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Dear hotel owners and managers,
Today, I’d like to talk to you about the various levers that affect the customer journey, from the initial idea of the stay to the time after the stay.
Thomas Yung, e-reputation consultant and manager of Artiref and My Hotel Reputation, is co-writing this article with me. We have pooled our expertise to identify 41 factors to understand and remember throughout the 11 stages of the customer experience in the hotel industry.
First, let’s remember that the customer experience includes all the interactions between the traveler and the establishment, whether in a luxury hotel, a large hotel chain, or a small independent hotel. Although treated differently depending on the institution, the moments of interaction remain the same.
In the age of mass digitalization, travelers have become self-sufficient and do their own searches for the hotels where they will stay. Knowing the different stages of the customer experience and their challenges has therefore become essential to attracting customers. After all, not all travelers have the same needs, expectations, and behaviors.
Our article lists the interactions between the guest and the hotel. We explain how to respond to make the most of these levers.
The 11 stages of the hotel guest experience
Stage 1: Inspiration
The customer journey always starts by expressing a need or solving a problem. Maybe they need a change of scenery, want to meet up with friends, or need to go on a business trip. To meet their need, the customer begins their journey with what is known as the inspiration phase.
When we talk about interactions, we are talking not only about direct interactions, but also about your online presence, wherever that may be. The inspiration phase often starts with an internet search. The first contact the traveler has with you is on the Google search results page. And although the competition is tough, the majority of the results we find are bland and don’t really entice you to click. However, you have the means to personalize your website’s listing on Google and make it more attractive. Encourage users to click by attracting their attention.
Even though social media does not guarantee instant results and quick bookings, it inspires your customers to daydream. Use social media to create motivation by showing gorgeous pictures and telling stories.
Remember that the hotel is only one way to meet the guest’s needs. For example, if a traveler wants to visit Normandy, they will need a hotel room to sleep in and a restaurant to eat at in order to achieve their bigger goal. Here, their accommodations are only a means to an end. That’s why it is important to highlight the region to spark curiosity, and social media is an ideal communication channel for this.
OTAs (Booking.com, Expedia, etc.)
It’s helpful to think of OTAs as ad magazines. Visitors browse Booking.com like a catalog and become inspired in the process. They get ideas for destinations and trips. That’s why you need to show up in these destinations that OTAs highlight.
Travel blogs are online magazines, written by specialized professionals, where being features brings lots of benefits. Why? During the inspiration stage, the customer is waiting and looking for inspiring ideas about the area they want to visit. This is your opportunity to produce content that will appeal to the traveler. Make sure that it makes sense for the visitor to book with you and not another hotel. Share your values, talk about what you like about your region and why, and simply tell your story. Make real, sincere recommendations.
Stage 2: Planning
Once the customer has chosen a destination and committed to going, they will start planning their stay and looking for a hotel. This is where the planning stage begins.
OTAs play a major role here, as online users will go there directly to find lots of information. The customer will then narrow down their choices to a small selection of hotels in the chosen area, based on the information they’ve collected.
Review sites are also widely used by online users to come up with their preliminary selection of hotels. That’s why it is essential to appear on these sites and care about how you look. Remember that when you respond to a comment, you are also responding to all the potential customers who will read your response.
Once they’ve narrowed down their selection to 3 or 4 hotels, the customer will inevitably search for these hotels on Google. And if any of those hotels have not protected their brands, other sites may appear first in the results and lure the user away.
Your hotel’s official website
Booking.com is a behemoth. It has incredible visibility, a huge catalog, translations into all languages, and an easy-to-use interface. In short, it inspires confidence. Let’s face it, we can’t fight this.
That said, if the customer is thinking about staying at your hotel, they will still end up visiting your website. You will then have a few seconds to make an impression. This can be difficult because you’re competing with other hotels, as well as the OTAs. The goal is to stand out. You know what you can’t compete on, so instead, identify and focus on where you can make a difference: the human touch.
Stage 3: Booking
The booking engine
Here again, you will create an interaction with your customer. Focus on delivering quality so that you reassure the customer that they’ve done the right thing in choosing you.
Don’t settle for the traditional, bland booking confirmation message that come standard in CRMs. Personalize your email so that the customer feels pampered and understands that you will take good care of them.
Stage 4: Excitement
There can never be too many good quality interactions. We often hear that customers don’t want to be bothered. Yet Booking.com sends emails every day, and visitors do not unsubscribe.
Personalized exchanges are vital for preparing for the customer’s arrival and building excitement. Focus on forming a connection before the stay. You can send a simple, but effective welcome email, which always has some impact.
