Guest experience: Trends, tips & Best practices for 2021
The guest experience could be the difference between whether a guest returns or not. Explore the ways that organizations can use guest experience as a key factor of their success.
What is guest experience?
The guest experience is the cumulative effect of every interaction your guests have with you. In the case of a hotel for example, guests are involved from the booking stage, right through to check out, before (hopefully) re-booking for next time.
If businesses want guests to return, the experience has to meet their expectations. This is why “guest experience” is so important. Businesses can do this by optimizing every interaction throughout the guest’s journey; this begins by understanding their needs and how best to meet those expectations. One way to do this is through guest satisfaction - measurement is not the goal here, taking action on the insights is. By measuring guest satisfaction you can find areas along the guest’s journey that need improving - and then take appropriate steps to improve those experiences.
Guest expectations are changing and the hospitality industry needs to adapt
World events and the pandemic have created a mixed outlook for 2021. Vaccinations give travelers hope and a sigh of relief to the entire industry but this will take time, and even still hospitality and travel businesses should be aware of the current trends that may affect them:
- Guests are more safety-conscious
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront changing guests’ needs. In order to deliver a satisfactory guest experience, businesses need to be aware of how these needs are changing and double down to ensure guests feel safe, secure and clean.
All of which were important before, but even more so now. Guests are looking for booking sites that share information on cleanliness and COVID-19 precautionary information.
- The rise of the rural ‘Staycation’
Instead of opting for beaches on a far away shore, travelers are opting to stay more locally within their own country, in response to uncertain international travel conditions or changing personal fortunes. This provides more opportunity for tourism and hospitality nationally in rural parts, though it can lead to more stress and higher expectations on the business.
- Travelers are more likely to take last-minute trips
As COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions are eased or applied with little notice, travelers are now booking more last minute trips to make the most out of opportunities.
Research found that the average number of days between booking to check-in has reduced by 50 days (down -37.5% from the average lead time pre-pandemic).
- Technology is improving the guest digital experience
Wi-Fi isn’t enough. Whether it’s to satisfy a millennial’s native use of technology during their stay, to offer better efficiencies of service or a seamless entertainment service during a guest’s stay, technology is a key part of the hotel experience.
According to Hotel Technology Trends 2021, there has been an explosion in travel apps for guests, mobile-optimized booking channels for their stay and a demand for instant messaging channels direct to hotel management for any questions and issues.
- Guests plan to eat out more when they are able
Take out and delivery service providers were the trend in the middle of the pandemic, and most restaurants pivoted to offer this service if they did not already. As we start 2021 and customers travel, they’ll want to experience out-of-home dining, though home delivery won’t be going away anytime soon.
Research shows that both options remain strong with customers: Nearly half (47%) of respondents globally say they plan to dine in-person at restaurants more often in 2021 than they did in 2020 (if and when local restrictions allow) and a quarter of respondents (27%) say they plan to order more takeout meals this year.
How has the industry responded to these trends?
Businesses that have designed new experiences for customers inside of the current trends have a better chance at adapting to customer need and increasing customer loyalty in the long-run.
Take fast-food brand Burger King. They’re tackling the pressures of COVID-19 by redesigning their restaurants to focus on improving guest experience. The new restaurant plans include offering multiple ordering and delivery modes:
- A drive-in area (under solar-powered canopies) that allow guests to place their orders through the BK app and have their food delivered to the car
- Dedicated parking spots for curbside delivery
- Pickup lockers for mobile and delivery orders
- Multi-lane drive-thrus that provide a view into the kitchen
- External walk-up windows
- For drive-thru lanes, orders are sent by a conveyor belt system to allocated pick-up spots per lane.
This focus on delivering off-premise and limiting contact has reduced their energy footprint, leading to reducing down interior space to 60%.
Other businesses have adopted these solutions to help keep their offering competitive and focused on their customers:
- Investing in mobile app technology for contactless customer engagement
Apps can be used as a tool to manage many guest interactions, leading to a seamless and organized experience - this is especially important when the experience needs to be COVID-friendly. These technology solutions help with contactless payment, voice control, mobile check-in, mobile keys and fingerprint security recognition.
Research found that 80% of hotel guests would download a hotel app that would enable them to check-in, check-out and get all information about the hotel; a 10% increase compared to March 2020.
- Personalized communications
Membership details, vacation ideas or personal offers that are in line with guest preferences and expectations help to create a feeling of belonging and ensure their stay is remembered positively. Hilton Hotels & Resorts used a personalized subject line to keep their brand and services top of mind: ‘Richard, earn 130K Points toward free nights!’ This is a great example of how to leverage influence over vacation time after COVID-19 is under control. This personalization should go beyond including a guest’s name though; the message and content should focus on what is useful to that guest. Family-friendly activity ideas aren’t going to be relatable for a couple on a romantic getaway.
3 ideas to help you improve your guest experience
What can you do to help your organization focus on guest experience?
If you’re interested in adapting your hospitality business to increase your guest experience, here are some areas to explore:
1. Understand the end-to-end guest journey
Mapping your guest’s journey from start to end can help you see where aspects of the experience need improving, and the necessary steps to improve it.
