Meeting consumer expectations is everything. It’s the basis for good reviews, word-of-mouth recommendations and return visits. The problem is that expectations are changing so rapidly that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for hoteliers to understand what exactly guests want, let alone actually meet those requirements.
To help address this issue, I sought out Marcus Robinson, the CEO of Monscierge (www.monscierge.com), which is a company specializing in integrated software solutions for mobile devices. I’ve known Monscierge for awhile now, keenly tracking their quarterly Guest Experience Management (GEM) reports. Check out their website to read these for yourself. And by the way, to put things in the right perspective, that ‘CEO’ title rightfully stands for Chief Experience Officer, which perfectly articulates where Monscierge’s true dedication is and where they’re headed. Let’s see what Marcus has to say.
How’d you get involved in the mobile software business? Why the hospitality industry?
We had a vision of wanting to promote what was best about the local community to visitors. Hotels were an obvious choice for us to work with; there are 1.1 billion travelers that encounter a hotel front desk each year. By enhancing guests’ experiences through streamlining the recommendation process and promoting the local community, we could effectively benefit the traveler, but also help the local community and the hotel.
Most of the Monscierge team has lived and worked overseas at one time or another, we also travel, like most others, for work and recreation. We shared a common belief that our experiences as travelers are improved by local information and insight. We all felt frustrated that this connection was missing in many places we stayed and we endeavored to create a solution to bridge that gap.
Each quarter, Monscierge publishes a GEM report on the latest hospitality trends. How did those emerge? How do you conduct your research?
After interviewing over 1,000 hotels properties from around the world and countless guests, sifting through endless amounts of industry data, and never ceasing to try and enhance the guest experience, we discovered we had begun to amass a ton of very useful information. We made the decision that it would benefit everyone if we shared this information as we collected it.
An academic process underpins everything we do. We spend more time on research than almost any other part of the process. It leads our strategy and allows us to measure our successes. Each team is responsible for a different type of research that goes along with their normal responsibilities. Our GEM reports are a combination of the findings from various teams, depending on the topic. Our methods include direct questions to hotel operators, touches logged on our lobby devices, and researching industry trends.
You talk a lot about evolving guest expectations. Can you elaborate on this?
It isn’t exclusively guest expectations that are evolving, it’s the entire world. The mobile revolution is causing somewhat of a digital renaissance. The hospitality industry is only just now catching up with the impact of technology. The sad fact is: guests are already ahead of the industry curve and are now demanding change in the hospitality space. Rather than being seen as innovators and leaders in this space, guests see brands as dated, and in fact, lagging behind the rest of the world. There are a few forward thinking brands that are now waking up to this trend, and they are willing to commit the necessary resources to become competitive in this space.
Apart from the obvious, how has technology impacted guest expectations? Are consumers becoming increasingly fickle?
Free quality internet access has gone from a luxury to a mainstay. The rising tide of social media reviews gives potential guests access to all kinds of hotel information before they travel; they can easily compare prices and amenities. Smartphones have made this information readily available at any time and place. Guests are becoming used to brands utilizing location-based marketing, mobile discounts, and special perks for checking in.
Guests have options and they use technology to evaluate those options. Increasingly, mobile is becoming the platform guests choose to make their decisions. I don’t think they have become fickle; I think they have always wanted quality combined with value. As it becomes easier and easier for guests to make informed decisions, we will see them choose options that are more tailored to their own preferences.
What are some present day expectations that might not be wholly transparent?
Most new expectations are fairly apparent, or they should be. But guests now want more of a local experience, immersing themselves in the local environment with shopping, dining and entertainment. With so much information to choose from and an overabundance of reviews and opinions, the problem guests now face is how to refine their choice from this information overload. Guests will get information from somewhere, so we’ve developed the technology to let it come from the hoteliers.
What services that are now considered value-added will soon become expectations?
We’ve seen the transition of signage and self-service options from value-added amenities to integral guest experience components. This was confirmed by the AAA recently when their diamond rating system for North America was revised to include digital signage as part of its rating evaluations. The new guidelines incorporate member expectations regarding hotel fees, recognize emerging shifts in design trends, and reflect a more personalized approach to enhancing guest comfort and satisfaction.
The hotel industry is oftentimes described as technologically lethargic. What can managers do to get up to speed and stay ahead?
