TOP 5 CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE TRENDS OF 2022
January 2022

As we start the third year of the Covid-19 era, there is still uncertainty as to what the future holds for us all. The hospitality industry has learned a lot in these last two years and adapted to the challenges presented with speed. Here are our Top Customer Experience Trends for 2022.

EMPATHY

For some time now, the best hotel experiences have focussed on the customer journey. So, from the moment a guest decides to make a reservation with you, you are no longer a faceless booking engine, and every interaction from here on will make or break the experience. With the events of the last couple of years, you are now a friend, a kind person to talk to, someone who can listen to and respond to their concerns for their personal reasons for cancelling their hotel or restaurant booking and show empathy and compassion. Gone are the days of “the computer says no” and “your travel insurance should cover it”. Now is the time to make sure that your team can actively listen to your customers, show empathy in a personal and responsive way, offering versatile and adaptable solutions, thus not impacting your bookings and revenue streams in the long term. 

Ensuring that your team is well trained for these interactions and empowering them to make smart decisions, will set you up for both short and long-term success. Emotional intelligence is an important trait to look for when recruiting team members, and much harder to teach someone than how to carry a tray of drinks. Bigger hospitality brands often try and avoid saying “sorry” as there is sometimes a worry that there could be some sort of legal liability inferred. Smaller independent hotels can use this to their advantage, and a simple authentic apology can be the best way to show a customer that you care. Concentrate on what you CAN do for customers as nobody wants to hear about what someone CAN’T do for you.

Of course, you may still hit resistance, and someone may request a full refund. You may feel this is throwing away money but people have a pent-up lust for travel, are craving a more personalised experience, and want to support brands that align with those values. If you do choose to refund, make sure you entice them to stay in touch and encourage booking direct when they are ready to travel again.
 

STORYTELLING

Storytelling is a particularly powerful way to showcase your brand and engage with your guests and employees. It is often more associated with hotel branding and marketing but might help you and your team stand out and make personal connections with your employees and guests that can withstand the current climate.

The best stories connect with people on a deep and personal level. While they can change and adapt to individuals, they must be delivered with enthusiasm, authenticity, and detail, but they do not necessarily need to be true. To clarify, the details do not necessarily need to be true, but the message and the feeling behind them do need to be authentic.

One hotel that struck us as having a unique brand story, is a Thai luxury resort in Phuket called Keemala. This property is in a rather awkward location and only offers a slither of sea view. So how have they managed to be one of the most “instagrammable” and expensive resorts on the popular Thai holiday island? They created some architecturally stunning accommodation and launched an ambitious and innovative F&B menu, but most importantly, they boldly created a brand story that gave the whole venue history and a mythology that infused the guest experience with character and intrigue. While the fable about the four clans settling on the island and creating a community was made up, the fairy-tale surroundings are beautiful, very real and now liberally sprinkled with a bit of magic. 

So, whatever your story may be, perhaps something humbler about family roots, or what inspired you to launch a hotel or a restaurant – hone it, embrace it and communicate it with your team, customers, and beyond. People want to stay somewhere individualised and special, and the theatrical elements of your story might just sway them to come visit, hopefully more than once, and tell all their friends. 

DIGITAL 

If anything, the last two years have proven the hospitality industry to be much more innovative and dynamic when it comes to change and technology than maybe we previously gave it credit for. In the past, hotel guests used to marvel at the big TV, movies on demand, and telephones in the bathroom. People are no longer impressed by technology in guest rooms as the technology available to customers in their own homes is often bigger, smaller, flatter, faster, and cheaper. The last decade has seen hotels increase investment in wifi-connectivity and gradual elimination of expensive fees for guests to use it. In addition, The QR code has made one of the world’s greatest comebacks over the pandemic, helping to build a universal access point to the digital world that guests have become very comfortable with using. This has given hotels the opportunity to use digital platforms to offer guests new experiences that give them more control over their time while reducing demand on employee resources that could be better utilised to deliver guest experiences.

In the UK, companies such as Hotel Manager have been able to create a platform for hotels to build their own branded app to engage with their guests. With guest directories often missing from rooms due to enhanced cleaning protocols, the guest expectation of a hotel app is increasing, and many hotels now offer guests the option to check-in, get their room key, order room service, have a toothbrush delivered to their room and/or check their bill all from their own device. With the current challenges in recruitment and retention, this level of digital self-sufficiency offers a huge opportunity for hotels to refocus resources on value-adding customer experiences.

Of course, this will not work for all guests and many hotels, especially at the luxury end where they are likely to keep offering a full in-person service, maintaining those touchpoints and emotional connections during guest stays. However, the world has changed, and people who may have been previously resistant to change and digitalisation may well find themselves preferring to take some control of their stay, especially if other benefits such as sustainability, reduction in carbon, and hotel resources being re-routed into more value-adding areas of the business. The businesses that best understand their customers (and their potential customers) and offer the right balance of digital experiences that complement and enhance their overall customer journey will be the ones who benefit most from this new age of hospitality tech.

TRUST

Most of us have shared the experience of online grocery shopping and a steep Zoom learning curve, but everyone has had a different experience during the pandemic. Some people have had great success, while others have suffered greatly and continue to do so. It would be a mistake to misjudge the sensitivity of guests in these times. Whilst many people have embraced being allowed back into restaurants and hotels, to meet with friends and colleagues and party like it’s 2019, many people have family members who may be immune-suppressed, elderly, or just really cannot afford to be sick and need to isolate. Trust plays a huge part in choosing a suitable venue to visit in the covid era. Trust is earned over time, but very easy to lose.

Regardless of whatever restrictions are in place, customer-facing employees should be wearing masks for the foreseeable future. At a time when sick days are reducing productivity, this will help protect your workforce, but guests will also see that safety protocols are taken seriously and that will build trust in your overall business. Open communication with your guests, with signage, and on your digital platforms, will show guests what you and your employees are doing for everyone’s safety. Feel free to invite guests to wear masks where appropriate to make them feel safe and comfortable to make whatever choice they feel is right. People have got used to having hand sanitiser conveniently available so it is worth keeping in place for as long as you can. This, together with maintaining your increased cleaning schedules and checks in public areas will build trust and reassure guests that customer health and safety is truly the most important part of your business.


FLEXIBILITY

Most hotels and restaurants now excel at adapting to change, rolling with the punches, and staying flexible. For smaller independent brands, without the corporate resources of some branded competitors, it can be particularly painful when customers change plans at the last minute. However, given the circumstances, planning ahead with a clear and well-communicated, flexible cancellation policy is vital.
 
Right now, businesses that offer greater flexibility at the reservation stage will have a better chance of securing bookings. Yes, this will lead to more cancellations, but a lack of flexibility will be a big turnoff to potential customers in 2022. It is always worth keeping an eye on what all your competitors are doing, to help ensure that your website is offering the most flexible options at the very best price to ensure that you maximise direct bookings.

 

 

Whatever 2022 brings to you, we hope it is a successful one that sees the hospitality industry continue to recover and grow in the shadow of the pandemic. If you are interested to know more about how Halo could help your business in 2022, including but not limited to: guest and employee communications; hotel marketing; digital implementation; brand immersion, and service culture training, please get in touch at michael@gohalo.co.uk  or +447835994647 and we will be delighted to arrange a chat.