In recent years there’s been a general shift towards messaging as a primary mode of communication, especially as the usage of smartphones around the world continues to grow. It has become so popular, in fact, that the average American now spends around 26 minutes a day texting, but just 6 minutes a day on phone calls.
With more people texting, brands have been following. The hotel industry has been one of many that are now tapping into messaging as a means of communication with their guests. To better understand this trend, we spoke with Drew Patterson, CEO and Co-founder of Checkmate, a leading communication and customer management platform for hotels. We talk about why messaging is such a unique tool for hotels, and how to address the challenges of implementing messaging into your hotel operations.
Listen to our podcast below—apologies in advance for the minor audio issues at the beginning of the podcast. A full transcript of the podcast is available here, or read below for the key highlights and takeaways from our conversation.
Advantages over traditional communication
Businesses are now beginning to embrace mobile technology as a primary tool of engagement. With the smartphone being so central to modern communication, it makes sense for brands to reach their customers using the tools that are most central to their lives—and one of those tools happens to be messaging.
So how does messaging compare with more traditional forms of communication? According to Patterson, it simply delivers a more personal, immediate and efficient way of interacting. While email arguably offers similar levels of privacy, it lacks the same immediacy—most people wouldn’t expect an instant response over email as they might with SMS. Phoning up a business feels even less efficient, and customers can quickly get frustrated when they’re put on hold or transferred between departments.
And while Twitter is great for mass communication, it’s not designed for private conversation. A hotel guest clearly wouldn’t use such a public forum to request fresh towels or a turndown service, and even Twitter’s direct messaging service runs the risk of private conversations accidentally going public.
Introducing messaging to hotel guests
Hotels have only recently begun exploring the adoption of messaging as a communication channel for guests. While adoption across the industry is relatively low, a number of hotels have found success with integrating messaging into their service strategy. For example, Aloft Manhattan Downtown has introduced an emoji room service menu, Hyatt is using Facebook’s messaging app to manage guest inquiries, and Marriott has produced its own mobile app that has a messaging function within.
These kind of success stories prove messaging has huge growth potential. In the abstract, messaging is an interesting concept. But to truly elevate the guest experience, hotels must work out where messaging can be most effective.
First of all, it’s important to be mindful of the fact most guests currently don’t assume they can order room service or book a spa treatment via SMS. So for messaging to have any impact, hotels must be the ones to start the conversation. This can take the form of a welcome greeting on arrival or a room-ready notification, all sent via SMS or a preferred messaging app.
Once engaged, messaging can be used as a tool to deliver outstanding service throughout a customer’s stay. A standard message early on such as, “Is there anything we can do to improve your stay?” would allow a hotel to check satisfaction levels, resolve any issues, and demonstrate a desire to make a guest’s stay as enjoyable as possible.
The benefits of messaging for hotels
Messaging has great potential across all service industries, but there are particular benefits for hotels. Firstly, a hospitality transaction is information-intensive. Offering great service requires gathering lots of customer details such as arrival times, room selection, and reasons for the trip. Messaging offers an efficient way to gain these kinds of specifics.
It can also help streamline communication across a 24/7 business. With dozens of employees changing shifts, referring to text-based conversations offers an easy way for colleagues to pass on notes and share updates regarding customer requests.
By helping to deliver great customer service and delight guests, messaging can also lead to more positive reviews on TripAdvisor. Hotels that offer messaging as a customer service tool should openly encourage their guests to share feedback whenever possible.
Choosing the right messaging platform
Working with the right messaging platforms is also an important consideration. Although most smartphone users have the ability to use SMS on their phone, not all international users are keen on using SMS while they travel abroad.
Although building a custom app (as in the case of Marriott) could potentially work, this is a costly solution that is out of reach of most independent hotels. And one of the primary disadvantages is the additional work of having to educate customers to download and use the app. Instead, using a publicly available platform that already has a large user base is the easier option.
With 900 million monthly users, Facebook Messenger is definitely a great tool for hotels. Aside from its huge popularity, Messenger is now being further refined as a tool for commercial messaging. Another one is WhatsApp, a popular messaging app with a significant presence outside of the United States. While it’s not designed for business-customer communication just yet, WhatsApp has announced they’ll be inviting businesses onto the network later this year.
Integrating messaging into hotel operations
Hotels looking to successfully integrate messaging into their operations face to main challenges: team organization and customer education.
For the most part, training a team to handle messaging is simple. All staff use messaging tools in their personal lives, so they understand how they work. The challenge for the hotel is really a logistical one. If guests are able to contact a hotel through multiple messaging channels (say SMS and WhatsApp and Messenger), the messages need to be efficiently captured and accurately passed on between team members. This is something that can be achieved using a customer management tool.
Rather than giving employees a separate account, a management tool provides a single place where SMS, chat apps and even web chat can occur in one place. This centralized system means an employee starting their shift at 5pm can easily resolve a guest issue by reviewing any past interactions that took place earlier that day. To keep things running smoothly, a hotel might want a single staff member to oversee all messaging efforts, coordinating internal communications and acting as a gatekeeper to check employees speak with one voice.
The second key element is ensuring that guests know that they can use messaging to interact with staff, and they are given the option to opt into communications via this channel.
As mentioned, that first conversation can be sparked off with a welcome message and a prompt to continue the conversation: “Send us a request anytime—before, during, or after your stay.” Customers should be made aware that messaging is there purely as a service tool, not a marketing platform. Using the same channel to send offers and promotions could instantly turn consumers off.
Before that first conversation begins, however, hotels need to ensure that guests have willing given their phone number and have consented to be contacted via messaging. For clarification on the legalities, hotels should contact their legal counsel to make sure they’re compliant with the Telephone Consumer Protect Act regulations, which govern messaging.
Mass adoption inevitable?
Not so long ago, a hotel with a website was seen as a novelty. Today, practically every hotel has one. The mass adoption of messaging also seems inevitable. There’s clearly an appetite for hotel messaging among consumers, as proven by brands such as Marriott, Aloft, Hyatt and Starwood. With Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp opening up to businesses, it’s also becoming easier for hotels to integrate messaging into their guest experience. And of course, the continued growth of SMS and chat apps around the world indicates that, for the foreseeable future at least, messaging is here to stay as a dominant form of interaction.
With messaging on its way to mainstream, the next hot trend coming out of Silicon Valley appears to be chatbots. But Patterson seems skeptical about its use as a customer service tool. While chatbots and artificial intelligence may have its uses in routing messages internally to the right departments, ultimately a human touch is needed when it comes to hospitality and interacting with guests. So in a sense—chats, yes, bots, not so much.