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New Year, New Guest Expectations: Four Areas of Focus for 2018

Improving customer experience is now the No. 1 priority for nearly 75 percent of businesses, and that certainly includes hospitality organizations. But we’re not where we should be quite yet. Research suggests that huge gaps still exist in customer experience efforts between what brands know to be valuable (as high as 99 percent) and are actually doing (as low as 30 percent).

Overall, only 7 percent of brands are exceeding their customers’ expectations. That means a lot of work needs to be done in 2018 to deliver more memorable guest experiences that drive satisfaction, loyalty and revenue.

As a hospitality leader with 30+ years’ experience, I believe four key trends will shape the future of guest experience in 2018. Brands should consider these key areas of focus for increasing success in the new year:

1. Catering Across Generations

The ever-widening generational spectrum has significantly changed guest experience. Research definitively shows different needs, expectations and behaviors across different generations, and it’s imperative that brands exceed them all.

For example: 83 percent of millennials are in favor of hotels using data about past travel purchases to deliver a more personalized experience, but only 62 percent of Gen Xers and 57 percent of Baby Boomers feel the same. Or, consider popular online review sites like Yelp: 51 percent of millennials use them, but only 36 percent of Gen Xers and 24 percent of Baby Boomers do.

Remember: it’s not only about catering to millennials. Work to deliver an incredible experience to each individual guest based on his or her unique needs and preferences. Keep in mind that although millennials may be more tech-savvy, Baby Boomers typically spend more during their stay.

2. Embracing Next-gen Technology

Seventy percent of guests say they want to use technology to speed up getting what they want. So, which tools will be most relevant, impactful and profitable for your brand? Research suggests a few in particular, such as automatic SMS or email notifications for things like room readiness or booking changes (desired by nearly 90 percent of guests today). Or, using a smartphone or tablet to control in-room needs like TV, thermostat and room service (noted as an interest by 71 percent of guests).

Remember: technology helps amplify the guest experience, but it should never replace human interaction. And that brings me to my next point…

3. Balancing High-tech and High-touch

Ninety-three percent of guests believe that despite digital advances in the travel industry, the value of personal service cannot be replaced. As brands aggressively pursue new technologies, they cannot forget the importance of human interaction. 2018 will be a critical year for many organizations as they work to strike this balance. And the ROI is there if they do: 45 percent of guests say they would travel (and subsequently, spend) more if they received more personalized service. Perhaps this means offering guests 24×7 live chat with front desk workers, anytime, anywhere using any device. Or, perhaps direct messaging a customer who posted about your brand on social media with a special offer to say thanks.

At the end of the day, travelers seek meaningful experiences. It’s our job to create real “WOW” moments with an extraordinary level of human engagement. After all, there are some things only a human can do to drive these one-of-a-kind experiences.

4. Emphasis on Employee Experience

There’s no doubt that guest experience is driven by the employee experience. As I’ve mentioned many times before, your guests are only as satisfied as your employees are engaged. Hospitality leaders should be worried, then, considering that less than 25 percent of employees are highly engaged.

Leaders must make 2018 a year marked by employee engagement, satisfaction and growth. Research continually shows that employee retention is about more than benefits or even pay. For many, it’s about corporate culture, values, and fitting into the company’s mission. It’s about growth opportunities and creative empowerment. Tap into your associates’ unique skills, and allow them to use their ingenuity. About 90 percent of companies say they currently or plan to invest more in their employee engagement strategy. This should include you in 2018.

Greater loyalty. Increased profits. Better engagement. It all stems from an improved guest experience. Here’s to making 2018 a year marked by outstanding growth and success!

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