Transforming the home-buying customer journey during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond
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The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every industry in some form or another, with nearly 7 million cases confirmed worldwide.
With social distancing rules and travel bans in place across many countries, the number of daily flights has dropped to just 80% since the start of the year, and hotel occupancy has decreased by 24% to 53% in March at the height of the crisis. The travel and hospitality industries have been amongst the hardest hit, and it’s apparent that they may be the last ones to get back to normality.
As well as losing revenue at the moment, the industry has long struggled with low customer loyalty and NPS, scoring significantly lower than industries such as automotive, banking or retail. The quality of customer experience is a problem that hotel brands have been facing for much longer than the crisis itself. This could be attributed to a number of reasons. The sector is highly fragmented, with no clear dominant player and low repeat custom. The hotel industry is diverse in its offerings, and there’s no limit of choice; smaller hotels like B&Bs, unique accommodation options and home-style stays on Airbnb are all going up against large hotel chains – and often win when it comes to pricing or convenience of booking, particularly when new tech players like Airbnb are considered.
Loyalty is an important factor for hotels; customers who are loyal will most likely be returning, they are more likely to be upsold to and share their positive experience through word-of-mouth and various review pages. Delivering a seamless customer experience is at the heart of achieving this, and hotel brands should ensure the experience is frictionless, not just during the stay, but from the very start of the customer's first interaction with the brand – and long after they return. Frictionless, consistent and effective digital customer experience, whether that be an app or a website, will help hotel brands achieve, and drive, guest loyalty and retention.
The coronavirus crisis is a clear test for hotel brands, with stories of how companies have handled the fallout getting well documented on review forums and in the media. Customers are struggling to change their hotel bookings, third-party sites are dismissing any responsibility for refunds, and a myriad of travellers have shown dissatisfaction with the lack of communication from previously trusted brands. In this unprecedented time, transparent communication with customers is vital to rebuilding trust. Updating customers on their booking and the refund status frequently and in a transparent, personalised manner; answering queries; solving issues; and providing stellar customer service on and offline will ensure loyalty long after this period of difficulty is over. Because loyalty is built upon great experiences.
To ensure survival, hotel brands must attract and retain customers through modern customer experiences. Evaluating the current guest experience, analysing the customer journey, enhancing key touchpoints, and utilising the power of digital to solve their pain points should be high on the boards’ priority list right now.
COVID-19 has added another set of requirements to ensure that the newly emerging guest expectations are met. As the demand for a safer physical environment grows, hygiene and cleanliness standards of rooms will now be one of the most crucial factors for customers when choosing where to stay. Hilton has recognised this, recently unveiling their new cleanliness programme which includes placing a seal over rooms after they have been cleaned to preserve their sanitation. Similarly, Booking.com has surfaced the cleanliness standards in their search capability, allowing users to bring the cleanest properties to the top of their search list.
There’s plenty of opportunities where digital can help hotel brands reinvent their guest experience in the times of the crisis, and rebuild trust. Mobile-enabled solutions, from contactless check-in to ordering food or suggesting best times for a cleaning service; technologies that streamline processes and communications, diminishing the need for physical interaction; or platforms enabling guests to easily research, book and access third-party services to make their journey more linear are just a few examples.
Travellers want to know they’re staying in a clean, affordable and comfortable hotel, and that any issues they might have will be rectified quickly. They want a seamless personalised and safe experience, without having to spend extra time or energy to solve the problems they face. Digital plays a crucial role in this, arming the brand – and its staff – with tools to best serve the guests and ensure an unforgettable, positive experience.
For too long, digital has been put on the backfoot in the hotel sector, but coronavirus has forced companies to re-evaluate their strategies and make digital a priority. As the industry bounces back from the coronavirus setback, delivering stellar customer experiences that make customers’ lives easier will be a key to rebuild the sector and deliver long-term change.
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