Frederick Sabty, Vice President of Hospitality Solutions of Avaya, the New York Stock Exchange-listed global business communications company, speaks to AMEInfo on what hotels in the Gulf need to do to enhance their digital experience.
Q: According to Avaya’s Customer Experience in Hospitality Survey, while of 9 out of 10 (89%) Gulf travelers use hotel mobile apps, only a quarter book the room through the app. Has the survey tried to find the answer to this trend?
While not explored directly in this research, what we have seen is that the hospitality industry today has a much deeper understanding of the value of mobile apps that go beyond just loyalty programs.
By and large the earlier generation of mobile apps were part of a marketing tactic, created to highlight rewards that encourage guests to book directly with a property.
However, guest-focused organizations are now channeling these investments into building mobile customer experiences that actually retain guests and build brand loyalty.
Avaya’s Customer Experience in Hospitality Survey found, for example, that tracking of bill changes and charges is the most useful element of a hotel mobile apps, with 25% of all GCC travelers seeking such a service.
The survey also noted the ability to explore hotel surroundings, such as nearby attractions, as the most useful feature to 22% of those surveyed. This demonstrates the importance of mobile apps’ ability to do more than just book a hotel room.
Innovation in mobile app utilization shouldn’t end there.
For instance, putting a call on hold from a distressed guest who is trying to locate a valuable item, may be the only thing that a services agent with limited communications capabilities can do.
Imagine if that guest is about to board a flight, giving the agent a limited amount of time to connect with hotel security.
Upgraded communications tools and a holistic mobile app could simultaneously connect the guest with the security lead on the property, who in turn would find the lost item while the guest remains on the mobile chat.
Not only will this prompt the guest to leave a positive-review online, but the hotel will also grow their brand equity.
This is where true brand differentiation in hospitality is. It’s more than marketing—its facilitating an excellent customer experience.
Q: The survey also says almost half (44%) of travelers wouldn’t give a hotel a second chance in the event of bad service. In light of this, what advice would you give to the region’s hotels to streamline their customer engagement?
You always remember an unpleasant experience. In the GCC, we’re accustomed to staying in properties with a 3 to 4-star rating but the finishing of a 5-star hotel. Yet this will not be a standard the industry can maintain.
Increased cost of business and competition will naturally weed out properties that overlook the value of a guest’s journey and their overall experience with the brand.
In our view, a superior guest experience isn’t about increasing amenities.
It boils down to consistency and injecting the human aspect at every touch point.
Likewise streamlining customer engagement isn’t about just adding more communication channels, but integrating those tools into daily workflows.
Empowering hotel employees with unified communications and collaboration solutions on the go is one of the highest-impact drivers in building a superior guest experience.
After all, rarely do hotel employees stay in one spot, and yet they constantly need to communicate across departments.
Q:How should hotels in the Gulf position their mobile strategy to provide seamlessly connected consumer experience?
Guests should always be at the center of any technology strategy, particularly on mobile.
There is simply no other way to position it. A truly connected consumer experience extends beyond the physical boundaries of the property and to wherever the guest is.
Connected, engaging experiences on every channel—be it through a messenger chat or a video call—is a must, especially in GCC countries who enjoy some of the world’s highest smartphone penetration rates
Moving forward, we see hoteliers going beyond the booking experience with their mobile strategy. Imagine, for example, a salesperson interacting with a bride-to-be who has a specific question about the hotel’s vegan meal options.
An email to the head chef simply won’t produce the real-time response required to differentiate that experience, whereas a more developed communications system that integrates chat capabilities will enable a quicker, accurate response.
The seamless engagement between the potential guest and the various departments within the property reassures her that she’s made the right venue choice, and can trust them to take care of sensitive aspects of her big day.
Delivering a superior customer experience really comes down to how simple it is to access services and information—whether in the booking process, during your stay or once you’ve left the property.
Q: The new generation of travelers doesn’t value hotel brands. They want unique experiences. What’s your view?
Absolutely, we all want unique experiences, but I would argue that younger travelers still value hotel brands. What has changed are the values that travelers seek in a hotel brand, giving a rise to purpose-led companies.
Recalling the classic theory of human motivation, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the real shift in consumer behavior is the move from seeking love to esteem, and now self-actualization.
So, if organizations are still working to move customers into the brand love section of the pyramid, they’re one step behind.
Brands should now be aiming for esteem, or taking it a step further and grasping a brand’s full potential, self-actualization.
This will demand brands to creatively break through people’s wall of indifference and connect with guests through shared values.
This isn’t as difficult as one would think.
There are high valued brands that just sell bed space, because they communicate their brand purpose well and are connecting with guests based on shared values.
Within hospitality, being purpose-led means extending value beyond the property and focusing on the guest’s experience of the destination on a whole.
Utilization of mobile technology becomes critical in communicating this purpose.
It can be as simple as having the ability to push and pull content with guests remotely, without incurring additional costs.
That is just one small service, among many creative approaches, that a brand in today’s digital world can offer to create a unique and memorable customer experience.
If our purpose as hoteliers is to create memorable experiences, investing in 5-star amenities when our guests cannot conveniently reach us when they’re off property is a shortsighted approach.