Getting to the Core of It: What Plate Tectonics and Guest Engagement Have to Do With Each Other | By David Millili
The hotel industry has talked ad nauseam about what guest engagement means, how it looks, what the methods should be. We know that it's not the one-way communication with a guest that the hotel industry long embraced, but, instead, a dialogue that creates emotional involvement and generates trust. A mechanism for earning a guest's loyalty via a combination of experience, service, and relationship. And this loyalty is more important than ever. According to Gartner, existing customers will account for 80% of future revenue. Consider also that a simple 5% increase in customer retention can increase a company's profitability by 75% (Bain & Co). Or that on average loyal customers are worth 10x more than their first purchase (Martech). Every effort that goes into guest engagement and loyalty results in future revenue.
However, for all the strategizing, there's been much less focus on what's at the core of guest engagement. The focus has been on outcome, and what it looks like when or after it's executed, as well as on the tools you can use to boost engagement. But successful guest engagement is about more. We need to step back even further and talk about the core. In other words, what fundamental principles drive successful guest engagement. To achieve sustained loyalty, strategies and tools must be based on core principles.
Think of it like this planet we occupy. We don't often think about the blazing hot core of the Earth, but it's essential. The movement of metals in the core creates not only our magnetic field but also plate tectonics. The next layer, the Mantle, is the thermal and mechanical force behind plate tectonics—the engine, so to speak, or the tools. This means that what's happening at the center of the earth and in-between, of course, has massive ramifications for the lives we live out here on the crust. We must build up in layers; focus on the core, first, rather than the outcome to achieve the desired results. Core principles should guide tools, which in turn, generate guest engagement, which leads to long-term loyalty.
So what are the core principles we must understand in order to employ the right strategies and tools toward successful guest engagement?
1). Cohesive guest-centric experience
Loyalty is the result of a fundamentally guest-centric operation. The way this plays out in terms of personal guest service, frequently dictated by category, receives tremendous attention; however, what of the digital experience? The guest-centric experience begins with a true digital centralized hub. This is not so much about the tools that you use to reach guests, but about the core system where they integrate so that the guest has a seamless, consistent experience. A guest-centric digital execution looks like a system where various tools from outside providers integrate into a centralized hub with point solutions powering back-end capabilities. For instance, Runtriz offers the guest-facing platform that supports many point solutions from outside providers, such as mobile keys.
2). Proactive communication
The hospitality industry focuses narrowly on personalized guest communication—designing messages around everything we know about the guest. Of course this is essential to guest engagement; however, proactive guest communication is equally important. Hotels must do more than merely understand who the guest is and what he likes. In addition, properties must deliver the right message at the right time. So often marketers find themselves realizing there's a need time and pushing out offers in a reactive way, scrambling to fill the gaps. Proactive communication requires the delivery of a relevant message that matters (personalized to the guest, that is) during an appropriate window of time. Hotels must necessarily leverage all digital mediums to reach the guest wherever he is, including mobile and text. Whether the guest is at home prior to the stay or on-site or post-stay matters a great deal in determining when and how the message should be delivered.
There's a move to make hotels more authentic on the whole, as guests have expressed greater interest in the localized experience. For some hotels, this looks like affiliating with a well-known local restaurant or hanging regional art. These things add character, but authenticity starts deeper, with the way hotels communicate, both digitally and in person. Honesty is paramount—don't overplay your property nor offer packages and promotions that don't provide real value. Speak to guests as though they are friends, not customers. Avoid constantly asking for something (e.g., revenue). Further, untether your staff from their desks. Make them more mobile, so that they can move around and respond to guests in an unfettered, authentic way. Give them leverage so that they can respond to guest problems on the spot with solutions that are reasonable and responsive (offers, complimentary amenities, and so forth). Allowing guests to do the basics, the things that don't require a staff person—check-in, checkout, booking local (authentic) activities, room upgrades—via digital means only increases the opportunities for an engaged one-on-one interaction.
These principles must be at the center of any hotel operation intent on the guest engagement that we know earns long-term loyalty. We know our guests are in a constant state of evolution. What they want today will be different in a few months, and the tools by which we deliver what they want will change, which makes it even more essential to visit and revisit the core of guest engagement.