Ten Golden Rules to Improve Guest Experience with SMS
Why and how you should integrate SMS to your hotel's guest engagement strategy
By Mathieu Pollet, Co-founder & CEO
We have been working with hotels and implementing data management solutions and guest engagement solutions for years, and today we want to share some tips on how to improve the guest experience, engagement, and loyalty.
FACT #1: 82% OF SMS ARE READ WITHIN 5 MINUTES OF RECEIVINGAccording to the myth, in December 1992 Neil Papworth was simply a 22-year-old test engineer for Sema Group (since re-branded to ATOS). But things were about to change forever once he sent his boss two simple words: "Merry Christmas". This Holiday greeting changed the history of communication as we know it, and it is universally recognised as the first SMS ever sent.
Fast-forward to a quarter of a century later and SMS play an ever-increasing central role in our lives. Yet, surprisingly, most businesses are not using this medium as they could. This may be a case of entrepreneur myopia, and a severe one.
For messages that are sent concerning a guests' stay (as opposed to promotional messages), SMS open rate is four times higher than that of emails, and open rate is 82% within the first 5 minutes after being received.
So, with 8 out of 10 customers reading text messages almost in real-time, why are so many companies still not integrating SMS in their engagement strategies?
FACT #2: 2.8 MESSAGES PER STAY IS THE MOST SUCCESSFUL RATE FOR HOTELSOne of the reasons is that SMS is perceived as an expensive and intrusive marketing tool. If not developed correctly, this may very likely be the case. But SMS can, on the other hand, be a perfectly scalable solution for any hotel, and it can dramatically improve the quality of communication with guests, not only before and after their stay, but throughout each phase of their journey.
SMS can assist hotels to engage with their guests at many levels. Due to its history that spans over 25 years, it is the most universally accepted medium of instant messaging, more used than Messenger, WhatsApp or WeChat.
That being said, SMS - as with any other communication channel - should be used with care, with the sole goal of increasing guests' engagement to improve their experience, rather than to spam them with promotional messages and impersonal offers.
We ran several A/B tests and results shown that 2.8 messages per stay is the most successful rate for hotels.
This number varies according to hotel type and length of stay: a one-night-stay would likely just need a pre-arrival and an express check-out message, while longer stays can be sent different messages in distinct moments of the guest journey.
FACT #3: OVER 70% OF THE WORLD POPULATION HAS THE ABILITY TO SEND AND RECEIVE SMSSMS, more than any other messaging platform, is a personal, rather than a commercial mode of communication, and it should be treated as such.
Message redundancy, for example, should be avoided at all costs. While not mandatory, we suggest hotels use a Guest Engagement platform that can avoid double messages and other bad practices which will disturb guests rather than help them.
Let's say, for example, that your guests already received an email with instructions and suggestions for their upcoming stay. In this case, you do not want them to receive the same information via SMS. Therefore you'll need a system that can track if the guest has opened the email and, if not, send them that important message by SMS. This may be tricky when done manually, but it is critical that one filters all the customers who have already received or read a message from you on a different platform, as bothering your guests over and over with the exact same information on different media is a marketing deadly sin.
Even if you don't have an advanced Guest Engagement system and can only afford a manual method, SMS should still be an essential part of your guest engagement strategy. According to GSMA Intelligence, 5 billion people have the ability to send and receive SMS. And, if this figure is not convincing enough, consider that a study by the Pew Research Center found out that SMS is the most common method of communication among Americans younger than 50.
Timing is critical to a good guest engagement company, this is where we suggest you to define clear scenarios which will trigger the right message at the right time.
As an example, let's take a message sent by a hotel on the arrival date of the guest, containing just the hotel's address and asking if they have any special needs on arrival. This simple message with no attempts to sell or promote anything in particular is part of creating great guest engagement. The proof is that 62% of SMS messages received from guests are positive, 35% neutral and only 2% are negative.
