Mapping the Small Hotel Customer Journey: Part 1

By: on November 11, 2016

Many hoteliers focus primarily on the on-site guest experience: From the moment they walk into the lobby, the hotel staff caters to a guest’s every need in the hopes they’ll spend more, recommend the hotel to friends and book a return stay.

What these hotels may not realize is that the customer’s journey to the hotel included multiple small decisions made long before they stepped foot on-property.

This journey—as well as analytics that can reveal details about it—are becoming a priority for consumer-based organizations:

Gartner predicts that, during the next three years, 60 percent of online commerce analytics investments will be spent on deciphering the customer journey.

(The full report, Market Guide for Customer Journey Analytics, by Jason Daigler, Brian Manusama, Gareth Herschel, Jim Davies and Shubhangi Vashisth, is available to Gartner clients.)

For this first of a two-part series, I spoke with two hospitality experts to learn exactly how understanding this journey can increase bookings and boost loyalty. (You can check out the second part, an infographic that maps the small hotel customer journey, here.)

Why Small Hotels Should Trace Their Customer Journey

Revenue for a hospitality company is directly related to how guests view your brand, so it makes sense to adjust your mindset from revenue-focused to customer-focused, says Marisol Trowbridge, a senior marketing strategy consultant with Lenati, a marketing and sales strategy firm.

The guest’s journey begins the moment they decide to jump online to do some research on where to stay, and this is where you can potentially start engaging the guest and create a positive brand perception.

“When you’re approaching customers in a very seamless, consistent way throughout their journey, they start to view you as a brand they have a relationship with.”

Marisol Trowbridge, Senior Marketing Strategy Consultant, Lenati

Engaging guests as they browse can be tricky, but hotels do have control over how they are presented on online travel agencies (OTAs) or in organic Google searches. When 76 percent of travelers are willing to pay more for a hotel that has positive ratings and reviews than one without, every instance of your property online should be maintained.

This is one of the many areas small hotels should monitor online, says Ellis Connolly, chief revenue officer at TrustYou, a platform that helps hotels gather feedback, engage with guests throughout their journey and influence guest decisions by pushing summarized review information to more than 100 travel and search sites.

“Every hotel should be looking at where bookings are coming from, and making sure that the property is represented well from a review content perspective within those channels.”

Ellis Connolly, Chief Revenue Officer, TrustYou

This early stage of the guest journey is just the beginning—from here, we can follow customers as they travel to the hotel, enjoy their stay and then return home.

Below, we’ll offer methods for gathering information from guests so you can determine the best ways to reach them throughout their journey.

Gathering Customer Journey Details

Let’s say you operate a smaller hotel and would like to learn more about exactly where your guests are coming from, their demographics and their basic preferences. As a smaller organization, you may already have some idea, and these steps can help validate what you think you already know about your customers.

So where to start? The booking process is usually the moment of first contact for hotels. From this contact, they’re able to gather useful contact information, such as a phone number and email address.

Connolly says directly messaging guests is an effective first move in guiding guests through the journey.

“You want to be able to communicate with people how they want to communicate,” he says. “The world is moving into this messaging realm, and hoteliers need to be in front of that, on-property and prior to arrival, messaging the guest and creating real-time engagement.”

Guest messaging capabilities in hotel management software, TrustYou

Using text messaging to deliver convenient information to guests with TrustYou

Send a text announcing upcoming food specials, or let guests know that their room is ready early—these little alerts can be customized to the type of traveler and can add convenience to hectic travel situations.

When the guests arrive, you have more opportunities to gather details:

1. Front desk: Ask a standard set of surface-level questions as guests check-in. Simple questions at the front desk aren’t likely to bother guests, and in fact, seem quite natural: Are you here for business or fun? What kind of work? How did you find us?

The key here is to make sure the standard set of questions and subquestions are asked every time so that you can confidently analyze the data after a set period.

As an example, Trowbridge says, perhaps you find that 70 percent of your guests are business travelers. That fact alone can be valuable for a hotel that wants to better cater to its main customer base, drive satisfaction and ratings up, and garner repeat visits.

