Different guests like to communicate in a variety of way with hotels including traditionally – as in person and over the phone – as well as using other tools like website chat, Facebook Messenger, chatbots, WhatsApp, WeChat for the expanding Chinese market, and other channels. Ideally, hoteliers should be findable on all these channels or at least on the most relevant. The increasing number of digital channels available for communication with potential guests presents a challenge for hotels with limited marketing resources. So, it is essential to identify the best direct channels that will provide transparency and timely support to ensure guest satisfaction and an excellent reputation for the hotel.
Email is still the most relevant
Personalized emails – and not email newsletters – can be very useful to engage with guests and to develop loyalty.
Collecting customer data that reveals their preferences (what type of room, special requests during their stay, how many children, whether they booked a room for a private or business event) can help personalize the experience to stimulate a subsequent booking.
For example, if a couple stayed with you during a holiday, let’s say Valentine’s Day, you can send them an email in early January offering an exclusive deal with room upgrades and appealing perks to determine the customers to celebrate again in your hotel. This is likely to result in direct bookings, but also you will remind the guests about your brand. Even if they don’t book, they will remember your message and keep you in mind for other trips.
You cannot send this type of emails to all the guests in your database: some may not like Valentine’s Day, some may be single, recently divorced, and so on. Only target the guests who responded to your Valentine’s offer in the previous year. If you plan to send a generic email newsletter to all your subscribers, do not include the ones you approached with a personalized email or your message will be perceived as spam.
Emails can also be used by guests to request specific information from your hotel before booking. This type of emails is even more important because the customer is the initiator. A prompt, transparent reply is essential for customer satisfaction.
In its Guest-Hotel Communication Research whitepaper, TrustYou revealed that the majority of guests (80%) expect hotels to initiate contact and reach out via email, and email is still the preferred channel of communication for over 75% of the guests, while websites follow at 27%, text messages with 25%.
Website live chat
You don’t see too many hotel websites with live chat, despite statistics that show how it could have substantial benefits for ROI and profits. The same whitepaper by TrustYou mentioned above states that two in three hotel guests prefer to communicate in writing. Sites using TrustYou’s Messaging feature already can implement a live chat window that will retain the visitors looking for information about the hotel on the site, allowing them a direct contact for answers to their questions. Because hyper-personalization is a valuable trend, TrustYou implemented several capabilities and features, as well as personalized templates, which are called “saved replies,” to help hoteliers manage live chats with ease.
Live chat is a central direct communication channel where the contact can be initiated by the customer and even in situations when the live chat displays an automatic welcome message, there will be no interaction without the willing participation of the guest.
Regency House Hotel London uses live chat powered by LiveZilla, one of several providers of live chat services on the market
MarTech found that 51% of customers are more likely to purchase when they can use live chat on a website, while 29% of them may make a purchase on a site with the option of live chat even if they don’t use the feature. According to the same company, live chat increases customer retention, boosts conversions, and increases brand reputation – as it appears that live chat makes a website more trustworthy for users. Also, most people who search for accommodation are likely to need fast responses to their questions, and live chat is usually quick (preferably real-time).
The main problem with live chat solutions is the cost associated with human operations. Lodging Interactive found that “live chat coverage 7-days a week requires the hiring of approximately 8-10 agents to cover operational shifts and agent time off/vacations.” Add to these the costs of hiring the agents and the solution is suddenly not an ideal endeavor for hotels that lack the manpower and resources to implement it. But the chatbot alternative can be considered.
Chatbots are shaping the trend for new communication channels
Chatbots are becoming more and more relevant for the hospitality industry, and they are used by many companies. Aloft Hotels offers ChatBotlr, which is only available via text, but which gives hotel guests the opportunity to make basic service requests. This chatbot is “the next evolution of Botlr,” a robot butler introduced by Marriott International in 2014. Besides responding to service requests, ChatBotlr can also provide information about the hotels, play the #AloftLive playlist, and contact the front desk. Marriott International has Marriott Rewards chatbots on Facebook Messenger and Slack and plans to offer them on WeChat and Google Assistant too.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas has Rose, a chatbot with a playful personality that acts as a concierge delivering funny answers to guest questions to help them navigate the massive resort with ease. Like ChatBotlr, Rose is only available via text. Guests of the resort receive Rose’s phone number and her business card upon check-in. The card is indicative of Rose’s sense of humor: "Know my secrets. Text me. I am the answer to the question that you never asked."
