Marketers working in the hospitality industry today who think that social media is a quick and easy solution are operating under a misconception because it can be difficult and very expensive.

Speaking at the HMA’s ‘Digital Trends for 2014’ meeting last night, Jeremy Waite, an expert on digital marketing and Head of Social EMEA said that there was little value in companies having thousands of fans if only a very small percentage were talking about their brand on social network sites. Neither was there much scope for companies adopting a ‘nine to five’ attitude to social media. Quoting JW Marriott Jnr he said “No person can make it very far in this life on a 40 hour week.”

“Engaging with your fans and building a community are two totally different things, “he said. Having lots of followers might look impressive but it was the companies that were prepared to have conversations with their customers on an ongoing basis that were more likely to have  success.

He cited a few hospitality companies such as Radisson Blu that he felt were managing customer engagement well. They tracked his preferences via social media sites and were able to identify that he was a keen cyclist when he arrived for a stay at one of their hotels. Recognition which made him feel welcomed and valued and again he backed this with a quote from JW Marriott Jnr who said “Only close attention to small details can make an operation first class”.

He also told the audience that Steve Jobs at Apple sent the general managers of the first five Apple stores that were opened to complete a Ritz Carlton Customer Service programme. Apple’s customer service philosophy was developed as a result of this programme.

Many companies now were adopting the ‘Moneyball’ philosophy based on the Brad Pitt film, where everything had to be reduced to one number. He suggested that for hospitality companies this should be ROI (return on investment).

He concluded that the marketplace was very much about the survival of the fittest. “Social media is one area of business where you don’t need to outspend your competitors in order to beat them,” he said.

Karen Fewell aka Digital Blonde, a Chartered Institute of Marketing lecturer, marketing consultant and author told the meeting that a negative review on social media could lose a hospitality business approximately 30 customers.

Addressing the food, beverage and restaurant side of the industry, she said that dining out was all about the experience. Statistics she shared said that 77% of diners were more likely to post a photo of food on social networking sites before they had even sampled it.

She emphasised the importance of getting the customer service right first and cited an example on Virgin Trains where she was initially rebuffed after requesting a breakfast to meet her diet specific requirements. Having tweeted about the poor service attitude she had encountered, Virgin quickly rectified the situation by tracking her down to her seat within fifteen minutes and offering her a whole host of dishes that she could safely eat. A satisfying outcome which she said had has resulted in her being a fan of Virgin trains on social networking sites ever since.

Continuing the theme of customer experience, Gregory Roekens, Chief Technical Officer of AMV BBDO, a global marketing agency behind major campaigns for leading brands including EDF, the National Lottery and M&M’s spoke around his theory of Experiential Revolution. He said that James Watt, who invented the steam engine and Tim Berners Lee, who invented the internet, had both contributed to a major turning point in history which had led to the current social, economical and Cultural Revolution that we were living today.

“Customer experience needs to be a core focus and tool for any company’s future business and marketing plan”, he said. He explained how customer experience in the past was only associated with rational experience and confined mostly to customer services such as how quickly a phone was answered, opening hours and after sales support.  Whereas today’s customer experience was much more all encompassing touching on all aspects of the process from digital and shopping experiences through to product and user experiences to community, advertising and employee experiences.

He cited the example of Domino’s Pizza, which historically you could only order at the till or over the phone. The company had developed their customer offering by enabling orders over the internet or via apps. They had also further enhanced the customer experience by implementing order tracking, a five point process where customers could track their order from leaving the pizza oven to delivery at their door. So a two minute phone call had developed into a 20 minute long process of customer engagement.

He also spoke about the rise of machines and how everyday items such as smart phones were developing similar characteristics to human senses. They could hear through microphones, see through cameras and feel through touch screens and it was becoming increasingly normal to interact with machines through voice recognition. He said soon technology would develop these machines in such a way that they could be programmed on our behalf to make purchasing and other decisions, becoming virtual assistants, which would provide even more of a challenge for today’s marketer in terms of engaging with their customers!

He concluded by encouraging brands to be unique and stage experiences that generated experiences. By doing this people would want to share their experiences, become advocates of the brand and were more likely to remain loyal.

To view the presentations please click on the links below:
Jeremy Waite – How to Build a Social Hotel Brand
Karen Fewell – Your Hotel Experience Creates Digital Conversation
Gregory Roekens – The Experiental Revolution

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