Serving a new generation of digital customer services in hospitality and beyond
01 / 11 / 2022
In a rapidly digitalising and evolving world, the concept of customer service and an enhanced customer experience has become an increasingly critical consideration in hospitality and other sectors. A changing world has brought diverse challenges, and rapid adoption and evolution of technology have meant that guests have higher expectations when travelling now than ever before. To facilitate these demands and remain flexible and adaptable, businesses should embrace digital payment technologies that support business needs and the needs and demands of their clients and customers.
But what are some key challenges hoteliers face in the hospitality industry? What technologies can be implemented, and how will this impact the future of customer service and experience?
Linda Groot, Global Head of Hospitality for Worldline, and Sabrina Ruiz, Segment Marketing Manager Travel & Hospitality for Worldline, discuss the importance of enhanced customer service and why hoteliers should embrace new payment technologies and approaches.
A global challenge impacting customer service
The hospitality sector is currently facing a shrinking labour force. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers shifted from the travel and hospitality sector to other industries. Due to low salaries and long working hours, attracting new talent or enticing previous employees to return is proving difficult for many employers.
However, despite the obvious challenges that lack of staff brings, it does provide a perfect opportunity to adopt and embrace technology that mitigates staff shortages and enhances the guest experience. Maintaining or improving the service level offered is crucial to the image and survival of a business and to stand out from competitors to attract guests, especially during a period in which travel is still below that of pre-pandemic levels.
Another relevant challenge is redefining and rethinking internal and external processes to optimise cost-effectiveness. How can businesses cope with low customer numbers or broader market conditions? Investing in services and technology has an initial financial outlay. Still, the long-term benefits can help to alleviate some of the financial concerns that many businesses in the travel and hospitality industry now face.
"Absolutely they can," agrees Linda. "The hospitality industry is facing a lower labour force, which is, in turn, causing widespread issues. The digitalisation of processes and enhanced services are a way to solve some of the issues that lack of staffing brings. With digitised services, added value can be given to the guest while providing the standard service expected during a normal level of staffing and business. This also frees staff to focus on tasks that require people, such as administration, maintenance and cleaning. So, it's not about having more or less stuff. It's about adapting roles and specialising tasks."
When discussing the payment process, some examples of these technologies, among others, are enhanced check-in services, automated booking and in-room facilities. Implementing these solutions may at first seem challenging, especially given the hit in revenue that many have experienced in recent years. However, adopting such technology can dramatically increase hotel revenue and occupancy rates and offer the chance to enhance both the guest and employee experience. Several cost-effective solutions can enhance existing facilities and improve existing processes.
An additional challenge is providing a consistent and seamless user experience. The modern consumer demands flexibility when booking, considering modifications and cancellations. Complexity should also be minimised during the booking process, and customer expectations always met. Not having the required staff or processes in place can make this an immense challenge, and without adapting to new ways of service, this can be one that many in the industry will not be able to face.
Pivoting strategy to respond to new customer needs is key to success
When considering how to best gain, retain and engage with guests, it's important to get the approach right. If hoteliers adopt new payment methods or digital processes, they must correctly define their customer journey, from initial booking to the guest experience and onward relationship. Making the correct decisions ahead of time, rather than trying to react and adjust existing practices, can be financially beneficial. "Building an effective strategy can help a business provide an even better customer experience," states Linda. "Better yet, customer experience should be fully integrated into this strategy. It should revolve around personalisation, flexibility, ease of use and customer loyalty."
"The future of effective customer service lies in outlining and implementing a flexible and personalised strategy," adds Sabrina. "How can businesses reach, interact with and meet and exceed the needs of their guests and customers? What technology can be used to enhance this journey?"
What solutions can digitalisation bring, and how can it enhance the customer experience?
There are several ways in which hoteliers can incorporate enhanced customer experience services into existing platforms with low impact to themselves. One of the best is creating a fully integrated branded app that incorporates payment to be used before, during and after a stay. Efficient app services are a perfect method of engaging new and existing customers, providing booking and modification services, pre-check-in extras and account services in one place, and a seamless payment experience. Most pre-travelling experiences occur online, meaning the customer experience starts well before physical arrival.
So much of our lives occur on mobile devices, meaning that guest expectations are partly driven by how they can incorporate their own devices into their stay. Giving guests control of their stay via an app goes beyond making their experience better - it can also free up resources and improve business efficiency, a perfect counterbalance to the staff shortage. This can be especially useful in accommodation and complimentary services such as restaurants, bars and spa facilities. “We can look at modular payment solutions that grow and adapt at the same pace our customers grow - providing the appropriate service during every step. Moreover, it is key to integrate the payment system with the hotel property management system to enable the flow of information more smoothly, erasing manual keying data entry with a direct impact on staff productivity,” explains Sabrina. “So, this makes information flow smoother, it does not require manual input, and everything is connected using the customer's data. These data are also protected and used only within the hotel environment.”
While many guests have become used to being socially distanced or using automated services, using live chats means that the personal touch remains in place. Businesses can use such features to reduce guests' complexity and streamline their processes. These can even extend to platforms such as WhatsApp for Business, meaning that customer support can engage guests via their preferred platforms before, during and after their stay. It’s about providing each customer with their preferred channel for interaction and payment.
Providing personalised experience across channels: the future of customer service
An omnichannel approach is beneficial both from a business perspective and that of the guest. Providing support and service across channels accommodates varying guest needs and creates touchpoints and further opportunities for service development. By offering a wide range of possibilities, from in-app payments for ancillary services such as room service to automated check-out and access to entertainment services, hoteliers can combine better use of resources with an enhanced guest experience. “This can include a seamless check-in and check-out process,” says Sabrina. “In addition to using traditional payment methods, businesses can offer touchless and efficient payment options to guests such as a dedicated kiosk, an app as previously mentioned. More and more, the experience starts before you arrive at the hotel. For this reason, offering features that are both needed and impressive extras are becoming essential, especially for large chain hotels facing competition.”
The future of effective customer service lies in enhanced experiences and streamlined systems. “Effective customer service is about giving as many options to the customer as possible,” explains Linda. “These can be in terms of payment methods, or in terms of contact, for example. These options need to be relevant and actionable, however. Personalisation is also key. People like to feel connected to a product or service, so offering a personalised experience helps build loyalty, trust and confidence. For the hospitality industry, we are seeing fewer people travel and increasing competition. So, in these ways, hoteliers ensure that guests return to their hotel.”
This is something that Worldline supports its customers in achieving, thanks to an end-to-end, global and integrated payment solution, covering both card present and online worlds and offering multiple payment methods that allow guests to pay in their preferred currency, as Sabrina details. “Offering a personalised experience is key, and payments are no exception. Providing innovative payment options to guests like a payment link solution, buy now pay later options and specific platforms, such as WhatsApp for Business, will enhance their experience. We offer robust reporting, which is very beneficial for gathering payment data and insights and can also look at trends, such as services used or guest overviews.”
The use of data is driving forward digital technology. By embracing these new forms of interaction and guest outreach, businesses in the hospitality business and beyond can create customer experiences that go beyond the standard. Digitalising all processes, including payment, can alleviate many industries' issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other economic influences. It can also enhance and drive forward development and evolution. It remains to be seen just how great the possibilities are – but increasing confidence clearly exists in myriad industries and sectors.