Mercure Hotels has a Facebook Messenger bot called Mercure Bot. It can be found when you search into Facebook Messenger for “Mercure Bot.” Its purpose is to be a concierge that helps users find local attractions and points of interest in destinations with Mercure Hotels. To function, the bot needs location permission. It is available to all guests of Mercure Hotels, but also to residents and people in transit.
There are many other examples of bots used to enhance communication with guests. There is still a debate whether hotels are well served by implementing a chatbot communication channel, but a survey on 1000 UK smartphone users aged 18-65 revealed a surprising 63% are okay with talking to artificial entities, even entrusting them with sensitive information.
Chatbots offer businesses the advantage of 24/7 availability, which, for hotels is often a required customer service need. When implemented correctly, they can enhance the guest experience and reduce human interaction for basic questions. But they evolve as fast as AI, and they will likely be able to answer in-depth questions soon.
Facebook Messenger is an app developed by Facebook in 2008 and initially named Facebook Chat. Its purpose is self-explanatory: it enables Facebook users to connect with each other and with pages without needing to be active on the main Facebook app. Messenger supports voice and video calls, photo and video sharing, file sharing, and interaction with chatbots. As of April 2017, the app registered 1.2 billion users. The numbers are significantly higher today.
Messenger can also be used by people who do not have Facebook accounts. All a client needs to use the app is a phone number and a smartphone. Businesses can also use Messenger to take advantage of multi-device messaging across mobile devices, the web, and tablets and since the app is so popular, you can expect that many of your potential guests are already using it, as well as competitor hotels.
WhatsApp is a powerful communications channel
WhatsApp is another messaging tool owned by Facebook. The application allows voice and video calls, as well as texting, sending images and files. Facebook announced that WhatsApp was adopted by over 1.5 billion users and sees 60 billion messages sent per day.
With such usage, it’s no wonder that WhatsApp Business launched in January 2018. The features are important to business owners and still not widely known. Businesses can now create business profiles with company description, postal address, email, and phone contact. They can also have access to a variety of smart messaging tools, including quick replies to FAQ, greeting messages that introduce customers to the specific of the business, and away messages. Last, but not least, WhatsApp Business has messaging statistics, which are currently simple metrics like the number of messages read to see what's working. Also, businesses can send and receive messages with WhatsApp Business on their desktop.
Although WhatsApp Business was introduced in January, hotels have been using the app to communicate with hotels for a while now. For example, Hotel PR Residency encourages guests to get in touch with the front desk through WhatsApp during their stay to ask for room service, or to check-in. And there are many other ways to include WhatsApp as a communication channel in your marketing strategy.
WeChat is potent and can reach the untapped Chinese tourist market
WeChat is a “super app:” a complex multi-purpose messaging and social media app, it is famous for its Mini Programs feature, which allows developers to create a variety of functions and programs under the same roof. Today, WeChat is used for messaging, for purchases, for banking, for trip planning, and for playing. There’s also a WeChat Business app, which is highly successful in China and can be used for B2C or B2B marketing. It is already used by hotels in China. An example from Rosewood Beijing shows you just how you can take advantage of this über-popular platform to attract Chinese guests:
In the USA, hotels like Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel and the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel began accepting WeChat payments from Chinese travelers in December 2017. Germany-based Maritim Hotels announced that it will provide WeChat Mini Program services for Chinese travelers at ITB Berlin. These are the early adopters and the ones that will reap the first profits.
However, creating and managing a WeChat Business account for your hotel, although in theory free, requires some effort and knowledge. You need to get a Chinese Business License, or to have a local business partner to be accepted into the network. This infographic from Grata shows you why not many hotels are early adopters:
These are just some of the most important and most used communication channels for direct interactions with guests. There are many other ways to get in touch with your followers, like via direct messaging on Twitter, on Snapchat, Instagram, other platforms, and even Google listings now let users send messages to hotels directly from the search results – and if you use TrustYou Messaging, this feature is easy to implement. Whatever you choose, keep the conversation courteous, informative, and honest.