The biggest technology trend at the moment is mobile. By now, most hotel managers should have a mobile plan in place for guests. Quickly behind that should be a plan for a staff app that enables them to interact with guests and each other. OTAs have taken the lead in search and bookings in the past. It seems that the resultant revenue hit has many hotel operators keeping their eyes peeled for the next industry-changer.
You stress the importance of elegant and intuitive technological design. What sorts of features does your software incorporate to fit this? Why is this so critical?
It’s not so much a single feature that our software incorporates as much as a broader range of considerations for the experience when using our solution. A lot of companies look at a problem, find a solution that solved a similar problem, and then apply that solution to their problem. That sort of ‘copy and paste’ thinking skips the critical thinking step and often results in a lack of flexibility, poor sustainability, poor usability or all of the above.
The critical thinking step is where you consider your audience. The people, their environments and their experiences have to be factored into the final solution. It’s easy for the team producing a good to only consider itself. But when we design our products, we’re creating a cohesive solution that is the result of extensive research, client feedback and user feedback. We’re constantly refactoring our solution based on real world feedback instead of creating something that just works well in our office. This is absolutely critical because if a solution ultimately creates more problems than it solves, it’s not a real solution.
Mobile apps are a hot topic these days. What do you think are the most important features a hotel can offer on this platform to reinforce a brand?
The most important thing a brand can do is ‘connect’ with their guests. This can take on many forms, but we see the future of travel as an experience that begins at home and continues through the guest’s stay all the way until they return home. The brands that are able to stay connected with their guests through this entire journey will be the most successful. Brands should be asking themselves, “Do we have the platform in place to do this now?” If the answer is a ‘no’, they need to realize that there are brands putting this in place now, and these competitors will be at a clear advantage moving into the next three to five years.
As smartphone and tablet ownership continues to soar, consumers are interacting with brands across multiple platforms or touch points. It’s important for marketers to adjust their strategy accordingly and consider this range of touch points as a whole, while tailoring the brand engagement with guests in ways that suit the experiences they expect on each platform.
Research carried out by the Internet Advertising Bureau found that while consumers are using multiple devices to get online, the types of online activity varies amongst platforms. Each device has its own niche. It’s important for hotels to have a holistic strategy for different types of mobile devices whilst being able to present a consistent experience across the entire customer journey from research, booking, reconnaissance and right through to review.
With the prevalence of third-party review sites and social media, trust (or lack thereof) is becoming a major issue. What can hotels do to gain the trust of customers? How can hotels work to deliver trusted, expert opinions?
Hotels have been providing guests with trusted recommendations well before the internet was even conceived. Distrust comes when expectations are not met. Hotels that monitor their online reputations see what their guests are seeing. Managers can then work to maintain a consistent standard in both reputation and experience.
Our guest research uncovered a huge desire for trusted information. Guests are inundated with opinions and reviews from social peers, and a recent ruling by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority rebuked TripAdvisor, forcing it not to claim or imply that all its reviews were from real travelers, or were honest, real and trusted. We are committed to providing hotels with the tools they need in order to give guests online and mobile access to their expert and trusted recommendations.
What is the greatest untapped opportunity that cutting-edge technology offers for the tourism industry?
Advances in location-based technology have made it possible for travelers to view the spot where they are standing as it looked at different points in history. This can go hand-in-hand with the local experiences today’s guests are seeking.
What aspects do you see as most important for the future of travel? Where is there the most potential to grow?
The future of travel is about choices. There’s a lot of talk about replacing the ‘personal touch’ with all of the self-service options out there right now. We feel that technology is meant to enhance guest interactions and not to replace it. We’ve worked to create technology that forms a focal point where staff can interact with guests. There’s an increasing trend to remove physical barriers between staff and guests. Large format touchscreens provide the perfect focal point for staff to come out from behind their desk and stand side-by-side with guests.
Are there people who will always want a personal greeting? Yes. Are there people who would rather not speak to anyone and go straight to their rooms? Yes. The truth is: we all want a bit of both when it suits our mood. This is about meeting each guest where they want to be met at that particular moment as well as giving operators a new and effective tool to enhance their own efficiency and their guests’ enjoyment.
(Article published in eHotelier on September 12, 2012)