They sure can, and customers will be more willing to share their positive experiences on social media.

By MediaStreet Staff Writers.

Mobile apps are becoming as important to customers as the product itself. A study of apps developed specifically for separate and competing hotels has shown just how much customer satisfaction increases when they are used… as long as you can convince the customers to download the app in the first place. In fact, mobile apps for hotels are becoming as central to the hotel guest experience as soft pillows, extra towels and a competitive price.

So what do hotels have a problem with? Guests booking rooms online using an external online travel agency. Why? Because securing a room with an online travel agency is associated with lower satisfaction. The industry is currently emphasising direct booking, where a hotel guest rents a room directly through the hotel rather than another way. Pushing for more guests to become rewards members will likely enhance this effort. While external agencies remain popular among many guests, there are some disadvantages to their use, such as the need to deal with a third party if problems arise with a reservation.

“As mobile usage becomes increasingly ubiquitous for guests, the challenge for hotels becomes twofold: First, they must persuade guests to book directly with them, and second, they must encourage easy utilisation of this technology,” said Rick Garlick at J.D. Power, the data analytics company that published the study. “By forging direct relationships, hotels can become guardians of the guest experience, but at the centre of these relationships is an establishment’s mobile strategy.”

The study, now in its 21st year, measures overall guest satisfaction across eight hotel segments: luxury; upper upscale; upscale; upper midscale; midscale; economy; upper extended stay; and extended stay.

Following are key findings of the 2017 study:

Direct booking: When guests book through an independent travel website or mobile app (e.g., Expedia, Travelocity) instead of directly with the hotel, they are more likely to experience a problem and to be less satisfied with their stay.
Membership matters: Hotel rewards members are far more likely to book directly with a hotel or on a loyalty member site than those who are not members (75% vs. 47%, respectively), and their satisfaction is higher. The number of those who book through OTAs is increasing (19% in 2017 vs. 16% in 2013), despite the concerns some guests have ranging from earning hotel rewards to strict cancellation policies.
Mobile mania: In 2014, 14% of online reservations were made using mobile means (smartphone or tablet), and now that percentage is 25%. Those utilising mobile reservations are more likely to be younger or business travellers.
Not so mobile mania: Among guests who have a hotel’s app on their mobile device, 38% don’t use it during their stay. Only a tiny percentage of check-ins (4%) and check-outs (1%) occurs through mobile apps, but when it is used, it is associated with higher guest satisfaction.
Get ’em to try the app: Guests who download and use a hotel’s mobile app are more satisfied and have greater loyalty to that brand. While only 19% of all guests have downloaded a hotel app, 70% of rewards members have done so.
Social media surprise: Despite the perception that people posting to social media only do so to complain, guests describing their experience via these channels appear to be more satisfied overall. At the same time, those who do experience a problem are extremely likely to post to social media (86%).
Reading is fundamental: Slightly more than half (52%) of guests have read a review of a hotel, industry news or an online forum in the past month, and 46% of those guests wrote a review in the past six months. Review readers and writers are also more likely to have higher guest satisfaction.

While this study applies to the hotel industry, there are general ideas that can be adapted to any industry. The point is that if you maintain control your customer experence, and use a bespoke app to do that, it can be hugely advantageous. Is it time that you developed an app for your own customers?

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