Via David Millili, CEO at LodgIQ, HospitalityNet
What defines world-class guest service? Is it personalized offers or a value-driven loyalty program? Is it a timely reply sent back to an unsatisfied guest review? Is it flexible stay options or policies? Is it an engaging social media presence? Guest service can be all of these things… and with the demands accelerated by the pandemic, it has also become so much more.
The problem with defining guest service in any singular way is that we often treat guest service as a department or a response rather than an ever-evolving set of values that should exist at the very heart of a company. We consider guest service, much like other aspects of a company, to be a simple, 9-to-5 initiative supported by an employee or a team laid out across various guest-centric policies and values. But great guest service in the modern era, we realize, isn’t actually guest service – it’s guest care. It is not a policy or set of procedures; instead, it’s an ongoing, hands-on practice and culture brought to life with every guest touch-point, both online and offline. In this way, guest service isn’t just a department or a cost to be managed – it’s the entire company. Anything less will fail to support the guest demands that dictate the landscape in which we do business both now and in the future.
Today, we find ourselves at a tipping point; the future of guest engagement is predominantly informed by word-of-mouth marketing and brand reputation shared across digital mediums. The world has come online and, as brands work to meet guests where they are, public scrutiny of online services reaches a fever pitch. There is no more than 9 to 5; there is only the guest, their 24/7 needs, and a hotel’s 24/7 commitment to meeting and exceeding those needs 365 days a year.
The following insights from Global World Index (GWI) and various other leaders in guest research to delve into the new era of guest care and what it means for businesses across industries.
The Emergence of Generation Novel
We are now entering the Novel Economy and witnessing the rise of a new generation of customers and employees, Generation-Novel or Gen-N, that’s inspired by the novel Coronavirus. Coined by digital anthropologist Brian Solis, Gen N describes a cross-generation subset of people who’ve come to thrive on digital-first experiences while also placing a greater value on personalization, customization, and transparency. However, above all else, they understand, use and demand more from technology than most – be this at home or work.
However digital revolution had begun long before the COVID-19 pandemic, but digital mediums have become the way we connect with loved ones, the way we work, and the way we engage with brands.
While screen time has increased exponentially over the pandemic, it’s important to read the room. The need for digital interaction and engagement is an opportunity for brands, but it should be handled with increased care. The pandemic has placed guests around the world in a notoriously vulnerable position, and understandably, we are witnessing an ongoing shift to wellness-focused, compassion-driven messaging and engagement. Over the last year, Gen Z guests wanted to purchase from brands and services that took a stand to help people during the pandemic, while only 20% of respondents strongly approved of brands running “normal” advertising campaigns during this time.
Across all generations, social media use is more purpose-driven and less about networking and sharing personal details. guests are logging on with specific intent (i.e., entertainment, brand discovery, or shopping). However, they do not wish to be sold in the traditional sense. Rather, they want to engage with brands more genuinely and holistically across the social platforms they love prior to making a purchase decision.
Guests crave uplifting, inspirational, and entertaining content paired with high-touch guest care that demonstrates a brands’ values and understanding of the social climate in which we exist. People are doing more online shopping driven by social media – and enthusiasm for it shows no signs of waning even as more countries move into the recovery phase of the pandemic. In fact, 46% plan to shop online more after the pandemic, and time spent on social media keeps climbing.
Of course, there exists an essential distinction between an on-property experience and one which lives online. The internet never sleeps, and guest service expectations now stretch across increasingly non-traditional hours. As long as guests can engage with a brand’s online platforms, they expect a quick, attentive response to guest service-related requests.
The “always-on” guest service era is here to stay, and guest expectation times for responses on social media are only getting shorter. Responding to a guest request in 48 hours is simply not good enough in today’s world. Social media guest service statistics reveal that 68% of the time, a guest leaves because they think a company doesn’t care (KPMG). Today, failing to provide a quick response to a current or potential guest on social media sends a very clear message: You don’t care – but your competitor will.
Why Positive or Negative Social Sharing is More Powerful Than Ever
Guest satisfaction is worthless, guest loyalty is priceless – Jeffery Gitomer
Guest service has, historically, been a pain point for brands across industries. While great guest service has helped to accelerate the worldwide success of many brands, lapses in guest service have destroyed the reputation of countless others. Terrible guest service is far too commonplace across companies, large and small. Far too many companies that have moved online haven’t been able to scale their guest service appropriately.
The pressure on each guest touch-point is mounting and with the rise of online bookings and social media, it has reached a fever pitch. Studies indicate that the number one concern when deciding whether or not to buy from a brand was bad guest service, followed by bad media/reputation.
To this point, nearly 40% of people say that receiving great guest service is what most motivates them to promote their favorite brand online. Online reviews are splayed across open forums and are easily accessed by any prospective guest considering a brand’s offering. The prevalence of social media has given every guest a megaphone to share their experiences with the brands they love and their negative experiences.
In this regard, guest loyalty speaks volumes. A positive online reputation and an influx of peer-to-peer recommendations are far more powerful than any other marketing initiative. guests either trust you, or they don’t – and if they don’t, they are highly unlikely to do business with you.
Fortunately, creating a loyal guest ecosystem starts with guest care; in many ways, the feedback loop leads to positive social clout and long-term success. This aspect of your business goes beyond social media management and places a brand directly in front of their guest. It’s a phone call that never goes unanswered, a message that never goes unopened, and a request that never goes unfulfilled – and it inspires a legion of loyal guests that will happily promote your brand to worldwide audiences online. The more consistently you show up for your guests, the more fiercely they will show up for your brand.
