How can hotels leverage free instant messaging channels such as Facebook, WhatsApp and SMS for guest communication?
This article will give you some practical ideas on how to use instant messaging for hotel guest service. It will help your guests connect with you via the main instant communication channels.
Quite often, guests do not go to the front desk to express an issue they face during their stay. You only find out about it 2 weeks later on TripAdvisor. While you try to answer in the best way you can, what you’re doing is not reputation management but damage control.
Instant messaging while guests are on premises allows you to solve problems on the spot. Consequently, it helps transform a bad experience into a good one. I do not think that instant messaging is replacing human contact at all. Just be aware that some people do not speak your language, do not like to go to the front desk, are shy, or just can’t be bothered (like me).
The challenge is that you may have enabled Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat, SMS etc. But, if customers don’t know about it and you don’t make it easy for them to connect with you through these channels, then you won’t generate much engagement. All these channels are very popular among your guests and are fast evolving toward B2C usage. However, your customers already expect it because these apps have been part of their daily lives for quite some time now.
The only universal instant messaging channel is SMS. Other apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have a large market share, but they are not universal. So if you want to properly leverage instant messaging for hotel guest service, you should consider using a technology such as Quicktext that can consolidate all instant communication channels in one place and take away the hassle of moving from one system to another.
In addition, instant messaging systems were not specifically designed for hospitality use cases so using them is a great idea. However, you’ll need to be a little creative and that’s what this article is about.
The first thing you need to know is that when you are a business, Facebook and WhatsApp policies for opt-in are quite tough. In essence, you can’t easily push messages to guests through these channels. The customer has to send you the first message. Following this, Facebook lets you speak to him, as you please, for 30 days. On the other hand, WhatsApp lets you reply within a 24-hour window following the guest’s last message. This time is called a session. So how do you get customers to start a conversation with your hotel?
The good news is that it is really easy for customers to start messaging you with a single tap on their screen. You just need to use the links offered by the different communication channels. When these links are activated by the customer, they will open the messaging app and insert the hotel number directly in the app. So, there is no need for the customer to insert your number manually.
Feel welcome to try. These are all accounts related to Quicktext test accounts.
- Action SMS: +33647515459
- Action Facebook: https://m.me/159138131471533
- Action WhatsApp: https://api.whatsapp.com/send?phone=33647515459
Make your hotel’s instant communication channels actionable on your website
Customers use your website to book a room, and also to get pre-stay information. So you need to make your available communication channels visible online. I’ll give you a few examples as the principle is always the same for every communication channel.
Here, Hotel Baume chose to promote SMS thanks to the button “TEXT US AT ANYTIME” and the chatbot (round icon). If a customer clicks on either of these options, he will be able to start a conversation immediately. Note that the hotel could have used any of the links listed above.
Other hotels choose to include channels such as WhatsApp. Of course, the same process applies. If you click on either the chatbot or WhatsApp, it will immediately open a conversation between the customer and the hotel.
In 2018, on average, 90% pre-stay guest conversations came through the chatbot widget. Percentages vary depending on the hotel. A chat feature proves much more effective for pre-stay interactions. According to Sandra Roman, the Reservation Director at Abba Hotels, WhatsApp doesn’t really have a lot of traffic before stay. In our experience, most of the WhatsApp traffic comes in-stay, when all of a sudden WhatsApp is the most convenient channel to interact with the front desk.
Your Internet gateway is also a good place to add these buttons. The main advantage is that there is no friction as the customer just clicks and chats.
Promote your instant messaging channels offline
You do not control the time when customers need you. You can’t always expect them to take the effort to go to your website and find your chat, your Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp contact. This is especially true while customers are in-stay and have no reason to go to your website whatsoever. So how can you give your guests an easy way to get in touch when they are at your property?
1. Use QR codes. QR codes are just URL links put into an image. They are perfect in principle but there are 2 practical challenges:
— While all iPhones have QR code scanners integrated in the camera app, not all Android phones do. Customers using Android devices need to have a specific app to scan QR codes. iPhones have a 40% market share in Western countries, so many customers will be able to scan your QR code and start a conversation with you in 2 seconds. In addition, be aware that apps such as Snapchat or Pinterest are able to scan QR codes.
— Some people are not familiar with scanning QR codes. So, wherever you put your QR code, you’ll need to add some instructions. Overall, QR codes are a very good idea when used with other strategies discussed below.
– How do QR codes work?
- If you have an iPhone, open your camera and scan the following QR code. This will direct you to a test Facebook Messenger account.
- To make your own QR codes: Search in Google for QR code maker and you’ll find a lot of sites that will transform a URL. Like converting this Facebook Messenger link: https://m.me/159138131471533, into a QR code. The QR code you see on this page is very basic because I used a free tool. You can click here to view a quick tutorial on how to create beautiful, customized QR codes in a few minutes.
2. NFC tags. Android is not a huge fan of the QR code but they have another really cool technology called NFC tags. NFC is already quite popular among hotels so I won’t spend too much time explaining how this technology works. In essence, NFC tags are like stickers that you can quickly program, to open something in a phone. So The effect is the same as a QR code BUT it doesn’t rely on a picture. Customers just need to tap their android phone and it will perform the action you expect.
From there, you can put your QR code anywhere:
- On flyers with instructions
- On the room keys or room key case
- Cards that you give at check-in or in the room
Just remember to:
- Make it beautiful
- Add a quick guide so that all customers know how to scan it
- Add your Messenger name (eg. Hotel Baume) if you’re using Facebook Messenger. Or, SMS/WhatsApp number so that customers can still find you easily
3. Leverage push messages. The only channels that are universal AND that you can use to push messages are email and SMS. Push messaging is not possible on Facebook or WhatsApp because their opt-in policy is very strict. As a rule of thumb, customers need to first send you a message to allow you to communicate with them. There is no universal magic formula, but a few good practice runs can help you succeed.
- Pre-stay messages: You can send automated messages via email, Booking.com, Airbnb etc. While OTAs filter and hide email addresses you are still able to include Facebook Messenger links, and SMS/WhatsApp numbers.
- Push SMS: Customers are most likely to need you right before or after their arrival. Hence, it might be a good idea to send a welcome SMS and mention that they can send free messages through Facebook or WhatsApp customer service. You can even add your Facebook link, for example. If you want to be extra smart on Quicktext, you can use a link shortener that will make your link much more adapted to an SMS format: this link https://m.me/159138131471533 => becomes this link https://qt.im/54.
Your staff is the key to adopting instant messaging for guest communication in your hotel
There are lots of ideas to promote adopting the various channels of instant messaging for hotel guest services. However, there is no perfect universal solution. So your hotel staff will be a key driver for success. That’s why you should probably include messaging in your processes. Here are some ideas; you don’t need to pick them all.
– Everything you send to guests should have a link to your messaging channels.
– When the staff needs to confirm a room reservation, restaurant reservations or airport transfer, let them use SMS.
– 1 welcome SMS is a good idea, especially for guests that stay more than 1 night.
– Make sure front desk agents mention your hotel instant messaging channels in the check-in process and hand them a card and a room key case so that guests will remember it when they need it.