The most important factor in technology for our industry is the rapid and constantly increasing growth in the use of internet in the personal, professional and commercial life of both the individual and the business user.
Twenty years ago with a phone, a fax, and some printed mailing material, you could open an office for customer service, lead generation or reservations. Currently in the hospitality industry in general, and in timeshare and vacation clubs in particular, we use an endless supply of tools such as the internet, social media, chat, software programs, telephony, and even artificial intelligence and virtual reality and we are always trying new technology in order to improve communication with customers, potential customers, previous customers and the general public.
TECHNOLOGY IN AREAS AND ACTIVITIES
TripAdvisor and other similar sites (Expedia, Yelp, Google, etc.) have become very important tools in the hotel business and even more in our vacation ownership industry. The majority of people, even before traveling, investigate hotel options and what the hotels offer in services, facilities, and activities on these sites. Many times, they know more about us and our hotels than we ourselves do, and sometimes they don’t even choose our hotels because of what they have read about us on the internet. We have NO IDEA how much lost business we have due to negative reviews, comments, and social media posts.
It is necessary to monitor this type of websites and the internet, in general, to see what they are saying about us.
There are software and programs such as Revinate and Intuition to monitor comments on the internet about the hotels, our brands, and our vacation clubs. These programs help us to:
- Know our areas of opportunity
- Know what customers are saying about us
- Respond to online comments so that both the person who made the comment as well as the others who are reading them know that we take seriously what our customer says.
- Be in contact with potential customers even before they get to our hotel. TripAdvisor, for example, now has a Q&A section where anyone can ask and answer questions about the hotel and the services.
However, it is important to note that these programs can help and assist but they don’t do the work of a human being of follow up and product or service improvement.
Customers demand to communicate with us in a variety of ways like:
- Social Media
- Online Chat
- And some still want old fold-fashionedl mail.
And all of these methods of communication are evolving very quickly and it is a challenge to keep on top.
Each and every day our customers and potential customers are online and primarily on social media. What are they looking for? Products, promotions and service—instantly. Almost all marketing programs include social media with immediate responses, a website with some type of instant messenger or chat and, of course, a telephone number and email. Our experience is that every day more and more customers and potential customers contact us through Facebook and expect or at least think that it is some sort of instant chat and expect and immediate response. They want:
- A lodging quote
- To reconfirm a reservation
- To complain about a service
- To know if we have any openings
- To ask about the hours the restaurants are open
- To know about activities
- To reserve tours before they arrive etc.
We receive FaceBook messages like:
(at 8 p.m.) “I arrive tomorrow morning. Can I reserve transportation now?”
(At 5:45 a.m.) “The floor in my room is wet.”
Please report it to the Front desk
“I did and they told me to turn on the air conditioning. Now the floor is wet and I am cold.”
(On August 6) “Will there be a hurricane on September 25?”
(The night before arrival from the UK) “We are 18 and just noticed that the confirmation says we have to be 21 to check in. What can I do?”
And these questions demand immediate answers almost 24/7.
In spite of the social media boom, there is still nothing more effective than email blasts for lead generation and package sales to a database of emails. We have years of marketing, sales and service and have captured a lot of information about our customers and their families and we should use this information to personalize our promotions for sales and marketing.
In reservations, lead generation and inbound and outbound call centers, technology is basic. Of course, now there are programs for chat, WhatsApp, VOIP etc. but currently new programs are coming out that use artificial intelligence and robotics that can:
- Take credit card information over the phone with 100% security and make the charge without the agent being involved with the information and the information is not even saved in the computer.
- Send personalized emails to a database, receive responses and process them, answering the customer without a human being involved in the process. Example: It will send an email “Dear Mary: You have requested information about a vacation package. If you would like to speak with an agent, please confirm a good time and phone number and my coworker John will contact you.” The client answers with the information and the robot passes the information to an agent who contacts the client.
- There are programs for call centers that have employees with heavy accents that mitigate or eliminate the accent with that this may have on sales and/or service by having the employee use accent-neutral pre-recorded messages for asking and answering questions and closing sales without the customer on the other end of the telephone knowing that they are speaking to a recording.
Widen our Services Using Mobile Applications
More and more people are using mobile devices to plan their vacations and the majority prefer to reserve flights and hotels via mobile devices. We have to stay up to date with technology and apps that let the user at least check rates and availability if not to eventually make the reservation with the mobile phone.
Business on Facebook
Adding a booking engine to a Facebook page is a technology tool that shows a growing tendency but there are more, like:
- Sweepstakes/raffle apps and technology that generate emails and other information to create a database to use later for email marketing.
- Expedia’s integrated “Chat Robot” (Chatbot) on its Facebook page. It asks if you are interested in more information and then when you give it the data, it answers and if you are interested it connects you to the page where you can make the reservation online.
WIFI Service, Gaming and, the Internet
Nowadays WIFI is a basic service that the customer and potential customer demand as well as high-speed and streaming internet services for use with Netflix and to even look for Pokemons!
SaaS (Software as a Service)
If you don’t have a large IT department or if you want to save time and money, there are programs in the market that you can lease more economically than you can develop them and they are always up to date with the latest technology developments. This type of program, “Software as a Service (SaaS) includes programs for Facebook contests, for sending eblasts, measuring social media, to use online chat and they also offer complete systems that include PMS and CRMs etc.
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things is about internet-based control of air conditioning, lights, music, entrance and exiting of rooms through electronic locks, room service using high tech programs, etc.
Automation of basic services like check-in and check-out with kiosks, making reservations in the hotel restaurants, taking room service orders is coming faster than we know and some hotels even have robots delivering the room service orders!
Would you rather talk to a real concierge when you can find them to make a reservation or buy a tour—while trying to talk you into attending a sales presentation—or would you rather do it through an automated service? Customers are trending to the latter.
Technology can help us in the areas of Branding, Sales, Marketing, SEO, SEM, Social Media, websites, telephony, secure online credit card charging, chat, email, Reputation Management, internet monitoring and more through progress in new technology, artificial intelligence, third-party software and even robotics.
Finally, technology is always ahead of us and our customers and potential customers pressure us to catch up. And when all is said and done, technology is immensely practical. It can help us to offer a better service, generate more couples, sell more packages and be ahead of the competition. We should always be researching new products and testing and retesting new software in order to achieve and maintain excellence in marketing, sales and customer service.