Forty-five percent of guests recently surveyed by Medallia believe hotels do not exceed customer expectations. But wait…hasn’t the industry evolved with advanced technologies and new methodologies for meeting shifting preferences? Guests can now autonomously check-in to properties. In-room amenities can be automatically adjusted to exact likings. In today’s smart, digital world, guests seemingly have everything they’ve ever wanted. Yet research proves this is not the case.
So, what’s going on here? Clearly, leaders are still struggling to create the coveted hotel guest experience. In fact, many are just now realizing that adjustments must be made to drive sustainable organizational change and long-term satisfaction. Original guest experience expectations are not being met, and that’s okay. So long as leaders strive to continually improve.
What’s needed, especially in preparation for Q4 and the start of a new year, is a clear understanding of what guests really want when it comes to superior customer experience. The way I see it, businesses must work backwards starting at the heart of the consumer—wants, needs, behaviors, aversions—then implementing new systems, solutions and practices only as they fit into these desired customer outcomes. Doing so helps uncover key gaps and misalignments in guest experience.
That brings us to the million-dollar question: what do guests really want? After what seems like immense progress made on this front—endless insights derived from industry surveys and reports—I understand it may feel disheartening to go back to the drawing board. Yet smart, customer-focused leaders always will because they understand that experiences count for nothing unless they truly matter to customers.
Time for some introspection. Here are data-backed insights into the foundation of what guests want (from PwC’s 2018 “The Future of Customer Experience” report):
The three essential elements of positive customer experience for 80% of customers are speed, convenience, and knowledgeable help/friendly service. Hotels can’t grow or improve if they’re missing the basics of customer experience. The irony here is palpable: brands are aggressively working to adapt alongside what they think guests want when in reality priorities have barely changed over the last 50 years. The ways in which these priorities can be met have changed thanks to the rapid advancement of technology, but that doesn’t mean hotels must dive head first to stay relevant in the eyes of the consumer.
Hotels should gear experiences towards guests, not their brand. Leaders should create experiences that first and foremost deliver real guest value and solve real issues they face, not what they think will make their organization look more sophisticated or forward-thinking.
Only 32% of U.S. customers consider “having the most up-to-date technology” a sign of success. On the contrary, almost half (48%) consider friendly, welcoming service a sign of success in an industry. An organization’s quality of service trumps its level of technology every time. A visually stunning app interface is useless if it has operational glitches. An automation platform could actually end up counterintuitive, sacrificing speed due to a lack of system integration.
Even if you work out the kinks, technology won’t deliver real value if it doesn’t work in the way customers expect it to. And of course, there’s the possibility they won’t even want to use it. Consider that only 3% of customers surveyed by PwC say they want their experiences to be as automated as possible, while 71% still prefer to interact with a human instead of a bot.
Only 38% of consumers say the customer support team members they interact with understand their needs. Employees need the right information at the right time every time to deliver superior experiences. This can be improved with a better voice of the customer (VoC) strategy (research from Gartner shows that only 29% of companies with VoC in place actually incorporate insights about customer needs into decision-making processes), as well as better data collection and sharing organization-wide.
Considering that “knowledgeable help” is one of today’s essential elements to a positive experience, it makes sense that 46% of customers will abandon a brand if they feel employees are not knowledge. Hospitality leaders should work to identify specific issues they can target to take their team to the next level (ex: eliminating errors associated with manual data entry, minimizing data duplication, real-time updates of customer preferences into the CRM). Remember: unknowledgeable employees equal an untrusted company.
Today’s guests have certain demands, but they’re not what organizations think. It doesn’t matter if you embody every quality of a highly successful hospitality organization. It doesn’t matter if you’ve adopted every transformative new technology there is. All that matters is that Medallia’s 45% benchmark reaches 100% and stays there. It’s up to us, every hospitality leader who cares, to drive this goal.
I keep the above-mentioned insights top-of-mind when supervising my team and consulting at other properties. I hope you also find them to be helpful.