Exclusive Feature: 'Owning the customer' is a key part of any functional business plan, from hotels to airlines, grocery stores to shoe outlets; Winning a customer is less than half the battle in the current climate; keeping them takes up more time, money and resources.
Mobile apps can help hoteliers, be they independents, local or global chains, manage the relationship and keep customers both happy and interested. An app is more interactive and helps form a closer alliance through engagement than an endless string of generic emails or other communications.
Apps can make booking, social media sharing, offering additional guest services, concierge help and local information services a singular experience, but one that’s easy for the business to update, to accept customer feedback with, and simplify payments or billing queries.
With so many ways for people to book hotel rooms, for enterprises to manage block bookings, or to micro-manage their employee travel expenses, every customer who goes via your own app and service is one you are more likely to keep.
The Loyal Customer Semi-Myth
Plenty of research suggests that customer loyalty is on the way out, but while competition for each customer is massive, many are still happy to go with a hotel provider that offers good service, with the minimum of fuss.
Apps offer a number of immediate key benefits, a streamlined booking service, improved customer service and communications, digital tour guides, multilingual features and more. With a little experimentation, chatbots can be added, offering 24/7 information and support, and as hotels become more automated, a mobile app becomes the logical navigation and support tool.
A cutting edge example is the Huis Ten Bosch Henn na Hotel in Japan, a resort hotel, it offers high levels of automation with dinosaur welcome robots on reception, facial recognition door entry and other features. Among them, app-based features offer services based on the user’s immediate location or wider needs.
Avoiding the App Traps
While the many leading booking services, Hotels.com, Expedia, LateRooms, Booking.com and others focus their budgets on TV adverts, even a small hotel can thrive with a well-functioning app. The key to success is to offer value to the customer and avoid falling into expensive developer traps or expecting massive a boost in numbers.
Any hotel chain or independent, even one without robot dinosaurs, can deploy an app that can be customized to offer a range of information and services, and also digitise some traditional areas of the hotel market, such as providing guest feedback. That’s something that was too easy for hotels to ignore on written forms, and becomes easier to categorize with 5-star ratings and limited comment forms in the app.
Via feedback, the app provides value to the hotel, as well as creating measurable data on other services to help a hotel better tailor its needs. As every type of business relies more on data, big or small, the app can provide it and help the hotel management make clearer business decisions. Note that big data is a key issue for hotels, and apps will play a key role in generating it for larger chains.
Apps Act as a Marketing Tool
By encouraging, or mandating by its use as a customer digital door key, the use of an app, hotels get a fast track to a customer’s social media tools to help sharing of trips, tours and their stay in your hotel.
Apps can help point customers in the direction of brand-focused social media sharing like Starwood’s popular #spglife Instragram feed, helping to build the brand and make the joy of sharing more beneficial to the business.
Apps also make it easier for customers to take action, to snap up a deal, make a reservation before a hotel sells out, or to plan a trip, without the need for website sliders, tick boxes and all the other trimmings that lurk on every other travel site. Apps also provide reminders and engagement in the user’s normal feed, so are less intrusive than other methods of communication.
There are several ways to build an app, Some developers are available who focus on the hotel market at sizeable expense, while many regional or local generalist app developers can produce bespoke apps. An increasingly popular solution is the growing range of simple-to-use but powerful web tools that can help hoteliers create their own app.
As a mature industry it is easy for hotels to see the features they like on other existing apps and cherry-pick them for their own services. Hilton’s app is well rated by travellers, and is regularly updated with features to make it an essential for customers. If you need insight or some clear-thinking before choosing to develop an app, check out AppInstitute’s hotel marketing guide for plenty of advice.
Whatever approach to an app your hotel business uses, ensure it focuses on meeting the needs of both the business and the customer, that data is securely managed and that every task is easy to do. Only then should you add any flourishing touches that suit your brand or help promote the extras you can offer, be it a tour guide, chatbot or photo sharing feature.
Izaak Crook is a Digital Marketing Executive for AppInstitute, a SaaS App Builder platform that allows anyone to create their own iOS and Android app without writing a single line of code.
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