- First impressions
When a guest first sees a hotel on a website, the first impression of the product (hotel and its services) can either start the guest journey or end it dead. Does your website show off the experience that a customer can get? As the average attention span for a website user is between 8-15 seconds, you don’t have long to make a good impression.
- At the time of booking
Some key questions for your guest are ‘who should I stay with?’ and ‘what is the best deal for me?’. Cover the safety precautions for COVID-19 early on so your guest knows what health and safety measures are in place to ease any tension around their safety.
If you can support your guests by personalized offers or a discounted quote based on their customer loyalty status, this rewards-based system can tip the scales and lead to a booking. An easy-to-use mobile booking app with clearly displayed options - such as book now, pay later - can help speed up the process of booking, without the need to engage on a telephone call.
- When the guest arrives (check-in)
Thanks to mobile app integration with booking systems and room locks, a guest can check-in, bypass the lobby and proceed to their room without contact with employees. Where in-person check-in is required to check documentation, the kiosk space can also help the guest experience. Do you have visible signs to explain the Covid-19 procedures? Do you have multilingual support? Are there distancing measurements and sanitization stations in place?
- Arrival to room or restaurant
Some hotels are employing the use of robots to carry luggage to rooms. The Henn-na hotel in Nagasaki, has replaced its front desk staff with robots to check-in, check-out and answer questions. This allows guests the choice between pressure-free use of the hotel, or a fun novel interaction with technology.
Mobile apps can also provide codes to room locks or act as keys.
For restaurants, as mentioned above new experiences are being designed by businesses like Burger King that give customers the chance to decide how they arrive and engage with the restaurant - all set-up to give customers flexibility.
- During your guest’s stay
The traditional dining experience will be challenged. Traditional hotel experiences like a breakfast buffet are likely to be limited as guests are required to stay at allocated tables. Small, tightly packed sharing tables will also struggle. What will the new iteration look like as a result? How will customers engage with the new experience you roll out?
Mobile apps can also help to facilitate this experience. In July and August 2020, Balbirnie House Hotel received and processed 10,000 food orders using the F&B order and pay system available on their own branded mobile app.
Also, consider how personalized your guest experience is after check-in. Are your staff paying attention to the details; the guest’s name, favorite drink, or their preferred tee-off time for the golf course? Providing prompt support in person or via mobile communication channels (messaging or phone call) will help your guests enjoy their time with you, whether that is business or pleasure.
Having your employees up to date with booking criteria and policies means that they’ll be prepared to answer frontline queries too. Proactively offer guests a chance to feedback, so you know their needs and expectations in advance.
- During checkout / payment
Use this opportunity to leave a lasting impression. Make them want to return again. Wrap up any loose ends, answer any questions. In some cases you might want to streamline the check-out/payment process, but this depends on the experience your guests are expecting.
If the experience of the stay was good, you can expect your guest to want to share or talk about the hotel. This is a prime opportunity to ask for feedback by a survey, or make it easy for former guests to find your social media channels so that positive feedback can be shared more widely.
Beware that this step goes both ways. If guests aren’t happy about their time and journey, they’ll share this too, which means that your brand reputation could be impacted.
2. Gather guest feedback
Designing the guest experience is vital, but so is taking steps to continually improve it. As the needs and expectations of your guests evolve, the experience should too.
This is why collecting feedback from your guests, before, during and after their stay is so important. You can assess their guest ‘journey’, learn what guests enjoy, where you can improve your experience, and ultimately get more guests wanting to return again and again.
Guest experience surveys can provide you key information like:
- A Net Promoter Score: This question asks how likely a guest is to recommend you to a friend. This score can provide insight on the customer’s emotional connection to a brand, which is a key driver for increasing brand loyalty. It can also show whether you need to take action to improve your customer loyalty and if you are, how well your actions are working.
- Satisfaction score: How satisfied a guest is with each individual element, service or product, based on a ranking survey score between 1-5 (where 5 represents ‘very satisfied’ and 1 represents ‘very unsatisfied’. This gives you an overview of what’s working and what isn’t, and where action needs to be taken.
- Collecting open feedback: This can be done in an open text field, giving the guest the freedom to feedback in any area, which may not be already covered in the survey itself.
3. Take action on your insights
Some things to consider are along the way are:
- Smart Routing
This shares insights from each touchpoint and ensures that information gained is shared with relevant stakeholders. This gives you the opportunity to leverage what you’re hearing about: new food products (restaurant), merchandise (retail), policies (retail banking) and check-in systems (hotels). This information can be routed into the appropriate stakeholders using the workflow streams they already use (e.g. using Slack).
- Implement policies and staff training where needed
Ask yourself where journey gaps are along the touchpoints and see how employees can provide a greater service. This could mean updating internal policies, training staff on new technology or investing in key customer experience hires that can help drive growth in these areas. It also means hearing employee feedback to see whether there are any issues ‘on the ground’ with delivery and follow-through.
- Invest in good online reputation management
For hospitality and restaurants, robust feedback at the location level is available and is a productive source of unsolicited feedback. Look for a reputation management system that can review other online review platforms instantaneously, to make sure you’re addressing positive and negative feedback that is being shared to potential guests.
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