has also led to a massive shift in the way hotels communicate with guests and keep them engaged, as well as how employees connect with one another. All of this has led to new methods of communication – both externally and internally.
Major hotel brands and independent operators are establishing their own communication systems, which allow them to provide personalized experiences for guests and new tools for and among employees.
At Crescent Hotels & Resorts, the tools vary as per the properties in their management portfolio. Ranging from mobile apps, e-mail, Wi-Fi communications and text messaging tools, the Fairfax, Virginia-based hotel management company utilizes platforms like Medallia Zingle and Kipsu which provide their customers with personalized text engagement in real-time. These platforms also enable the different teams to assist or enhance guests’ stays.
“Crescent Hotels & Resorts had implemented many guest-chatting tools before the pandemic, as we understood the way our customers wanted to communicate was changing and we needed to ensure we kept the lines of communication open,” said Nancy Johns, senior vice president, Integrated Marketing & Digital Solutions, Crescent Hotels & Resorts. “It’s a rare day when someone doesn’t have a phone with them. So, finding ways to connect that are easiest on the guest are essential to our success.”
In February, Hyatt Hotels Corp. announced it had deployed Medallia Zingle’s intelligent messaging technology across its global portfolio to offer a two-way hotel chat at more than 1,000 properties in 68 countries, allowing employees to attend to guest needs and requests almost immediately.
Through the two-way chat system, Hyatt can seamlessly address any pre-arrival questions, on-site assistance during a stay or feedback after check-out via SMS text, in-app or popular social messaging apps like WhatsApp.
The 79-room Bellmoor Inn & Spa at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, uses a texting platform called Akia, specifically because the software addresses a real-time need for instant guest communication.
When the pandemic exponentially increased the need for instant communication, the property and Akia developers then launched Bellmoor’s first ever contactless check-in facility. The team at Bellmoor now uses this feature daily, which enables their guests to pre-register and pay for their room from their phones even before arriving on property.
At Charlestowne Hotels, guests are sent text messages, including pre-registration details in the form of a URL that leads to a web form where guests can complete their online check-in, request changes, communicate any needs or add packages. The Charleston, South Carolina-based hotel management company uses this as an opportunity to add more services or generate ancillary revenue opportunities. In-stay technology is also conducted via SMS.
“The in-stay SMS platform connects to an operational platform that allows our front desk team to know where guests are and have real-time, two-way communication,” explained Max Spangler, Director of Technology, Charlestowne Hotels. “We favor SMS as it has a much higher open rate than email. Ultimately, email as a communication medium does not meet the requirements to accomplish these goals. So, SMS technology was the logical, best fit to meet our requirements.”
Charlestowne takes an omnichannel approach to communicating with guests in their preferred channel, whether through WhatsApp, Messenger or SMS. Being channel agnostic helps them to optimize service delivery and convenience for guests, Spangler says.
Enabling staff communication
These platforms also enable communication among various staff departments, deemed a critical component to efficiently streamline workflow.
Spangler says Charlestowne’s communication system works out as a simpler, cost-effective solution compared to traditional radios. While it does not eliminate the need for radios entirely, and in some cases (like valet) where it is preferred, it allows them to communicate and coordinate across properties more quickly and efficiently.
Crescent’s guest chatting tools also have been integral to their success, according to Johns. It allows them to understand special requests or needs of their guests, track those guest requests through to completion, and close the loop by following up with the guests to make sure their needs have been met or exceeded.
Akia, used by Bellmoor, can develop a team member chat feature to instantly message each other. The property uses the software for daily communication between the spa, front desk and maintenance.
There is also the opportunity to leverage natural language chatbots to handle common or simple requests. If used correctly, these communication tools can help address guests’ needs amid the ongoing labor shortage.
“Traditionally, guests would call the hotel front desk, which limits the opportunity for front desk agents to multitask,” Spangler added. “The systems we use allow a single employee to manage multiple communication threads at once.”
Although initial adoption of new technology can prove to be challenging, once the tools are in place and both guests and staff find that it makes their stay better, the adoption rate quickly increases.
Staff training and engagement are also significant factors. The success of the tools depends on how easily the staff can navigate and maximize the platforms and how well trained the staff is even when communicating virtually becomes very important.
At Bellmoor, the biggest challenge was to teach the staff and guests the importance of using the software on a daily basis as a method of communication. Gone are the “normal” days of picking up the phone and calling a number, leaving a voicemail and waiting for an answer.
“With this texting platform, communication is instant, we have a written record of the communication, and it’s incredibly simple for the guests to use,” said Benjamin Gray, general manager, Bellmoor Inn & Spa.
The success of the platforms is measured in several ways — the total number of conversations created, total number of automated messages sent, guest response by hour, average initial response time to message and usage over time of day.
Most of the communication tools used by Crescent have marketing tools included that help properties increase revenue opportunities, Johns adds.
“We also analyze messaging for conversational key words or phrases,” said Spangler. “This insight allows us to drill deeper into conversation patterns to uncover operational opportunities. Recently at a property, we noticed a 30% increase in conversations surrounding water temperature at a property, which allowed us to further isolate and diagnose a maintenance issue that was affecting a specific selection of rooms in the hotel.”
The investment in guest communication technology is minimal, compared to the rewards, hoteliers say. Adding that Charlestowne’s communication tools are not particularly expensive, Spangler said, “Usually, it is a per key fee at a hotel. We expect between US$3-4 per key per month for a platform in the communication category, and these are usually less expensive than other platforms such as PMS and POS.”
At the end of the day, the biggest lesson is to understand the guests’ communication preferences, which will continue to change, and adapt to these changes.
“The biggest lesson was that we should have adopted these communication tools years ago,” Gray said. “The way it streamlines our operations builds revenue and enhances guest experience is second to none.”