“Knowing that many of your guests come for business uncovers clear opportunities. You can start to look at which nearby businesses are driving that [segment] to your area, and how you could work with them to bring more people to the hotel,” she says.

“You might also think, ‘what are the things those particular travelers want? I have been providing maps to local tourist destinations, but what if I actually started providing the Wall Street Journal or a list of lunch options near relevant business parks?'”

The “How did you find us?” question is particularly important to identify the path of those who didn’t book directly. If you find that most of them booked through TripAdvisor, for example, you might examine the hotel’s profile on other distribution channels to see if they need updates or revisions.

2. Mid-stay: Offer incentives for one-on-one interviews. Another way to gather useful details during or at the end of the stay is to offer an incentive, maybe a free meal or drink, for a one-on-one interview after a customer has been at your hotel for at least a night or two.

At this point, you may have some idea from the front desk questions who your most valuable traveler segment includes. Let’s say it’s families with children—invite a couple of parents for a sit down interview to learn what they enjoyed most about their stay and what they feel could have been improved.

“Those conversations are where you get into the real deeper nuance and start to surface the unexpected things,” Trowbridge says.

Problems with the booking engine, spotty Wi-Fi or bad service could be the anecdotal information that only surfaces during an actual conversation.

3. Check-out and post-stay: Send a brief survey with more in-depth questions. In a past survey, Software Advice found that 41 percent of travelers would prefer an online survey format, and a combined 70 percent would be most likely to offer feedback during checkout or within a few days of leaving.


Times Guests Are Most Likely to Complete Feedback Forms

Times Guests Are Most Likely to Complete Feedback Forms
Post-stay surveys are a tried-and-true method to gather quantitative feedback on a guest’s overall experience, but also their thoughts on the food, rooms, staff and more.

These surveys should:

  • Be brief and convenient. Keep it short enough to complete in a few minutes and make it simple to understand. Also, don’t make questions mandatory; they could cause respondents to drop off.
    • Ask only for the most relevant information. If a question is asking for information you already have or don’t really need, nix it. You’re likely to get more respondents with a shorter commitment.
      • Allow for some open-ended questions and commentary. Sometimes the best responses come unsolicited, so include a space to let guests write free-form.

      “There are strategies in post-stay feedback that can help with remarketing: ‘How was your stay? What were your highlights?’” Connolly says. “Then you can take that info and use it to retarget travelers and incentivize them to come back based on specific areas that they commented on.”

      To recap, these methods form an information funnel that offers more specific feedback the further down you go.


      Hotel Guest’s Feedback Funnel

      Hotel Guest’s Feedback Funnel

      Other Important Journey Considerations

      As you gather details about your guest demographics and journey, there are a couple of simple ways to attract travellers and increase bookings:

      Utilize listening tools and Twitter. Software is available that can help hoteliers keep track of any mention of their property on social media or other websites. Connolly says TrustYou, for example, can send alerts for mentions or reviews.

      Twitter can also serve as a type of listening tool: Hotels can ask guests questions or launch marketing campaigns using hashtags, maybe creating one tied around a seasonal drink at the bar or for a contest to win a discounted stay. Then you can follow that hashtag as it grows.

      “That data becomes more interesting because you can see how the hashtag is used and by whom,” Trowbridge says. “It gives you a sense of who is driving the excitement around your brand.”

      Respond to reviews, both negative and positive. Speaking of reviews, guests are likely to browse past dozens of hotel profiles with reviews, both negative and positive. Connolly recommends responding to about 75 percent of your hotel’s negative reviews and 25 percent of the positive reviews.

      “Responding to a negative review isn’t just responding to that guest who left the comment; it has a much bigger impact for the next 100 people that will read that response that you wrote,” he says.

      Building a Customer Journey Map and Next Steps

      If these information-gathering strategies work as intended, hoteliers will collect a significant data set they can analyze. In time, this information can greatly help them to identify the property’s most common and valuable types of guests.

      It can also used to identify effective engagement tactics throughout the customer journey. In the second part of this series, we’ll show you how to build your hotel guest journey map to increase loyalty, direct booking and return visits.

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