I recently spoke at a global hotel conference about connecting physical and digital experiences for users. My colleague, Justin Reilly, started off our presentation with great information on how storytelling affects the human brain. To tie into this great introduction, I asked my audience to imagine their website as a virtual hotel. I then began to paint a picture of the parallels between the two.
I started by asking them to imagine a customer arriving at their hotel and walking into the lobby:
"Would you clutter up the lobby with furniture to the point the guest couldn’t make it to the registration desk?"
"Would you have nothing in the lobby? Just a beautiful floor with breathtaking painted walls that extend to cover the ceiling?"
The answer to both questions was "NO!" as expected.
The Hotel Lobby = Your Site's Landing Page
A landing page is no different from a hotel lobby. When guests search for a hotel and click a link to land on your site, you want to give them an exceptional experience that shows them and tells them about your hotel. It should also give them a clear path to explore the hotel or book their stay. They don’t want a cluttered experience, nor one with gorgeous photos but no clear next steps.
Signage Around the Hotel = Your Site Navigation
Signage in the hotel helps guests find their room, the pool, the restaurant, and your other amenities. You can't have signs, directions, or markers that don't help your guests in the physical world. Your digital experience must similarly use these navigation points to help guests explore your virtual hotel and find what they want. There shouldn’t be broken links, nor links that lead the guest to an unexpected destination, or a total dead-end. These types of friction will cause guests to promptly leave.
The Lobby and Emergency Exit = Your Logo
When there is a need to quickly leave the hotel or find a way back when lost, guests head for the emergency exits and the lobby. Your logo can provide the ability for guests to always get back to the lobby quickly, removing the stress of finding their way back. Your site logo should always link back to your homepage.
The Front Desk = Calls to Action (CTAs)
Guests always know that they can call or go to the front desk to book a stay, or deal with an issue. On your site, always have a clear call to action to book now or find more information. Ensure that it is in a place that is accessible from all pages but also fits within context to the content as well. On room detail pages, always have an additional call to action for booking, and make that interaction easy to use. Just like your front desk, your site's reservation module should allow guests to book, modify, or enhance a stay at any point. Make your guest feel secure by having a link to your data security and privacy policies. When checking-in or booking a stay at the front desk, your staff can answer any questions about how data is used, and in your digital experience that is what your data security and privacy policies should do.
Hotel Guests = Online Reviews
Hotel guests always talk to each other, and share thoughts on local restaurants, activities, hotel staff, and service. These interactions are sometimes great, and sometimes not so great. But they are genuine and in real-time, often helping guests decide whether they want to continue to stay, or come back, or even book with you to begin with. Guest reviews on your site act in the same way, and heavily influence potential stays. Don’t worry if they are not all 5 stars—no one is perfect. And if you have all five-star ratings, guests may even question how valid your reviews are. On social media, be aware, be responsive, and be positive. Answer any poor reviews or in-stay issues quickly and honestly. Show that you understand and are responsive in handling any problems—that’s what guests are looking for and appreciate.
Hotel Accessibility = Site Accessibility
Hotels invest a lot of money in making their buildings accessible, and your site should be no different. Physical and visual impairment affect over 180 million people worldwide. Ensure that your guests can book their stay at your hotel by following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 when developing your digital experience. It will not only ensure that your hotel can be booked by anyone, but it will also keep you from having potential guest dissatisfaction, or even legal issues.
Responsive Staff = Responsive Site
Your staff is responsive to all of your guests’ needs at the hotel in real-time. Make sure your virtual hotel is just as responsive to all the different devices and journeys your digital guests may have. In the first six months of 2014, over 40 percent of Americans booked travel reservations on mobile devices—up more than 20 percent for the same period last year. By comparison, bookings through laptops were a measly 12 percent.
These parallels helped the hotel general managers see their sites in a new way. It became familiar, and something they would now champion. We all can get caught up in terminology, and forget that sometimes just telling a story will get your point across better as opposed to a bunch of industry acronyms. The next time you speak to someone about their site, consider the role they are in, and how this relates to the site. It will help your audience understand what you are telling them.
Now that I had my audience of hotel general managers engaged, I passed out their scorecards so they could see how well their sites, or virtual hotels, were performing. The scorecards are similar to the 78-year tradition of AAA’s ranking system, where professionally trained inspectors use published guidelines to conduct unannounced hotel and restaurant evaluations and assign a rating of one to five AAA Diamonds. Some general mangers were shocked, others not so much, but they were all engaged in understanding their scorecards and how to improve their sites.
In my next post, I will delve into the different sections of the scorecard, and how it can help hotel general managers start on a strategy to improve their digital customer experience.
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