FACT #4: 86% OF SMSs RECEIVED BY HOTELS ARE RELATED TO ARRIVALS LOGISTICSNow, let's take a closer look at how you can use all this potential to interact with your guests and boost their experience. Here are some of the best practices we found extremely effective:
‣ 86% of SMSs received by hotels are related to arrivals logistics: (check-in data, luggage drop-off info, parking, public transport, etc.) so simply sending your guests your address a few hours before their arrival would be of great help to them. Most smartphones will automatically convert that to a Map link with directions.
‣ A day before arrival, send more information about their upcoming stay, such as alternative transport availability, car rental, parking options, and a link to an FAQs page.
‣ Ask for any special needs or requests before arrival so it is ready by the time they get there.
‣ Provide your guests with Wi-Fi user and password after they check in, so that they can easily connect without the need to remember complicated passwords.
‣ Inform guests that their room is ready in case they haven't checked-in by 2PM or whenever the check-in time is.
‣ Enabling two-way communication so that they can order room service or ask to have their room cleaned with just a text message.
‣ Offer a late check-out or an express check-out the evening before in order to create a fast and smooth check-out experience, while also upselling at the same time.
‣ Handling possible complaints as they happen (and before they turn into pesky reviews…), thanks to mid-stay SMS surveys, helping guests and improving your reputation.
‣ Send the happy guests a discount code they can share with their friends who can book directly.
These are just some examples and results from our experiences with hotels worldwide, but by observing the type of inquiries and requests you regularly receive at the Front Desk you can gain many more ideas to build a rapid and direct relationship with your guest and make their stay as comfortable and pleasant as possible.
CONCLUSION: TEN SMS GOLDEN RULES
Of course, this does not mean that SMS should replace your current communication platforms. SMS should always work alongside other channels, to generate the right communication and engagement with your guests. But in order to achieve that, make sure you understand how SMS works.
In order to help you, we've written up our ten "golden rules" for a good SMS strategy:
Rule #1 - SMS Is Conversational: do not bother your customers with too many offers. SMS is not a promotional channel, it is an engagement channel.
Rule #2 - SMS Has Its Own "Rhythm": you have to find the right time to send SMS. Remember? 82% of text messages are read within 5 minutes, so you don't want to send some important information while your guests are sleeping. If you are unsure, use a platform that can send messages at the right time for your guests.
Rule #3 - SMS Is Not One-Size-Fits-All: While a resort with long stays can benefit from sending multiple messages to their guests, business hotels with shorter stays should limit to fewer messages.
Rule #4 - SMS Should Work With Your Other Channels, Not Against Them: if your guests have already opened and read an email from you, do not annoy them with the same information via SMS.
Rule #5 - SMS Is Not Expensive: SMS cost about 7 cents/message. For a 50-room hotel, this means less than 150.00€/month (sms and platform fee) and, with an estimated open rate of almost 98.2%, this is probably the safest investment you can make.
Rule #6 - SMS Is Easy To Use: while many OTAs do not provide guests' email addresses, they are not so strict with mobile phone numbers, so you can get in touch with guests that otherwise you wouldn't be able to reach.
Rule #7 - SMS Is Universal: platforms such as WhatsApp or Messenger often require an SMS or email to begin a conversation. Start the conversation on SMS and shift to other platforms as needed.
Rule #8 - SMS Tools are Connectable: if you choose a guest engagement platform, it must integrate with your PMS via API so you can initiate conversations automatically based on highly personalised scenarios and keep track of conversations in your CRM.
Rule #9 - SMS Is A Human Platform: (if done well) SMS can humanise guest relations, as it creates an open communication between two humans. With a good platform SMS can be redirected to a staff if not answered within a certain time span.
Rule #10 - SMS Can Fix Problems Before They Escalate: thanks to SMS, guests can easily contact the hotel in case they have a problem. Solving such issues during the guests' stay the hotel can reduce unhappy guests leaving the hotel, and negative reviews being posted.
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