Customer experience can be difficult to define, but easy to
recognize when it’s missing.
It's become the holy grail that companies seek as a way to stand out from their
competition. And for good reason.
In its March survey report, Experience is Everything: Here’s How To Get It Right,
PwC found 73% of global respondents say a positive experience is among the key
drivers that influence their brand loyalties.
And they’re willing to back that up with dollars - consumers would pay as much
as 16% more for better customer experience.
But how is that defined? Nearly 80% of PwC's respondents indicate speed,
convenience, knowledgeable help and friendly service are the most important
elements of a positive customer experience.
This month we are exploring the topic of customer experience from a variety of
For our final installment we explore what is happening in the world of
hospitality, as new and established brands vie to win loyalty from increasingly
What guests want
Deloitte recently surveyed more than 6,600 hotels guests who
have collectively stayed at 25 brands across different hotel tiers to find out what
makes a great hotel experience.
The results are outlined in its whitepaper, Next Gen Hotel
Guests Have Checked In: The Changing Guest Experience. The findings show guests
want more than ever from their hotel stays, so brands must work to truly know
their guests to deliver personalized experiences and programs.
Deloitte outlines how the landscape has shifted over the past
few decades. Early on, guest expectations for a hotel stay were based on basic qualities
such as a clean room, good value, location and quiet atmosphere.
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Then hotels were able to differentiate themselves by going a
step further, by offering high-quality bars and restaurants, appealing public
spaces, modern fitness facilities and sustainable practices.
Now those are what Deloitte terms “the new basics” -
necessary and expected but not qualities that can contribute to an exceptional
To do that, brands must address five guest needs Deloitte
identified through its survey:
- Know me: Guests want hotels to know and remember their
preferences and needs. Sixty-five percent of respondents say they feel the
hotels where they stay “know” them. Improvements in this area can translate to
loyalty - Deloitte found stay frequency increases by 13% when guests feel the hotel
- Engage me: Hotels need to ensure their staff members
interact with guests in “personalized, authentic and attentive ways.” Survey
respondents indicate the top reason for a positive experience was the
friendliness of the hotel staff. Conversely, 38% of respondents say an
unfriendly team leads to a negative stay, putting that second only to a dirty
- Hear me: Deloitte found that a desire for hotels to “listen
to guest needs, empathize with their situation and then follow through” as the
most important attribute identified by guests. Guests are 40% more likely to “positively,
organically promote their experience when a problem was fixed quickly.” But
just creating new communication tools has no impact on guests’ likelihood to
promote – an indication that things such as chatbots and other new feedback
channels do not add value on their own.
- Empower me: Today’s guests want flexibility and opportunity
to design their stay, for example through apps and other self-service portals
that offer tailored recommendations activities, restaurants and ground transportation.
Deloitte found this will only become more important in coming years as the
desire for empowerment for travelers ages 18 to 34 is approximately 20 times
higher than for those 55 to 70.
- Delight me: This attribute, which speaks to a hotel’s
ability to create moments that surprise guests and exceed their expectations,
received the lowest satisfaction score on the survey. Only 56% of respondents say
their hotel stays succeed in delighting them. “A common misconception is that
this always has to be big things like expensive amenities or lavish gifts. But
delight me can be the simplest of touches that are unexpected, tailored and
delivered in ways guests did not anticipate,” writes Deloitte. This is also another
attribute that is notably more important for younger guests.
These last four attributes all support the first concept of “know
me,” what Deloitte calls “the central pillar of the guest experience.” Room reservations and loyalty programs can
provide useful data about guest behaviors and preferences, but Deloitte suggest
hotels also work to know their guests in other ways, such as tracking when they
visit the hotel’s “restaurants and bars, spas and events - or even those of
Marriott and Alibaba
China is one of the fastest-growing travel markets, and Marriott
is investing in winning that audience to its brand by partnering with a company
that understands Chinese consumers.
Marriott International has created a joint venture with Alibaba
Group, a Chinese multinational e-commerce, retail, internet, AI and technology
conglomerate with more than 500 million mobile monthly active users across its
The two companies have created a digital travel service and
consulting company that will market directly to Alibaba’s customer base,
provide a link between the two companies’ loyalty programs and create content,
programs and promotions for Marriott hotels that is customized for Chinese travelers.
“Together, we are elevating and redefining the travel
experience for Chinese consumers to be more seamless and personalized as they
embark on adventures to discover the world,” says Daniel Zhang, CEO of Alibaba
Earlier this month, the two entities announced a pilot program
to solve one of the paint points in the customer experience for hotel guests: check-in.
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Working with Fliggy, Alibaba’s travel service platform, the
companies are testing facial-recognition technology for check-in at two
Marriott International properties in China.
Marriott says the traditional check-in process takes at
least three minutes, and more during peak times. With facial-recognition technology,
the self-service check-in can be completed in less than a minute. Guests scan their IDs, take a photo and input
contact details. The device verifies the information and then dispenses a room key card.
