Guests are constantly on the move and their mobile phones are never far from their sides. Consumers today are busier, more spontaneous and more curious than ever, and mobile devices have become a guide, a text messenger, a diary and a camera for guests to enhance and capture their experience—and then share that experience with the world, said Fig Cakar, managing director of the Americas for SiteMinder.
The trend goes beyond guests: Most staffwork in a hotel is inherently mobile in nature. This type of work needs to be aided by technology that is also mobile, and doesn’t require employees to be tethered to a desktop computer or hamstrung by radios that, although mobile, make communication difficult, said Alex Shashou, Alice co-founder and president.
Here are the top three reasons mobile is so important today:
1. Guest Satisfaction
Hotel guests who downloaded a mobile app before their arrival reported higher value for the price paid, and overall guest satisfaction clocked in almost 20 points higher, according to Gregg Hopkins, chief sales and marketing officer for Intelity.
Guests are accustomed to on-demand services accessed via smart devices and expect the same conveniences when staying at hotels, Shashou said. “With convenience increasingly becoming table stakes when it comes to the guest experience, hotels need to offer their guests access to services via mobile, be that in the form of an app or via mobile chat of some sort (text messaging, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, etc.),” he said.
2. Staff Efficiency and Accountability
Hotels can better drive and track staff performance with mobile. “They can close out issues in real-time,” Keypr CEO Robert Stevenson said. “The GM can go home at night and still solve the problem on mobile—extending the footprint of what happens at the hotel. Mobile phones are better than clipboards, Post-it Notes, radios as they can direct information but can do it in a passive way. I can deal with it in the time frame that I need to deal with and I don’t need to physically relocate my body to accomplish it.”
Staff-facing mobile apps provide more management accountability because staff can respond to requests and work orders on the go. Staff apps document every part of the process (who, what, where and when) so there are fewer mistakes and excuses, according to Guestware VP Mike Benjamin. “Guests also like the accountability,” he said. “Written confirmation provides guests more confidence that their request will be delivered versus talking to a front-desk agent who could be checking someone in.”
3. Connection Channel
The mobile phone gives guests a further channel to communicate with the hotel, and vice versa. “In today’s hyper-connected age, the mobile phone represents the breaking down of real physical and geographical communication barriers,” Cakar said.
Mobile offerings increase in-room service sales such as roomservice, spa appointments, golf times and other amenities by 18 percent, Hopkins said. “Mobile allows the property to provide service on the guest’s time, on their terms,” he said.
How to increase mobile bookings
Communicating the mobile technology options available to guests before, during and after a stay can be challenging. “Hotels should be sure to select a technology provider that offers guidance on how to market the mobile solution, including the booking tool,” Hopkins said.
Cakar suggests that hotels need to think mobile first. “The fact is content may need to be sacrificed to move to mobile, but hotels must recognize that the customer who’s searching and booking through their phone isn’t after an entire gallery of high-resolution photographs and long, detailed descriptions of their rooms,” he said. “They would go to a desktop for that. They’re on their phone because they want to see your hotel, availability and prices quickly and easily.”
Just as importantly, hotels need to make it easy for guests to book through mobile. That should go without saying, but the reality is too many hotels still lack a mobile-friendly booking engine or payment gateway, or even prominent calls-to-action. “Whether that call-to-action is to book now online or click to call, as a hotel you want to be encouraging travelers to take the next step and to convert, not exit your website and look elsewhere,” Cakar said.
Stevenson suggested that hotels also need to make sure they have proper web enablement on mobile. “You have to spend the time and money to make sure the framing is correct and everything works properly,” he said. “It is surprising the amount of stuff that doesn’t work right and hotels are unaware.”
The customer-relationship-management capture of the guest—no matter how they book—is important but often it isn’t done correctly on mobile. “If they had a good experience, they will book again but you need to be able to reach them," Stevenson said. “Many hotels don’t even know how to address the guest correctly.”
Why mobile messaging is on the rise
Guest-facing mobile can provide a competitive advantage from both service quality and guest perception standpoints. The cost of entry into the mobile messaging market is low so it is hard to find a property that isn’t at least considering it, Stevenson said. But hoteliers need to make sure the system is effective to make it worth it.
Combining the guest-facing portion with back-of-house task-management systems makes communication easier and more reliable, Benjamin said.
“Both are essential to realize the full potential,” he said. “Without a task-management system to manage the back-end process, hotels are only adding a new communication channel for the guest but missing out on the positive impact on service quality. In fact, guest service could go down without a true back-of-house system for service requests and [mobile] maintenance workers.”
Mobile messaging all comes down to providing convenience and a seamless guest experience, Cakar said. “All things being equal, if you had the choice to stay at a hotel that offered you a mobile device to communicate with the front desk and a hotel that didn’t offer that, you’re going to go with the hotel that’s got it,” he said. “We’re seeing the same type of behavior in the retail sector where more and more customers are choosing the big pizza chains over their local independent pizza store, not because the pizzas are better but purely because the pizza chains allow you to make your order from your mobile.”
Fundamentally, mobile messaging is about offering choice and flexibility for guests. A solution that makes guest-to-staff communication easy and convenient using a variety of mobile channels will increase their engagement and drive revenues as well as satisfaction scores, Hopkins said.
“The more flexibility guests have, the harder it is for staff to manage their expectations,” he continued. “The right guest-service mobile platform has tools for controlling that flexibility and ensuring an efficient and streamlined operation. Mobile technology can only enhance a hotel product and make it special or unique when flexibility can be appropriately managed.”
Beyond the guest-satisfaction benefits, hoteliers who leverage a guest-messaging system can see additional benefits as well, Shashou said. “Text messaging allows a convenient, engaging and personal medium for hoteliers to market and promote their hotel services,” he said. “Text messaging also increases connectivity between hoteliers and the guest, giving hotels the opportunity to act on complaints and concerns before they reach social media or review websites.”