As a growing number of hotels employ technological strategies to put more power into the hands of the guests, boutique hospitality company Commune Hotels + Resorts recently introduced a personalized guest communication service, advancing the unique experience available for those staying with Commune properties.
“Communication patterns are changing across society; just look at how SMS eclipsed voice communication. And start-ups such as Uber are setting a precedent for on-demand communication. Where consumers spend their time has changed; it’s now SMS, messaging apps, and email. By extending our service into these channels, we’re bringing a boutique hospitality experience to today’s consumer in a way they prefer to communicate,” says Niki Leondakis, CEO, Commune Hotels + Resorts.
Powered by travel technology company CheckMate, the tool is a multichannel mobile communication service that enables guests and hotels to communicate through text messaging or email, and does not require an app download.
“One of the most important aspects of what we do is customizing how guests use our hotels based on their individual preferences and needs, and we were after a tool that would help us do that and would help us create a unique experiences for guests on an individual basis,” Leondakis says.
Though major hotel companies like Hilton use an app to communicate with their guests, Leondakis says there is research surrounding the struggle to get hotel guests to download and interact with apps delegated to specific hotel companies.
“The average guest is a member for four different loyalty programs, so to think they are going to be active on one app is unrealistic,” Leondakis says.
The conversation between Commune and Checkmate to launch the service first took shape last summer, says Drew Patterson, co-founder and CEO, CheckMate.
The race for increased lines of communication across a variety of platforms is one that is not linked to age or generation, Patterson says.
“This is not millennia tool. This is a hotel need,” he adds.
Commune and CheckMate launched a four-month pilot program across 25 properties from April through July before introducing it across majority of its hotels. (Currently all but three have the service available.)
“We looked at the geography of different brands and at customer profiles, like who stays at the hotels, so that we had a good representation of guests,” Leondakis says. “The program helped us to see and believe in what the tools could do for us.”
That means increased level of engagement across the board, she adds, especially given the platform’s accessibility and user-friendly nature. Data showed that 24,500 Commune guests used the CheckMate platform to communicate with their hotel during the pilot, and 75 percent of guests provided a mobile number and opted in to receive SMS communication at some point in their journey.
“Our hotel teams don’t have the guest profile data or the resources to call every customer before they arrive to gather requests and needs, but this platform enables us to engage with our guests in an unobtrusive way,” Leondakis says.
CheckMate provides Commune with background information about their guests, and it also allows a property to immediately connect with guests after making a booking.
“We learn when they are planning to arrive, what kind of room they’d prefer, and any other needs for their stay. Our teams are then able to assign and prep a room, and create an individualized experience based on each guest’s needs and preferences for a specific stay,” Leondakis says. “The wealth of pre-arrival information we are able to seamlessly collect through mobile channels empowers our teams to make a guest’s stay and exceed their expectations.”
The communication platform has also changed the way Commune properties greet their guests by arming hotel staff with guest profiles and photos so they can identify them upon arrival.
Commune can also contact the guests shortly after settling in their rooms via service alerts, providing staff a pulse on the guest’s experience as it happen and allowing them to check that all needs have been met. Leondakis says this is a less invasive method to speak to guests than calling their rooms, and it also serves as a way for staff to get immediate customer feedback.
“We…are able to further customize the experience and address any service recovery opportunities while the guest is still in the hotel. By identifying these opportunities in the moment, we have all the information we need to ensure the guest leaves happy,” Leondakis says.
The open channels and immediate dialogue also encourage guests to report service issues that may not have been otherwise, Leondakis says. Commune has also found that guests are more likely to tell staff about things like a buzzing light bulb or a leaky faucet, grievances that may be aired on websites like Tripadvisor.
“Today, we see that guests are more likely to alert our hotels of these small issues via text. By responding to a guest’s message immediately, we demonstrate that we truly care about their experience and needs,” Leondakis says. “And we have seen their appreciation of the immediate response reflected in reviews and ratings on TripAdvisor.
It isn’t just the consumers that responded well to the deeper levels of communication with Commune Hotels. Staff, all of whom are trained on and have access to the tool, also found its application both easy and convenient on their ends.
“Our staff is communicating and using SMS technology, that is the mode of communication in today’s world,” Leondakis says. “It is easier, more familiar and more fun for the staff. It is the way they are living their lives, so it is intuitive for employees in hospitality.”
Neither Commune nor CheckMate think that communicating via messaging, or via email, is cause for disintegrating personal interaction, citing such methods as ways people interact with family and friends on a daily basis.
The new platform is also conducive for revenue generation, Leondakis says, as properties have the opportunity to make dinner reservations at our restaurants, offer room upgrades, or pre-order room service.
“Our highest priority was service, but another benefit is revenue generation,” Leondakis says. “As we look over the interaction reports, and take in the volume of interactions we have with our guests, we see the material impact this service has on our guests everyday.”
As Commune looks ahead to the future, it plans to implement additional CheckMate services like Seamless Curbside Check In. Available to guests of most Joie de Vivre and Thompson hotels and to guests who do advance check-in via their mobile device and provide a credit card for pre-authorization, Seamless Curbside Check In makes it possible for guests to have room keys cut and ready upon hotel arrival.
Commune will also be working with CheckMate’s single-click surveys, available to guests via SMS and similar to Uber’s five-star rating system, allowing for easier guest feedback.
“Service delivery is being changed in a pretty fundamental way, and guest communication is at the heart of this change,” Leondakis says.