In today’s increasingly connected world, where 75% of travelers use mobile devices, it’s vital for hotels to provide guests with the easiest methods of getting in touch. While most hospitality companies still handle the majority of customer service inquiries over the phone, email, and social media channels, brands looking to stay ahead of the curve have also been turning to mobile messaging apps.
Adopting this smartphone-centric approach provides benefits to both guests and hotel staff alike. Customers prefer direct messaging for its privacy (unlike Twitter which is public), speed (shooting out a text is faster than emailing or waiting in a front desk line), and cost (essentially free if connected to Wi-Fi, unlike calls).
For hotels, messaging apps allow a single staff member to interact simultaneously with multiple customers, not just one over the phone. On both ends, all correspondence is housed neatly within a single conversation so it’s easy to track customer history.
Hotels have been implementing messaging services in a variety of ways, ranging from adopting some of the major messaging app players to launching platforms within their own apps.
Testing out Facebook’s Businesses on Messenger
Hyatt has become the first travel brand to begin testing Facebook’s messaging app as a customer service tool. Although the chain has been using social media to interact with customers since 2009 (including private messaging through its Facebook page), this recent development demonstrates Hyatt’s commitment to being on the forefront of engaging with guests on the platforms they themselves are using. Through Facebook Messenger, customers can communicate with brands just like they communicate with their friends.
While Hyatt is still trying to determine whether customers want to talk with them via Messenger, it seems like a safe bet given the application’s 700 million monthly active users, making it the second most popular app in the United States (after Facebook itself). The brand is not looking to replace customer service tools that are already in place, but rather just add a new one.
Facebook’s Businesses on Messenger offering (launched earlier this year) provides one-on-one, real-time interaction with customers as they’re experiencing a brand. Within the hotel industry, properties can use the app to complete reservation requests, send out booking confirmations, provide local weather updates and travel info, handle lost property inquiries, and much more. Guests can also reach out with questions themselves, as they simply need to have the app installed on their smartphone—liking a company’s page or becoming Facebook friends isn’t required.
Reaching global audiences through WhatsApp
Hotels have also been communicating with customers through WhatsApp, which Facebook acquired for $19 billion in 2014. With over 900 million monthly active users, the messaging app continues to grow rapidly, having seen an astounding 50% increase in users from August 2014 to August 2015.
Although not as prevalent in the United States, WhatsApp is particularly important on a global scale given its widespread use in the European and Asia-Pacific markets and developing countries such as Brazil. With guests arriving from all over the world, hotels would surely benefit from utilizing such a far-reaching tool.
Hotels adopting the app should include their mobile number along with the WhatsApp logo on their website, and also on their Facebook page and other social media profiles. Once established, a hotel’s WhatsApp account can even be used to create groups, like for members of its loyalty program, making it easier to reward them with exclusive incentives and drive customer retention.
It should be noted, however, that the app cannot be used for credit card information since it doesn’t encrypt communication, with messages being readable by third parties.
Launching a customized in-house messaging service
Another option that larger hotel chains with their own apps have is to create a messaging interface of their own. Since May, the 50 million+ members of Marriott Rewards, the hotel giant’s award-winning loyalty program, have been able to use Mobile Requests to ensure they have everything needed for a comfortable stay. Marriott International offers this service, available in five different languages, at select properties within its JW Marriott, Autograph Collection, Renaissance, Courtyard, and flagship Marriott brands, and will soon expand it to others.
Members using this service are presented with a drop-down menu of the most common requests, like extra towels or pillows. For options not provided, they’re welcome to chat with staff using Mobile Requests’ “Anything Else?” feature.
While other brands have also used their apps to offer mobile messaging, Marriott goes a step further by allowing communication not just during a guest’s stay, but for 72 hours prior to and afterwards as well. This provides the ultimate convenience for busy travelers who need services like transportation to and from the airport.
The new players in the messaging market
Skift recently announced that the growth of consumer-to-brand messaging would be one of the “megatrends” for 2016. A flock of travel messaging apps, including Hyper Travel and Lola Travel, have already popped up for the travel agent / travel planning market.
It’s not certain, however, if consumers will adopt new messaging apps simply for travel. Studies show that most smartphone users only use a couple dozen apps per month, with most of the time spent on social, communication, and entertainment apps. A messaging app that is strictly for travel planning or communicating with travel brands may have too narrow a focus for users to want to use regularly.
Ultimately, it’s all about convenience
For most hotels, integrating with existing platforms appears to be the easiest way to implement messaging for guests. And since texting is increasingly the preferred mode of communication among the younger generation, these messaging apps may soon become the dominant customer service channel for businesses.
Ultimately, the success of business-to-consumer messaging apps will depend on the ability of hotels to train staff to respond in a timely and professional manner. The hotel industry has had a rather bad track record in using Twitter for customer service, and adding an additional communication channel may complicate things.
If implemented properly, however, messaging apps have the potential not only to transform customer service, but also to deliver operational efficiencies that could save money in the long run.