By creating this self-service check-in, Marriott says its
hotel associates are available to focus on providing personalized service to
guests. It plans to enable facial recognition check-in at more properties in
Along with this initiative, the joint venture also manages Marriott’s
storefront on Fliggy, which serves as a booking portal for Chinese travelers.
Guests can access 6,000 of Marriott’s hotels from 30 brands and can see those
that are part of Marriott’s “Li Yu” program, a suite of Chinese-language
services and amenities designed to provide Chinese travelers “the comforts of
home anywhere in the world they may go.”
More than 1,000 Marriott properties around the world also have enabled
PPP (Post Post Pay), Fliggy’s mobile service that allows users to book hotels
without paying a deposit. Room charges and incidental
expenses are automatically settled afterwards, providing a wallet-free
experience for both customers and hotels. Marriott is the first brand to roll
out PPP on a global scale.
“We are proud to have a hand in supporting Marriott
International to redefine the experience of Chinese travelers with innovative
services,” says David Chai, CEO of the joint venture.
“These accomplishments thus far are testament to our solid
expertise of providing effective solutions and services across the entire
journey of a traveler; and we look forward to continuing reinventing and
showcasing our expertise.”
Guest-written reviews, comments on online travel agency
sites and blog posts can be rich sources of information about what they value
in a hotel experience, providing a clear view of how hotels can improve that
experience and differentiate themselves in the competitive hospitality
But Travelsify, a content analytics platform, has found a
disconnect between the way guests describe a hotel and how hotels describe themselves.
By analyzing more than 100 million natural language traveler
and expert reviews, Travelsify has found that while hotels tend to describe themselves
in terms of standard property characteristics and amenities, guests are more
likely to mention whether a room is stylish or the comfort level of the bed.
“People are talking more than four times more about the
decoration of the room as they are about the Wi-Fi, and they are talking about
spaciousness of the room more than about the breakfast,” says Alexandra
Fernandez Ramos, chief product and sales officer at Travelsify.
“If guests are writing about these concepts, it’s because
they matter to them. And they influence other potential guests of these
From this analysis, Travelsify has identified 34 “hotel DNA”
attributes - terms such as “cozy,” “bright,” “stylish” and “zen” - that it says matter
to travelers when choosing a hotel. The company has identified similar “DNA” terms for restaurants
and vacation rental properties.
“These terms tell us why they like or dislike a room or a restaurant. We are
shifting from the ‘what’ to the ‘why,’” Ramos says.
In April 2017, AccorHotels tested an inspirational discovery
tool powered by Travelsify’s data. Dubbed “MoodMatch,” it enabled users to
filter hotels based on the type of experience they desire - such as “luxury,”
“views,” or “vintage” – without having to select a destination. After selecting
at least two mood descriptors, the system provides a selection of hotels and
the percentage that the property’s “DNA attributes” match the user’s chosen
Now Travelsify is working with Accor to provide enriched
smart data for across various business units, incorporating its Hotel DNA, Restaurant
DNA and Vacation Rental DNA.
"The ambition of AccorHotels in
hospitality and lifestyle is to multiply the number, frequency and relevance of
touchpoints with our guests,” says Ian Di Tullio, senior vice president of
guest services for AccorHotels.
“AccorHotels is not only about hotels
anymore. It is about hotels, restaurants, vacation rentals and much more, all
which match users personal preferences whether they are traveling or at home.
This is a shift in how we are transforming customer experience. Partnering with
Travelsify’s AI technology for Hotel DNA, Restaurant DNA and Vacation Rental
DNA will enable our strategy and will allow Accor to further develop
cross-product sales that make sense for our valued guests.”
Artificial intelligence is one of the most talked-about
technologies in travel, with the potential to revolutionize the guest experience
by bringing understanding and efficiency to every aspect of the journey, from powering
pricing, search and booking functions to creating more personalized experiences
and on-site service.
Earlier this month, InterContinental Hotels Group announced
it is creating 100 “AI Smart Rooms” at its hotels in cities across China within
IHG has partnered with Baidu, a Chinese AI and internet company,
to create the smart rooms using Baidu’s DuerOS system, a software for intelligent
Unlike some voice assistant platforms that require specific
prompt words or instructions, these devices are being built to understand requests
in the natural ways guests would say them.
Guests will also be able to switch the room’s settings between
“work” and “leisure” modes. The AI solution will also be used to aid hotel
staff, for example by automatically resetting devices when guests check out.
“IHG has always been at the forefront of innovation,” says
Lin Wang, vice president of marketing or IHG Greater China.
“We are thrilled to be pioneering in the hospitality
industry and exploring the various possibilities of future experience with our
guests. Millennials are particularly sensitive to technology, often seeking new
things to try. The AI Smart Room will undoubtedly be extremely attractive for
them, paving the way for a new level of modernization and consumer
IHG and Baidu inked a strategic partnership on AI
development last November.