Social media guest care benchmark data shows that it is nearly seven times more expensive to attract a new guest. In response to these trends, studies find that most businesses expect the use of social media to grow across all aspects of business, particularly for brand awareness, guest engagement, and guest service. Consider the following findings:
- 64% of people would rather message than call a business. (Facebook)
- Digital guest service interactions will increase by 40% in 2023. (Forrester)
- Companies that rank highly for social media respond to service replies within an hour. (Gartner)
- 40% of consumers said they expect brands to respond within the first hour of connecting through social media, while 79% expect a response in the first 24 hours. (SproutSocial)
- 63% of consumers expect brands to use social media as the primary communications channel to reach out to their guests (SproutSocial)
- Half of consumers say they would switch to a competitor after just one bad experience. In the case of more than one bad experience, that number snowballs to 80%. (Zendesk)
- 80% of consumers expect brands and companies with a social media presence to interact with their guests in meaningful ways. (Hubspot)
- Answering a complaint on social media can increase customer advocacy by 25%. (Convince & Convert)
What is more meaningful than demonstrating care for your guest across the platforms in which they discover, engage with, and purchase from your brand?
The writing is on the wall – as brand recognition and reputation are continuously correlated with a hotel’s online presence, negative word-of-mouth and a lack of guest loyalty have the power to completely derail a brand’s trajectory. If social media is where you do business, you should also attend to guest questions, needs, and feedback. Social media is a direct line of communication to the modern guest, and it should not – and can not – be neglected from the guest care perspective.
Guest Service Becomes Guest Care
What is the right channel for guest care? This question should be top of mind for any hotel today, as we collectively shift from a reactive to a proactive guest service model. guest care, as we now understand it, spans across all guest touchpoints. There is no single environment in which it should exist because it should inform every interaction you have with a current or prospective guest. Understandably, those environments that attract guest engagement are increasingly important, making social media platforms a critical channel for guest care and 24-7 responsiveness.
In the coming years, guest care will reveal itself as the foundation of everything that exists; online landscapes will shift away from organic reach, and digital marketing efforts will be split between paid social strategy and increasingly robust guest care initiatives. Unlike paid advertising and exposure, guest feedback and loyalty cannot be owned or monetized by the platforms on which you do business… but it can, and should, be earned by your brand. When viewing the future of social selling in this way, we realize that social guest care isn’t a cost to be managed like IT was in the ’90s. Instead, it’s a key driver of growth.
The first step in truly understanding this shift towards a guest-centric business model is redefining social media from a responsibility to an opportunity. Look beyond a content calendar and posting schedule to recognize that you aren’t simply putting out content; you are starting a conversation and, frequently, making the first impression.
In this way, social media provides brands with more coverage and opportunities to engage than ever before, and on a human level. guests are comfortable interacting on social media platforms because social media is their domain, and that comfort informs an influx of engagement and trust.
When we look to the management of guest care initiatives, you might wonder, is this a one-person job? No. It certainly isn’t. The key to exceptional, scalable guest care across digital mediums is bringing the human elements of traditional service back online. Chatbots and automated responses aren’t an adequate replacement for hands-on, in-person service. The success in this formula isn’t found in the act itself (offering up a generic response) but in the way businesses engage, leveraging the power of human service (a guest care team) rather than relying solely on guest care software. guests today crave convenience and personalization, but they still prefer those service enhancements to be delivered via predominantly human service.
And yet, when considering their existing social guest care strategy, some businesses might insist they offer the same coverage and service as their competitors. But to that, we ask: Why would you want to be the same as your competitors? If a brand offers superior guest service, they can expect superior ROI. Isn’t that the ultimate goal? Doesn’t outstanding guest care sell itself?
Overcoming the Privacy Paradox
The ongoing demand for enhanced convenience and personalization via technological innovation has presented a privacy paradox of sorts. guest expectations are heightened, and more often than not, they can only be met with the help of today’s new technologies. However, data-driven innovation should not come at the expense of privacy, as guests are increasingly concerned about how their information is being collected and leveraged by brands.
With this in mind, the future of guest engagement demands a privacy-conscious approach that strikes a balance between human and tech-driven service.
A dedicated guest care team tapping into the power of social media to get ahead of guest requests and proactively address their needs is a competitive advantage that far too many brands are currently missing. Research shows that most brands still don’t utilize social listening when it comes to audience analysis, even in situations where a listening solution clearly provides the best source of insight.
Now, more than ever before, guests want brands to listen to them. They want to be seen and heard in a way that informs an enhanced user experience without infringing on personal privacy. In other words, guests want personalization and responsiveness on their terms, and social media is an (often untapped) goldmine of user-generated data and guest trends.
Studies show that about one in two business executives think social media will become the most critical source of data and insights in the next three years, while 85% agree that social data will be a primary source of business intelligence going forward (Harris Poll). This will become even more important as businesses continue to move their e-commerce to social media.
So, what does this all mean?
It means it’s time to think about the conversation, not the campaigns. It means it’s time to meet your guests and prioritize guest care across the same platforms you prioritize the rest of your business. It means it’s time to abandon any antiquated sentiments of basic guest satisfaction and reputation management in favor of a bold new idea: Exceptional guest care delivered 365 days a year, well beyond the confines of standard hours of operations. More than anything, it means it’s time to adopt an obsessive focus on you and your online guest conversations to establish meaningful connections with guests that directly impact your hotel’s bottom line.
The new era of guest service isn’t just coming – it’s already here. Are you ready for it?
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