Preparing for the stay
Help your customer to prepare for their stay in advance. Based on what you know about them, suggest services or ideas for outings that they might enjoy. Personalize your communication and start your relationship with the customer before they even arrive.
Get inspired by non-hotel incentives
We found some very inspiring examples of non-hotel exchanges. Pay attention and be inspired by how other brands communicate, what they send to their customers, when, why, and so on. And pay attention especially to the effect it creates.
The pre-check-in allows us to tell the customer that we want their arrival to go smoothly. This is a simple way to personalize the welcome and build excitement.
Stage 5: Arrival on site
How to get to the hotel?
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and imagine their arrival from the airport. They have to cross the airport with their luggage and then find and take the train or find the taxi station. Be proactive in anticipating any inconveniences that customers may experience and offer guidance and solutions.
Text when the room is ready
Similarly, texting the customer when their room is ready may seem simple, but it adds value. Customers appreciate the extra step!
Stage 6: Arrival at the hotel
There may be some time between the guest’s arrival at the hotel and check-in. That’s why we’ve separated these two stages. In the customer experience, the stakes are high. Check-in is an administrative process, but arrival is a human experience.
When your customer reaches your hotel after traveling, you need to offer them a pleasant experience. Remember that they have just spent hours traveling by plane, train, car, or some other form of transportation. Make sure that their first impression of the hotel is positive and lives up to their expectations.
Stage 7: Check-in
Streamline the check-in process to make it quick and easy. Know how to make your customers feel welcome and help them get oriented. Limit their waiting time and make it pleasant.
A digital check-in can be helpful and allow the customer time to arrive quietly. Don’t be pushy. Let them take their time and check in at their own pace. This also avoids long lines and helps arrivals go more smoothly. You may want to consider an expedited check-in for corporate clients who are often pressed for time.
Stage 8: The stay
If the customer is staying at your hotel, it is primarily for your location. Customers have high expectations of the employees at the reception desk and hope they can provide good advice on places to go and activities to do. But this only works if you know your customer well. For a first-time traveler to Paris, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower are must-sees. However, if this is their fifth time visiting the city, that’s a different story.
One good option is to provide your guests with tools, such as an e-concierge service. It should be interactive for the guest, easy to use, and give precise information in just a few clicks.
Quality control during the stay is equally important. 40% of customers are unwilling to express dissatisfaction during their stay. But whether it’s out of fear of confrontation or out of kindness, the customer will leave with some resentment. Your goal is to gather the opinions of guests who don’t speak up and improve their experience in your hotel. Note the areas where they are satisfied and where you can improve.
The importance of small gestures
Create high-quality interactions, use small personal touches, and demonstrate your willingness to serve and satisfy your customers.
Stage 9: Check-out
Check-out is not the time for communicating a message to your guest. Leaving is a stressful time when travelers are not very receptive. Anticipate their departure. Provider the option to check out the evening before and make it easy! They’ll be more relaxed and less pressed for time, so you can use this opportunity to ask about their stay.
Stage 10: The departure
Leave a good last impression by helping your customer to leave your hotel. The idea is not to annoy them. After all, they have other things to think about, like organizing their papers, paying for their stay, finding a taxi, not missing the train, and carrying their suitcase. Help them do all this as simply and quickly as possible.
The OTAs may already be doing surveys, but it is imperative that you do your own. Sure, you will receive some of the same responses that you’ll get from the OTAs, but the most important thing here is to convey a message to the customer that you care about them and their opinion.
Asking them to leave a comment on the site doesn’t really work. Remember, customers are often under a lot of stress when they are leaving. It’s best to ask for it in writing and clearly explain why their feedback is important to you. The guest should want to help the hotel and future travelers by leaving a comment.
Incentive to recommend nearby places
This is also an opportunity to ask about the places they liked nearby the hotel in order to discover new recommendations and better guide your future guests. Moreover, you trust them and share their advice, which makes their opinions more valuable.
Stage 11: After the stay
Communication remains important once the customer is back home. You can send sales communications (about an event or promotion, for example), or you can simply build a relationship.
In their inbox
For example, you can send an email on the customer’s birthday or one year after their visit to remind them that you’d love to see them again. This message should appeal to their emotions.
On social media
You can also build a connection through social media, such as by posting about daily life at the hotel. This will have a much greater impact than talking about the menu or promotions.
As you can see, each step of the customer experience includes numerous interactions to consider in managing and improving the customer relationship. The customer experience is ultimately about being in the right place at the right time, with the right message. What matters is the value you bring to your customer.
This should allow you to stand out from OTAs and other competing hotels, build customer loyalty, and promote your hotel (through online reviews, word of mouth, etc.).
Personalized interactions are the best way to attract and retain customers.
Thanks for reading.