The adoption of guest messaging in the hospitality industry is no longer a matter of if, but when and in an industry built on providing great guest experiences, it’s only logical that SMS and messaging apps like WhatsApp, Messenger and WeChat will soon be adopted at scale.
“With an expected additional 1.1 billion new users set to adopt messaging by the end of 2018, for a total of 3.6 billion users, it’s clear that messaging really is the new social media,” writes Deanna Ting in a recent article on Skift.
But the change requires hoteliers to embrace messaging, and many have shown a reluctance to do so. How can I manage all these channels? Who will respond to guest inquiries? How can we maintain control of our brand image?
Often at the core of such concerns is a misconception of what messaging is and how it fits into hotel operations. To dispel these myths, here are seven important truths about guest messaging.
1. The Shift to Digital Communications Is a Natural Evolution
The hospitality industry has come a long way technologically in the past decade, and these advances have had a big impact on the guest experience. From the speed and efficiency of booking accommodation to the ease of sharing opinions on social media, travelers and hoteliers alike have had to adjust to an increasingly connected world.
Nowhere is this more evident than the ways in which we exchange information. Email, text messaging, social media - the speed and volume of communications have grown exponentially. Now, with messaging apps outstripping other forms of communication in popularity, hotels cannot afford to ignore this shift any longer.
2. Travelers Want to Be Able to Message Hotels
The slow adoption of messaging in the hospitality Industry isn’t due to lack of desire on the part of consumers. In daily life people use messaging to communicate with friends and family, and increasingly they expect the same convenience from businesses.
In a recent study from OpenMarket, 90 percent of hotel guests in the US and the UK said they would find communicating via messaging with a hotel useful. Travelers don’t want to wait on hold, in a line or for an email response. It’s much easier to message the hotel. Moreover, at a time when data privacy is a top concern, messaging apps provide a private, secure environment.
3. Messaging Doesn’t Create More Work, It Saves Time
Hotel employees are often overworked, and they certainly don’t need additional responsibilities. And yet part of the workload issue stems from dependency on telephone, email, and face-to-face interactions that could be more efficiently handled with digital technology.
In an age when people always have their mobile phones with them, the in-room telephone handset seems like a relic of past. Messaging is a much quicker, efficient and convenient means of communication for guests and for staff.
Messaging software features like autoreplies ensure that guests receive an instant response even when staff are tied up. Saved templates allow staff to send quick answers to common questions like hours of operation, directions and menu queries, ensuring that the information is always thorough, accurate and consistent.
4. Messaging Doesn’t Harm Service, It Elevates It
With OTAs now sending in-stay surveys to travelers, messaging allows hotels to create direct connections with guests and take greater control over the guest experience.
Guests can easily send requests to staff and alert them of issues at any time of day, from on property of off, even while out exploring the city. This kind of close communication facilitates quick service recovery and provides opportunities to provide remarkable service.
5. Messaging Is a Unique Way to Communicate
Messaging is different from the telephone, email and face-to-face communications, and messaging with guests is different from messaging with family or friends. To ensure that communications are clear, professional and effective, hotels must provide staff with training and guidelines.
While the implementation of messaging technology is relatively simple, putting into place systems and processes for receiving and following up on messages is more complex. Successful setup requires defining procedures, responsibilities, workflows and work groups.
6. Messaging is More than SMS
For hotels, messaging can come in many forms: SMS/text messaging, apps like WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat and Twitter, and emerging platforms like Apple Business Chat and Android Messages. We have also seen the proliferation of website chat widgets that greet website visitors and offer assistance.
Messaging shouldn’t be confused with chatbots, which are computer programs designed to simulate conversations with human users. Chatbots have a limited place in hospitality because it’s fundamentally about human contact, empathy and personalization – qualities that computers cannot offer (yet).
7. Messaging Is a Critical Piece of a Bigger Puzzle
Rather than view messaging as just another service channel to operate, hoteliers should regard it as part of an integrated system of tools and processes for optimizing the guest experience. From a technology perspective, this requires integration with operations software.
For example, if a guest messages, “My TV remote is broken”, the request can be directed to the correct department, with notifications and escalation parameters set to automatically track completion of the task and ensure follow up. When messaging is paired with operational management systems that alert, flag, track and measure performance, improvement to the guest experience are assured.
The importance of messaging to the hospitality industry is undeniable. The question is, when will you embrace it?
ReviewPro is the world leader in Guest Intelligence solutions, with more than 43,000 hotels in 150 countries. ReviewPro’s Global Review Index™ (GRI), the industry-standard online reputation score, is based on review data collected from over 200 OTAs and review sites in more than 75 languages.
An entrepreneur and investor, RJ Friedlander is the founder & CEO of ReviewPro, world leader in Guest Intelligence solutions for the hospitality industry.