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Zendesk Relate - how conversational CRM is changing the hotel experience

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright May 17, 2022
Hospitality brands such as Four Seasons and Soho House are using messaging and mobile apps to improve the guest experience.

Spa at Four Seasons Anguilla © Four Seasons Ken Seet
(© Four Seasons Ken Seet)

The full potential of connected digital technology arrives when it completely breaks down old barriers to getting things done — a phenomenon that diginomica calls Frictionless Enterprise. Some fascinating examples of this principle in action are starting to emerge in the hospitality industry, as hoteliers and others adopt mobile apps and digital messaging to strike up new, more natural conversations with customers about their needs and wants.

A pre-digital hotel stay is subject to all kinds of barriers that stop the right information getting where it’s needed. You can’t check in until you’re physically at the reception desk, and the hotel has no idea of your preferences until you arrive. If there’s a problem with your room, you have to phone one of several departments — to get a fresh glass, do you call housekeeping or room service? A digital experience makes it possible to remove all these annoyances.

Mollie’s Motel, a new brand being rolled out in the UK by members’ club group Soho House is showing what’s achievable if you rethink the whole experience from scratch. The property recognizes your mobile phone when you arrive on site, checks you in automatically and joins you to the wi-fi network. The app instantly sets up your Netflix and Spotify account on the TV - and just as important, removes them when you check out. Guests at the self-styled ‘budget-luxe’ chain can use its mobile app to select early arrival and late departure options, book EV charging bays and breakfast options, and can message staff at any time in a choice of languages.

While Mollie’s gives a taste of what’s possible, the use of messaging apps to streamline communications with guests is already taking hold across the hotel industry. Tristan Gadsby, CEO & founder of Alliants, the company whose digital concierge platform the app is built on, says that customers have found a messaging chat capability typically drives an average of about a 30% increase in spending, and a 10% increase in customer satisfaction. Guests seem to respond well to the convenience, while hoteliers find the automated processes and simpler communications mean they can deliver a better service to more of their clientele. He explains:

Having that conversational CRM — it's replicating some of the best things that hospitality, particularly in high-end hospitality, they do look after their top customers very well. How can you turn that into software and actually make that available to more customers? So that you're able to personalize the experience for them, in a much more scalable fashion than than we could do before.

High-touch messaging at Four Seasons

One early adopter is Four Seasons, which has found that the messaging app complements its high-touch service values with a medium that feels natural to guests, because they already use these apps extensively in their lives. Marco Trecore, SVP & CIO, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, says:

You go to a resort, and you watch families, and everyone sits in there having dinner and they all have their phones, and they're doing things [on their phones]. So that's how we've evolved into a preferred way of communicating.

While the conversational layer makes it all seem simple, there’s quite a lot going on behind the scenes to get the experience right. As a global brand, Four Seasons must support the messaging platforms that are popular in each of the territories it operates in — WeChat in China, WhatsApp in Europe, SMS in North America, and so on. Guests need to be able to converse in the language of their choice. And they must be able to choose whatever medium works best for them — messaging might not always meet their needs. He says:

Our challenge was to figure out how to connect with our guests, and actually service them, but do it in a way so that it doesn't really matter what channel they come through. And that's really difficult to do.

Staff need to adjust to the new medium, too. Although messaging is an asynchronous channel, people don't like waiting. They assume they won’t get an answer and give up if they're left waiting more than a minute or so, which means there must always be processes in place to make sure there's a response. For those issues that can’t be resolved on the spot, that issue then needs to be tracked until it has been dealt with.

But once the right processes are in place and working well, the conversations can start to flow. Because everything is connected, these are no longer isolated transactions but instead each interaction becomes an opportunity to engage the customer and discover what else they may need. Trecore says:

Once the staff of the hotel realise that the conversation may start with something as simple as what time is breakfast, and then truly open up to have a conversation, that's worth its weight in gold, because now you're really engaging.

As that starts to happen in their hotel, they start to realize, volume aside, they're servicing the guests in a very different way.

It’s a conversation with the brand, too, which begins before the stay and carries on to the next and beyond. He elaborates:

These conversations are not only staying with the property that you're with, but they can go across properties. And they could follow you as you're going around the world.

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