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How the hotel sector can redefine guest experiences through UCaaS

Startups and other disruptive forces are making it more difficult for the hospitality industry to compete, but unified communications-as-a-service could help


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During my last hotel stay, the red light on the corded beige phone in my room kept blinking, indicating I had a message. I checked several times, but there wasn’t a message. I had to call the hotel operator and wait on hold until she was able to confirm I had a package waiting for me at reception, but she said they’d send it up to my room. Nothing ever arrived, and no one ever called me back. As it turned out, a colleague had been given my package at check-in. And the red light kept on blinking.

While I was only mildly annoyed (the package didn’t include any sensitive information), but it’s a good example of the opportunity facing the hospitality industry.

As we witness the rise of the sharing economy with Airbnb, HomeAway, Roomorama and other non-traditional hospitality players — ones with slick apps, user reviews and secure online payment systems — how can more traditional hotels stay competitive?

“Airbnb and Uber are only the beginning — especially if the entrenched interests continue to ignore the traveler trends that are driving adoption of these frictionless, flexible travel suppliers,” says Nick Vivion in an article on Tnooz.

And the sharing economy isn’t just for millennials on holiday. “Whether they like it or not, companies should be mindful that corporate travelers are probably already using these services,” says a report by Carlson Wagonlit Travel. Technology and social media have provided a catalyst for the sharing economy, it says, and users increasingly expect customized experiences through technology interfaces or actual products and services.

For many hoteliers, updating their communications infrastructure may seem like daunting — and costly — proposition, particularly if they have multiple locations in multiple countries.

But these days, customers are interacting with hotels across multiple touch points, including the web, mobile apps and call centres. Maintaining consistency across all of those channels is now a priority for hotel companies, according to an article by Customer Experience Report.

Personalization — from booking through a call centre agent to checking in at the front desk — is an opportunity to build customer relationships. Indeed, Gallup’s 2014 Hospitality Industry Study found that although customers value price, location and reputation when choosing a hotel, long-term growth is achieved by providing customers with reliable service, solving their problems and responding enthusiastically to their needs from the very first visit.

That’s where the promise of cloud-based unified communications comes in. It doesn’t require ripping and replacing legacy PBX systems, and when purchased as a subscription-based service it’s easier to roll out across multiple locations.

But it does require integration with the hotel’s property management system and other hospitality applications (from front desk operations to guest email and room billing), so a project of this scope requires a partner that can pull these pieces together.

While it’s still a relatively new concept in the hospitality industry, some chains as well as smaller boutique hotels have started the transition.

UCaaS has already made its mark in the retail industry, providing faster transactions and real-time service through integrated voice, messaging and video applications across both mobile and fixed devices. And retailers have reaped the benefits of robust phone features and secure Wi-Fi access.

It’s how hotels can set themselves apart from the pack — and compete with emerging players in the sharing economy. UCaaS can be used to both improve the guest experience and boost staff productivity.

It allows for faster service and the ability to offer bundled services to guests, as well as the ability to extend those services to guests anywhere on the property via their mobile device. It’s particularly useful for business conferences and other events, where clients can choose a customized package that could include voice over WiFi or video conferencing. Aside from improving the guest experience, it offers a new revenue stream.

It also allows staff to manage their day-to-day operations through text, voice and video — and, ultimately, respond quickly to guest requests.

Of the biggest upsides of UCaaS is the ability for hotel operators to manage all locations from a single interface. As the hotel or chain expands, UCaaS easily scales to meet the demand. And, of course, it doesn’t require a massive upfront capital expenditure.

Hospitality means continually improving upon the guest experience. And as the industry experiences a major shake-up, keeping guests happy has never been more important — these days, a communications strategy is not a “nice to have” but table stakes.

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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