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Hyatt is an early adopter of a new form of customer service for hotels: using Facebook Messenger to connect with guests, because in today's world, the key to being relevant is engaging with consumers on the platforms they are using.

Hyatt has been offering customer service on social platforms since 2009, including private messaging through the company’s Facebook pages, and it has become the first travel  company to test doing so through Facebook’s Businesses on Messenger.

At its F8 conference in March 2015, Facebook unveiled its Messenger Platform, an app that would pave the way to support Businesses on Messenger and enable users to communicate with participating companies the way they might do with their friends.

Hyatt was immediately interested and partnered with Conversocial, a Facebook marketing partner, to test the app as a new customer service channel.

“We’ve been talking to the Messenger team about the new integration opportunity for our social customer service since Facebook’s announcement,” says Dan Moriarty, director of social strategy and activation for Hyatt. “The conversation has evolved as time has gone on, but the thought process has always been the same: How can we test this as a communication channel to allow us to better care for our guests?”

There are currently seven brands using Businesses on Messenger; Hyatt is the only company from the travel space. Facebook says that more than 700 million monthly active users engage with Messenger.

“[Businesses] have to follow our consumers in the platforms that they are using, and of course Facebook …is a very large voice platform that people are engaging with,” says Loren Gray, VP of digital strategy at Standing Dog, a digital marketing services agency whose clients includes Marriott and Omni Hotels & Resorts.

Users do not need to like a company’s page, or be friends with a company on Facebook; however, they do have to have the Messenger app installed on their phones.

“You can search for ‘Hyatt’ inside of Messenger and we’ll pop up, and you can initiate the conversation right there,” Moriarty says.

With Hyatt, for example, people can make reservations using the app, or they can simply engage in a live chat with the Hyatt team to ask free-form questions, like whether there is availability around particular holidays.

What percentage of its clientele is using Messenger is unknown, Moriarty says.

“What we do know is that Messenger has a lot of users, and we’re testing whether people want to talk to us on Messenger,” he adds. “Not only are we testing whether this is a good opportunity to connect with our guests, but we’re also on the leading edge of Messenger for business as a whole – which means we’re part of finding out whether Messenger users want to talk to brands at all.”

The hotel industry faced a similar question when navigating the issue of Snapchat to determine how brands can use the app for more exposure and to align themselves with the next generation of travelers.

Yet Facebook Messenger is different from Snapchat in that deciding whether Messenger is right for a brand is not necessarily rooted in a hotel’s demographics, Gray says.

“Is the brand already using Facebook for guest dialog? Is the guest using the brand’s presence on Facebook for dialog?” he says. “Also is this in addition to other existing channels, or a replacement to them?”

Moriarty says he doesn’t see Messenger as a threat to replace other apps like Twitter, adding that Hyatt is establishing additional means through which guests might want to build a relationship with the company.

“Facebook Messenger offers another platform and huge user base, so we always look for opportunities to jump in when we see a critical mass of our guests using a tool and if we think that there’s a desire for those guests to communicate with us on that tool,” Moriarty says.

Technology has created a different platforms through which guests and businesses can connect: email, SMS, a brand’s own app, WhatsApp, or Instagram, for example.

Yet Facebook brings an additionally important element to the table for hotels, says Paul Johns, chief marketing officer, Conversocial.

“I think one thing is that is important in terms of scaling is that Facebook offers a robust API to allow us to pull Facebook messages into a conversational stream and prioritize and route these to appropriate agents,” Johns says. “With our Facebook Messenger integration, companies not only have one-to-one communication like they would with a mobile messaging app like WhatsApp, but they benefit from having more conversation and customer context during resolution.”

Messenger allows for transaction receipts, confirmations, shipping updates, and other important messages as well as basic actions to take place all within a single conversation, which gets delivered directly to a customer’s phone and eliminates the hassle of digging through emails or remembering website passwords.

Ultimately, Messenger seems like a reasonable  addition to hotels’ social customer care systems as the industry is placing a heavy emphasis on staying relevant with consumers.

“What makes Facebook Messenger work for travel and hospitality is this concept of ‘in the moment’ – the idea that customers can engage with a hospitality brand as they are experiencing that brand,” Johns says.

Hyatt is excited to see how travelers adopt Facebook Messenger as a venue for connection, Moriarty adds.

Its prospects as a tool for communication remain unknown, yet Moriarty finds promise in the fact that Facebook has already established itself as a means for people to interact with businesses.

“What’s important to us is that we’re testing it, and that we’re leading through this change, rather than trying to react to it once it’s been completely established,” Moriarty says.

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Tags: apps, customer service, facebook

Photo credit: Hyatt is the first hotel to use Messenger as a customer service tool. Hyatt

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