The most prudent answer to the question, ‘How has customer service changed in the hospitality industry?’, might actually be to say nothing has changed.
Fundamentally, customer service has always been, and should remain, the same. Whether it’s answering a question, solving a problem, or fulfilling a request, customer service is about giving a customer what they require and making sure they are satisfied with what you have provided. It’s about delivering on desires and making people happy.
So is the question moot? Of course not! While the broad strokes of customer service are eternal, there has been a complete shift in the way hospitality businesses can engage with customers and the channels they can use to bestow the quality service all customers crave. Likewise, the demands and expectations of guests have also changed.
Given 97% of global consumers report that customer service is important in their choice of and loyalty to a brand and 76% say they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them, hospitality businesses need to embrace any method that allows them to improve their quality of customer service.
Here are just a few examples of how the past and present have diverged:
Change number #1
Guests have a new set of expectations
Where travel may once have been a novelty and a rarity, it’s now an accepted part of everyday life for most people. It would be strange to not take a few trips each year, either for work or leisure. In fact, 83% of survey respondents now view travel as a right, not a luxury.
This means guests will have preconceived expectations about their stay at a hotel and if it doesn’t match the standards they set in their own life, there’s going to be problems. They want unique and exhilarating experiences but also expect a certain level of control over their stay.
Customers expect you to honour the same offers in all channels; online, in person, on mobile, or over the phone, and they expect you to let them move between channels without it being a hassle. A credit card given over the phone should be saved on file for when the customer is at the hotel.
The definition of timeliness has also evolved from a customer standpoint. They now expect 24-hour service and an almost instant response to any enquiry they have.
Customers now expect 24-hour service and an almost instant response to any enquiry they have.
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Change number #2
Technology makes service easier on both sides of the fence
The constant progression of technology like mobile, apps, and in-room features makes it much easier for guests to lodge their requests, and for you to answer them. It’s now a simple task to stay in touch with guests throughout the booking journey to accommodate their needs at all times.
Pre-stay, hotels can give guests the choices of whether to check-in prior to arrival, of upgrades, of optional amenities and of early check-in. Upon arrival, guests may speak to a front desk clerk or go to a self-service kiosk to pick up keys, even go straight to their room via mobile check-in and room keys. During the stay, guests can order or book amenities at the touch of a button from a tablet in their room.
As Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch brilliantly puts it: “Automate the predictable so you can humanise the exceptional.”
Change number #3
The world has gone mobile
Travellers are now extremely self-reliant thanks to the emergence of smartphones. They can now research, learn, navigate, and make bookings from the small device in their pocket.
Instant access to information is now taken for granted. As customer-centric businesses, hotels need to be active in the mobile space, without exception. This means possessing a mobile-friendly website, creating a mobile app, selling mobile-only promotions, and integrating in-room technology with mobile technology. The fact that over 75% of transactions will be completed via mobile by 2020 should be enough to convince reluctant properties of this necessity.
Mobile is simply a better and faster way of doing business. More than 70% of consumers already stopped doing business with a company because of a bad service experience. A poor mobile interaction could be the catalyst for this is hotels don’t get it right.
Change number #4
Social media is providing new opportunities (and potential pitfalls)
Over the past decade social media channels like Facebook have steadily infiltrated and influenced our daily lives – so much so that the majority of the content we consume is via social media. Businesses naturally have a strong presence there (if they don’t, they should!) and customers expect to find inspiration, knowledge, and entertainment there.
Social media is a fantastic way for hotels to build and engage with their audience in new, exciting, and more personal ways. It can really help to make life more fluid for guests if they can book right there from a Facebook page and live chat bots or assistants can provide almost instant 24-hour help.
However, social media is a very public forum and the visibility of negative comments from a disgruntled guests can be very high, meaning businesses have to be even more vigilant with how they deal with customers and what information they make public. Any delay in responding to comments on social media could be dire, with 66% of users expecting a response within 24 hours.
The most important thing to remember is that it takes more than a friendly smile to deliver a great guest service – it demands hotel systems that are set up to provide consistency across all channels that involve guest interaction.