By Bassam Jabry
The Hospitality industry demonstrated resilience and adaptability in the wake of the pandemic to stay afloat, repurpose, and play a critical role in the entire quarantine phase that followed the initial lockdowns. This resilience and adaptability are qualities that can once again play a pivotal role in keeping the industry relevant, vibrant, and also sustainable — more on that later in this post.
PWC’s Future of CX research uncovered that one in three consumers (32%) say they will walk away from a brand they love after just one bad experience. This figure goes up to 50% after several bad experiences.
From my experience working across different segments of the industry over the last 10 years, I’ve found that the key to success keeps coming back to matching guest expectations.
For example, it is often easier for budget hotels to get great reviews because guests arrive with lower expectations as compared to those who splurged on a 5-star luxury experience.
Working to match guest expectations acts as an effective benchmark as it allows room for variation across different properties and brands. Whether budget or luxury, what will truly differentiate hotel ratings and their positioning is the sophistication and execution of the following three areas:
This first item is probably the most critical. We learned this from the healthcare space as well. Often the service delivery in one segment of the guest journey— for example, check-in— is just right. The room experience could be equally perfect.
However, what happens in between? The moment of transition from one service touchpoint to another. Suppose we can connect these elements and bridge the guests’ expectations and information from one moment to the next and the one after that. In that case, we weave a continuum where guests don’t feel like they are being processed, asked to repeat information, or worse, fill out endless forms.
I recall going for a weekend staycation once, just to get some downtime. Despite having paid online, I was asked to make a security deposit at check-in, which, due to the small amount, needed to be in cash! I also had to fill out a paper form with all my details in order to get the deposit returned when I checked out. With that behind me, I was ready to switch off and promptly headed to the spa to enjoy a massage, only to be asked to fill out another form, again with all my details, of course, this time with necessary health information and a feedback form at the end of my treatment.
I suddenly felt like I was being flipped into a nightmare scenario where the very paperwork I was trying to escape from had found me back between the Swedish or Balinese massage menu options! This is an extreme example, but it highlights the need to map out guest activities. This will help to at least identify the friction points as they transition from one point to the next and sets the stage to find effective ways of addressing them.
Well, it is, but not by itself. It will depend on how the solution is delivered and through which lens or perspective it was designed with. Is the new technology solution you’re rolling out meeting operational specs or guest expectations?
Of course, one size does not fit all. Often, tech is applied as a blanket replacement for a current operation without consideration of how it will be integrated into the wider guest experience.
Take self-check-in as an example. Some have delivered this better than others. Two important factors to consider are:
Build these edge cases into your SOP where staff can take over and revert to other check-in methods, a format that guests are familiar with or can understand. How many times have we been in a situation where staff are simply there to show us how to use the IT system? Not cool— unless we ask to be shown.
According to a BCG report, “Automation can be effective for routine tasks, but it is often incapable of dealing with more idiosyncratic requests.”. This is largely due to technology systems not dealing with empathy and being unable to meet guests in their unique frame of mind at that moment.
Don’t aim for 100% change. If more than 40% of your guests use the system at the start, it’s already a huge win.
Data is everywhere, and we’re getting better at scraping it, processing and getting around privacy restrictions. What’s important is how we make sense of it and distil it down to staff on the front lines to make immediate use of.
What sort of information would different members of staff need to carry out a given task at that particular moment in time for that specific guest they are attending to? Identifying and presenting those (few) data points can make all the difference. You can forget about the rest of your ‘big data’ if no one is making sense of it.
Let me then end on the latest challenge confronting every business today — Sustainability and eco-credentials. As policies and legislation get drawn up and disseminated, will this be seen as a troublesome cost overhead and a detraction to the guest experience? Maybe in the very early days. But we now potentially have a willing partner — the more eco-conscious guest who is at least open to the idea of doing good for the planet while having a good time.
The secret lies in how we can nudge them along the same path without spoiling their experience. Yes, I want the thermostat to remain on so the temperature is just right when I get back to my room. Yes, I am here to feel pampered— let’s have fresh sheets every night.
These requests are not new, but how can we maintain the sense of value and experience we want to emanate while enrolling our guests to act as more responsible planetary citizens? We need to deliver the same level of perceived benefit with no added friction to achieve it. Then we can also find ways to acknowledge and reward their efforts in formats that are meaningful to them. These little behavioural nudges will move us along firmly and surely towards a more respectful and sustainable use of resources.
In conclusion, although quality standards and operations are mandatory to run any property, another unseen layer of the guest experience must be considered. By nurturing staff's empathic soft skills, their sense of empowerment (by allowing room for ‘managed’ errors) it will help to build implicit ownership and a sense of purpose in their work. Ultimately this will unlock the collective creativity and insight of the entire crew. By tackling the three areas mentioned above, teams can find unique ways to match their guest’s expectations, leaving them feeling great about their hospitality experience.
Bassam Jabry writes on the intersection of human-centred design and technology. The views presented in this article are his own. No AI was involved in writing this article!
Managing Director at Chemistry
Creating meaningful customer centric solutions for complex organisations
Chemistry was founded in 2000 with the belief that great ideas come from the synergy of minds.
Today we are an Experience Design consultancy, based in Singapore & Amsterdam, driven by an international team of multidisciplinary creatives.