How to use the Internet of Things to elevate the customer experience

With the advent of smart technology, your hotel has the potential to create positive guest experiences like never before. By leveraging real-time location data along with guest preferences and behavioral data, the delivery of highly-personalized information can be created to arrive at just the right moment in every step of the guest journey. A hotel can now automate the cultivation of a custom stream of messages that is unique to each guest—from personalized greetings and activity recommendations to loyalty program rewards and operational alerts. 

Hotels already have implemented traditional guest experience programs that include on-site signage, maps, event schedules and information on local attractions—all in support of creating positive guest experiences that differentiate their brands and support customer loyalty. Hotels typically solicit guest feedback and make process improvements to address common pain points discovered, like dinner reservations, roomservice and spa appointments. However, traditional tactics are limited in their ability to personalize content and deliver just the right message to the right guest at the right time.

Right now, most hotels are beginning to explore the potential of mobile technology in their business, taking baby steps with a static mobile app across many properties. However well intentioned, these businesses are missing out on the potential impact mobile can have on a guest experience program when combined with location and other data for delivery of highly customized messages throughout a stay. Modern hotel operators already have access to customer data reflecting loyalty and preferences; augmenting that with location data can easily be accomplished using beacons which are easy and cost effective to install.

Hotel Property=Internet of Things

Let’s start by exploring the idea that today’s hotel is not so much a physical property as an Internet of Things (IoT). Booking information, guest preferences, rewards, restaurant and in-room orders and security information provide terabytes of data each year that can be used quite easily to delight guests. Once you look at the property in that way, you can start to use mobile to deliver compelling, relevant experiences to guests both on and off property.

However, just having all that customer data does not ensure success. Your organization will need a game plan for the planning, creation, management and measurement of a guest experience program that utilizes the data. Various business units must unite and work toward common goals. Through many critical steps—preparation of your physical venue, alignment of resources, setting of goals, creation of high priority experience categories and the measurement and optimization of results—your organization will realign itself around the customer experience, and in doing so, will see increased loyalty and revenue.

Getting Started

Start by walking the property to see it through a guest’s eyes. This gives you the opportunity to identify points of friction in the guest experience at the macro (long lines at check in and amenities) and micro levels (not stocking your favorite wine). Then identify and prioritize the organizational functions you need to address. Why are some guests not using certain parts of the property? Where is revenue being lost due to perishable items like food or event tickets not being used in time? 

Next, work with that same team to identify specific experiences and pain points you can improve with a highly-personalized approach. A solid understanding of a guest’s journey and the physical locations from which to trigger messages are the foundation for creating your experience plan. Decide what type of experience is best suited to your key customer targets and ensure that the outcomes of these proposed experiences align with your overall business goals. 

Making Data Work

Paramount to building a plan around an IoT approach is the application of data to improve an experience, often in conjunction with artificial intelligence. At a hotel or resort, we have many of the tools needed to deliver an IoT-based experience to guests already on property. Inexpensive security beacons can note where guests are on the property and serve to alert us when a guest is a prime target for a customized experience message based on their location or point in their stay.  The same beacons can trigger a message based on contextual data like weather and traffic alerts that may impact guest experience. For instance, guests traveling with young children may receive a message about air-conditioned indoor spaces when the beacons sense temperatures over 80 degrees. 

Your IoT also includes other devices capable of information gathering and dissemination onsite as well, such as POS outlets, guest rewards databases with information on prior visits and amenities utilized and message boards. However, you should think of your IoT as including all the ways you market to your guests not just while they are on property, but all along their journey as well. Start with how they find a property and make a reservation, and complement that experience with mass and customized advertising across channels wherever they live, work and travel. You will want to reinforce and build on your experience messages at every step.

An additional benefit from onsite data is using it to deploy staff more effectively. This could eliminate being over staffed in one area of the property and under staffed in others. For new employees, human resources could utilize the mobile app to help staff navigate their way around a large property, find useful information and locate management when needed. It is easy to see how this could play a huge role in the overall guest experience.

Putting It All Together

With an understanding of where, when and how you can deliver the best messages to reach your guest relations and business goals, you will be using your entire IoT, including mobile apps and location-based transmitters (e.g. guest band or smart key card), as the central hub for guiding guests through a journey that is personally suited to their needs and interests. 

Imagine that a guest ventures out to get coffee in the morning. As they leave their room, the map pops up on their mobile device pointing the way to several breakfast options. Smart beacons will trigger information about specials at each location, possibly based on perishable food items in stock that need to moved that day, along with wait times. The app could flag locations with longer wait times to avoid missing a tee time. Guests may be able to see where the rest of their foursome is eating this morning, and the pro shop could offer to pick up guests at their breakfast location to keep their schedule on track. 

Beyond the specific information you already know about guests, IoT data also fuel predictive analytics to create amazing experiences that guests will brag about to others. Knowing that your customer enjoys live music and fruity cocktails along with spa services could enable you to create a very personalized and premium experience that may not appear on your service offerings today.

What Comes Next

Personalization of the guest experience could eventually extend to customization of the physical room to meet guest preferences. Adjustments of room configurations, layouts and media interfaces will be among the easiest premium experiences to implement.  When these adjustments are automated through consistent use and implementation, staff costs go down and premium revenue goes up.

From on property experiences, it is a short hop to looking beyond the hotel-related aspects of a guest’s journey. Closer integration with other travel providers will be more common in the next decade and, therefore, will provide greater opportunities to deliver more personalized end-to-end experiences. Imagine a traveler who does not have to alert their hotel if their plane is delayed, arriving to find their room waiting for them and their dinner reservation updated to reflect their new arrival time. 

As you can see, the delivery of relevant, timely content, created based on data from your growing IoT, can elevate a customer’s experience dramatically. Using this data to tackle both operational issues that affect guest experience and to bring a personalized experience to your most important guests should result in increased loyalty, advocacy and sales for your hotel. With hotels facing increased pressures to compete on costs alone, this approach has the potential to change the market dynamic back to competing on service and building loyalty—which is what hotels are all about.

Danielle Chapman is marketing consultant and product evangelist at The Experience Engine, a customer marketing platform for brands to enhance and personalize their consumers' experiences. In her role, Chapman advises TE2's hotel and resort customers on how to use customer data to create personalized location-based messaging campaigns.