So here we are, 16 months after the after the first lockdown and rather than talking ‘post covid’ - as discussed during our interviews and our white paper here - the narrative has shifted to how to work within the boundaries we are becoming used to, and how the hotel and service sector begin to thrive again by offering more meaningful experiences for their guests and customers.
For this article I will refer to ‘hospitality’ - what I mean by this, in this instance, is any brand that involves some degree of hosting or guest experience - hotels, travel, dining, entertainment, fitness and so on.
Hospitality is everyones business.
Whether you work in it, a supplier of it, a customer of it, we all contribute to a thriving and successful sector which is integral to our way of life and culture. It’s huge part of our lives which, unfortunately, many can take for granted. We really are lucky that we are easily able to go to a good local restaurant, book a hotel at a moments notice, or pop out for a quick coffee with friends or colleagues. But think, if these small local cafes and friendly restaurants do not survive, the general public would be the first to complain about them having gone! Anyway, rant over.
So, what should hosting or guest experience-based businesses consider as we reopen, and make these customer interactions really matter, encouraging advocacy and returning customers. To stay open. For good. Hopefully.
After recent research with our client Travel Curious, we concur that hospitality must consider the ‘experience economy’ and how they contribute to it. There is big shift in values for travellers and guests, from material to the experiential. While high levels of service, accommodation and food are still an expectation, especially for the luxury market, these are not the primary motivators. Customers appreciate originality and exclusivity, they seek authentic and unforgettable experiences and this is more relevant today given the consumer shift to slower and more meaningful experience, especially in post pandemic travel where people are travelling less frequently but staying for longer.
How can you offer a more memorable experience?
I’d say, start with the basics or great customer service, get that right before trying to make fancy additions or changes to your service or offering. Look at your brand DNA; do the brand associations resonate across the customer journey and within your teams? Is your brand entirely reflective of the experience and is it authentic? Are you customers thinking what you want them to think?
And don’t forget your people:
Your teams will undoubtedly need some extra motivation, let them enjoy the human interactions with customers and trust them to make the experience enjoyable for their guests in their own unique yet professional way. Human connections and interactions are heightened after being ‘locked up’ for so long which provides the perfect opportunity to bond and make lasting connections with your customers through your people. As well as adding to a more meaningful experience - yep you guessed it, leading to brand advocacy and and increased brand salience.
When I discussed this with some of my colleagues David Anderson, an experienced COO and CMO (Odeon, Virgin, IHG) says; "I think people will appreciate brands that makes covid work around their experience, not the other way round. e.g. everyone knows the so called risks and protocols inside out and back to front, so don’t ’school’ your guests...they’ve lived it. And don’t ‘hospitalise’ your environment with senseless reminding. Subtly re-shape the experience to adhere to guidelines as necessary but keep it as intact as possible. People want normality. And I think they’ll gravitate to brands that feel transparent, approachable, optimistic, and forward-looking”.
Where possible, people will be attracted to brands that have taken on more of a community role, a purpose and contribution in their local markets too. Again, it comes back to trust and approachability. Keeping it authentic and real (something we always go on about here at TwoBird!) is a theme and will never change when it come to brand salience and guest experience.
Also James Lemon, hospitality expert and CEO at Otolo, who said: “Planning guest experience in hospitality is simpler than we think as we’re all consumers of hospitality. What’s your experience of contactless ordering, of checking cleanliness of a hotel room or bathroom, or being served food? Maybe get a small, passionate group of people together and map the guest journey – what do you want it to be like? Then pick the best ideas to work on, and work to make those changes, with clear feedback opportunities for guests to tell you if it works.”
What is the key take out....?
Even in tough times, with all operational challenges, staffing challenges, and array of other reopening headaches, always, always consider how sometimes just simple thing changes or ways of thinking can make all the difference - what experience do YOU expect from your favourite brands? Lastly, enjoy the customer interactions, take time to bond with your customers and I have no doubt they’ll love you back.
If you need any help with your branding, how to improve your guest experience or support with your brand planning, please get in touch for a chat.
Laura, Co-founder, TwoBird Branding and Creative.