Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
Delivering great customer experiences onsite is a mandatory requirement for any successful hospitality business. But how do you do you create that connection once the customer has moved on – or before they have even arrived?
This was the question posed by chief operating officer of AccorHotels in the Pacific region, Simon McGrath, as he strived to increase occupancy rates across more than 200 local properties.
Four years ago, the company realised it had capped out on growing numbers through improvements to functional service, and embarked on what he describes as “a fairly obsessive guest strategy” to increase engagement, McGrath says.
“We took a first-mover advantage into the emotional connection with customers, rather than functional service,” he says. “We put a lot of work into understanding our business was about human engagement.”
While AccorHotels had used traditional feedback gathering tools such as surveys, McGrath was aware this was only capturing a small segment of feedback, and was in itself not serving to build engagement.
“Historically, an emotional connection has always been established in hotels by a general manager talking to a customer in the lobby, and then word-of-mouth carries that experience to other people, and it becomes of benefit to a hotel,” he says. “What we understood was if there was ever a way to digitise that conversation between a general manager and guest in a genuine and authentic way, that would be very powerful.”
Then in 2014 McGrath came across Local Measure, an Australian startup that specialises in surfacing social content related to specific physical locations.
“We saw the ability to digitally look at large amounts of customers and what they were thinking, without it being narrowly railroaded or structured,” McGrath says. “We saw genuine customer thought at scale. And it was also very easy to use.”
The tool was placed within AccorHotels hotels across Australia, and McGrath says uptake was swift.
“They wanted it because they were doing this in a manual form, but this allowed them greater scale,” he says. “We have always asked general managers to be good with guests, and they have always wanted to be. What Local Measure has allowed us to do is digitise the feedback that one person just can’t get on their own.”
Local Measure was subsequently rolled out globally in mid-2016. McGrath says he is pleased with the overall benefit.
“When we started our customer journey three to four years ago our NPS was 22,” McGrath says. “And our NPS today is 40. That is about the same level of service you would see in Asia.”
In one instance, the manager of AccorHotels’ Swissotel property in Sydney could respond directly to a returning visitor using Local Measure’s foreign language translation capability, and welcome him personally to the hotel.
“We spoke back to them in Polish,” McGrath says. “There is nothing more personalised than that.”
McGrath believes Local Measure will also be essential in growing AccorHotels’ loyalty program, which is now driving between 30 to 35 per cent of AccorHotels’ business. While membership in Australia today stands at 2.1 million, McGrath is keen to grow that to more than 4 million.
“The only way we can fuel that loyalty platform is with service, and service drives repeat visitation,” McGrath says. “In 2016, we had a record year in terms of our competitor set market position. Five years ago, we would have done that through breakfast offers and cheap discount rates – tactical marketing. Part of the reason we moved to service was there were no more offers to give. We were doing very well, but at some point in time we had to return to what our product, is, which is experiences and genuine service.
“That has then driven people’s obsession to want to be part of our loyalty club, and we make sure we recognise them, that we look after them and their individual needs. That is what we promise through loyalty. So any tool that will allow is to recognise them through an individual approach through our loyalty club is going to fuel it.”
Local Measure itself now has offices in five cities around the globe, and recently raised $4.5 million from investors. Founder and chief executive officer, Jonathan Barouch, says AccorHotels is typical of many of Local Measure’s customers, who are striving to be closer to their customers.
“It is about creating a connection with a guest that ultimately sees them come back, and the data shows that,” Barouch says. “Even something as simple as acknowledging a guest by name and signing your name off as the general manager of the hotel has an impact on satisfaction scores and repeat visitations.
“So it is pleasing to see it driving revenue rather than just being an expense line in the marketing budget.”