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'Get the message - creating loyalty through messaging’

Here’s what’s happening at a traditional hotel in the early evening. The good news is that the hotel is busy; the bad news is there’s a queue of guests waiting to check in.

The hotel has needed to employ fewer people so there is only one receptionist. He’s staring intently into his computer, finding each guest’s name, making sure their booking is authorised, checking them in, creating their room key and taking their credit card details.

This process is repeated again and again and the stress on his face is visible as the line of tired and disgruntled guests grows longer.

In spite of the rapid rise of contactless and automated solutions, this sad and unnecessary scene is still playing out in countless hotel lobbies around the world. Sad, because no one likes standing in line and no one likes performing repetitive tasks under pressure; unnecessary because almost everybody would much prefer to pre-register for their stay via their phones.

Our phones are now the fulcrum of our lives; we use them for a wide range of daily tasks, preferably without having to speak to anyone. Apps and messaging are how we stay informed and get things done, but some hotel businesses have been relatively slow to adopt them.

When it comes to messaging, particularly in the luxury segment where we operate, there can be concerns over maintaining brand standards when using a medium that is a) inherently informal (mostly used for chatting with friends and family) and b) easy to mistake for a chatbot.

Such concerns are entirely valid. Luxury brands do not want to risk alienating their loyal and high-paying clients with a clunky, robotic approach to important communications. So while we strongly believe in the power of guest messaging, we fully understand that it has to be designed and deployed in an appropriate on-brand way.

There’s a careful balance to strike. In our experience, it is possible to write plenty of automation, triggers and templated responses into the software, making life easy for employees, while still ensuring that the flow of communication is natural.

If a guest writes to the hotel in a formal style (‘Dear Sir / Madam …’) then the hotel’s response should mirror that email-style formality. If the guest makes an informal enquiry (‘Yo! What time’s the pool open? Smiley face’), then the hotel response should, again, mirror the guest’s style, include the same smiley face and perhaps add an image of a swimmer diving into the pool to keep things fun.

Staff can even be trained to drop in the occasional deliberate mistake ( ‘sorry I meant to say …’). This helps to dispel any doubts guests may have that they are dealing with a real person, and has proven to actually increase positive impressions and engagement.

Hotel owners and operators might assume they need to employ someone specifically to deal with the volume of messages. However, messages do not create an extra burden on staff. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Compared to telephone or in-person exchanges, messaging is far less time-consuming. A call from a single guest to book a round of gold, a spa treatment and a restaurant reservation can tie up a receptionist for twenty minutes, whereas the same receptionist could easily have five queries or conversations running concurrently on WhatsApp during the same timeframe. We all know this from personal experience!

Auto-translation is another key feature of messaging that’s positive for guests who receive answers to their requests quickly and in the language of their choice. It’s also good for hotel labour schedules and costs. When communication was mostly telephone-based, luxury resorts needed to employ staff who could cover several languages between them. That’s no longer necessary.

I recently spoke to the CIO of one of our most longstanding clients, Four Seasons and Resorts. Marco Trecroce told me that messaging is a technology investment that has particularly resonated with his guests.

He said: “It's actually conversational and once you've moved into the conversational, it completely changes the dynamic and the interaction you have with the guests. The key is making a true connection and once you have that, they stay very loyal to the brand.”

“Our guests satisfaction scores are substantially higher,” he continued. “I think messaging really has made a material difference: the ability to connect in your local language, the consistency around the world that you can travel and leverage the application and technology regardless of where you are. It emulates what we do today and everything in our conversations with our families and how our children communicate. It really is the way of the world.” So, returning to our traditional hotel lobby. How many of those guests standing in line will stay loyal? Not many. They will consider trying another hotel brand the next time they travel.

Such needless guest attrition could easily be avoided by sending a well-designed and friendly text message to guests on their preferred platform before they arrive, inviting them to check in online and asking how they would like to tailor their stay.

Tristan is the co-founder and CEO of Alliants and has spent his career focusing on using technology to make companies and industries more seamless and accessible to consumers. Alliants helps high-end hotels deliver on their luxury promise and was conceived while Tristan was a director at Opodo.

Tristan has made his home in the sector, and through Alliants, is helping hotels embrace a new way to deliver exceptional service. A frequent speaker at industry events, he has also contributed to research on transforming the hotel experience through technology, the role of messaging in enhancing the customer experience and reshaping the future of hospitality.

Tristan has sought to innovate throughout his working life, having built a successful startup in the education sector before spending 10 years at Accenture working with companies including Prudential, American Express and British Airways. He worked on the Travelport IPO and consulted on the Avis Digital Transformation, Four Seasons Digital Experience and Samsung Digital Strategy.

He has three great kids, loves to sail and enjoys a dark chocolate Digestive.


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