Making customers feel welcome and appreciated was once the primary domain of the hospitality industry. Today, a hospitable approach to doing business is widely used by customer service organizations and user experience strategists to help build brand loyalty. The result is that many of the brands consumers now view as the most hospitable—Apple and Starbucks, for example—have nothing to do with hotels, resorts or travel at all.
As the hospitality industry works to reinvent itself in the face of digital disruption, it's worth looking at what some of these companies have done to push the concept of hospitality further.
Here are five ways travel and hotel brands can reclaim those warm feelings:
Be inspiring. If you want to connect with an audience, get them fired up and rally them behind something they feel passionate about. One example is REI's Opt Outside campaign, which invites shoppers to ignore the chaos of Black Friday and get outside, while employees get the day off. The message speaks to exactly what the brand is about, while raising a cultural argument that's all but impossible to argue against. The campaign is valuable not just because it got a lot of attention and won awards, but because of the lasting positive feelings it's engendered from consumers.
Hospitality brands are in a great position to take this idea a step further because they come into contact with people when they're most open to being inspired. Travelers are looking for new perspectives and experiences they can hold onto for a lifetime. Whether its organizing people to do good for the local community or giving them the opportunity to learn something new, giving guests a way to connect with their passions is a sure way to build loyalty.
Make it noticeably easier to do business with you. Thanks to advances in technology that have smoothed the wrinkles out of almost every part of our lives—whether we're ordering groceries from our phones or video chatting a doctor—people today expect an ease of use that borders on effortlessness. This is especially important to remember for those in the hospitality industry who are dealing with weary travelers trying to navigate unfamiliar places. Going beyond a smooth booking or check-in process to building an entire experience of ease is what today's hospitality brands need to do to succeed. Simple things, like offering an airport shuttle service, or room locks that open with a smartphone instead of a key, can go a long way when they come together.
We can look to a brand like Warby Parker, which offers two different ways to buy glasses: In a sleek retail store staffed with friendly stylists, or online, through an easy-to-use interface that allows you to order glasses to try on at home and then get feedback on your choices from a stylist on social media. That level of choice and the support given around both options is one of the keys to the brand's explosive growth.
Be human. As hospitality brands expanded to include thousands of properties per brand, the idea that consumers wanted to have a consistent experience began to take over, and a sameness set in that went against the reasons why people love to travel in the first place.
A boring, sterile feel is the opposite of hospitable. Travel brands need to be real, have fun and personality, and be relatable. Razor startup Dollar Shave Club is currently putting pressure on the shaving market with a low price point backed by a funny, good natured marketing approach that points out the absurdity of over complicated razors, making users feel smart and entertained at the same time.
Make people feel welcome. In the world of gigantic brands, Starbucks has pulled off a pretty incredible feat that all hospitality brands can look to for inspiration. Instead of feeling like a mass, impersonal chain, in the way that many fast food restaurants do, it put care into building welcoming, comfortable environments that give people the sense they could stick around for as long as they want.
When people travel, they want a home base that gives them the same sense of comfort and belonging they get at home, even while taking in new experiences and cultures. Hospitality brands need to look for opportunities to think beyond their primary product or service to find ways to build a welcoming community in their properties and around their brands.
Fully commit to solving customer problems. When someone spends money with a brand, the last thing they should feel is abandoned once the transaction is over. People want to feel like a business will be there for any problems. A good example out there today is Apple's Genius Bar, which gives customers the sense that they have easy access to real experts if something ever goes wrong with the devices they need to run their lives.
Travelers want to feel the same way, and it's easy to run into problems when we're far from home. Hospitality brands can build loyalty by positioning themselves as a trustworthy local partner for their guests, whether they forgot their toothbrush or just had their bag stolen at a restaurant.
As the hospitality industry continues to reinvent itself, those who welcome travelers in with ideas and approaches that come from the heart of hospitality as a concept, and not just the trends of the travel industry, will be the most successful.
—Ian Clazie is co-founder and CCO of Ready State.