Is social media the best client-service tool?
Is social media the best client-service tool?
24 JANUARY 2014 7:22 AM

More guests are turning to social media networks to reach travel companies. Is this the future of customer service? 


I’m in Madrid this week, despite the winter-storm madness that wrought havoc on the East Coast of the United States and sent my planned flight itinerary some 2,500 miles out of the way. But I shouldn’t complain. I doubt I’m the only travel-industry professional out of the tens of thousands attending the Fitur International Tourism Trade Fair who encountered a few hiccups along the way.
The show is bustling, especially in Exhibit Hall 10 which is hosting Fiturtech ’14. The programming, which addresses a wealth of tech-related topics, has been energetic and engaging—at least from what I can tell. Much has been in Spanish, and I hablo no espanol. 
Fortunately, most attendees are at least bilingual and are putting up with this American’s ramblings en Ingles during a presentation on social media as the ultimate customer service channel. Only I’m not entirely buying that premise, which was pitched by the event organizers. 
Sure, social media has emerged as an extremely important customer-service platform.  More than one in 10 respondents to a recent eDigitalResearch survey said they expect to be able to speak to a brand representative via social media. A 2012 report from the Aberdeen Group corroborated the findings from the other side of the customer-service chain: 12% of service requests originated in the social sphere, with that number projected to have risen to 22% during 2013.
Companies have responded, dedicating extra resources to their marketing departments and their social media subsets. And the results largely have proven positive: Contact through social media is the “quickest and most reliable way to get in contact with a brand and currently the only channel that will guarantee a reply to your query and complaint,” according to the eDigitalResearch report. 
The motivation driving those response rates are as much a mark of proactive customer engagement as it is a fear-based avoidance of a heavily publicized customer rants on Facebook or Twitter. As the eDigitalResearch report points out, “this is only because this form of communication is so open and public.” 
American Express came to similar conclusions in its 2012 “Global customer service barometer,” which claimed that “consumers who have used social media for service wield the greatest amount of influence. They tell significantly more people about their service experiences, and say they’d spend 21% more with companies who deliver great service—compared to 13% on average.”
So will social media emerge as the ultimate client-service channel? The rise in incidence would certainly support that argument. 
But I would propose an alternative view. Social media is not supporting this increasingly digital customer-service exchange but rather the proliferation of handheld devices. 
There were nearly 700 million smartphones with Internet access as of 2012, according to Euromonitor International. That number is expected to reach approximately 1.5 billion by 2017.
Hoteliers are leveraging the rise of such devices by creating new apps to reach guests—both on and off property. 
Marriott Hotels, for instance, has a mobile app that allows guests to check into their room and pick up a pre-programmed keycard at expedited mobile check-in desks. Hilton Worldwide Holdings’ Conrad brand launched a Conrad Concierge app that acts, as the name implies, as a full-service concierge, allowing guests to order roomservice, book spa treatments and choose what kind of bath amenities they want stocked in their bathrooms. And W Hotels’ app features streaming music in addition to standard booking and concierge services. The list goes on. 
The nature of these apps vary, but the consistent thread is they allow for hoteliers to stay connected with guests, and vice versa—all while circumventing social media in their entirety. 
But more likely the future of customer service will not be an either/or, wherein guests connect either via social media or a ready-made, brand-specific app. They will undoubtedly use both. 
The consistent thread is both channels allow for hoteliers to stay connected with guests, and vice versa. Such is the level of personal interaction that is quickly becoming the hallmark of customer service in the new digital age.
And now on to the usual goodies …
What’s making me happy this week
“OK Glass.” I must have looked like a nearsighted caveman as I tried Google Glass for the first time, adjusting the lenses, taking them off, putting them back on, repeat—and marveling at this next wave of wearable tech.
For those unfamiliar, Google Glass is the computer-in-eyewear device from search engine Google. Think of it as a pair of glasses with only the right lens. Well, it’s not really a lens, but rather a tiny block of glass that serves as a mini computer monitor that can pull up time, date, emails, maps and other types of info. It also takes pictures and videos, and all you have to do is ask. “OK Glass. Take a picture.” Snap. Picture taken. 
What’s it got to do with hotels? At least one app developer, the one running the display, is betting big that Google Glass will support a suite of hospitality apps. A guest checks in, gets his or her Google Glass and then requests info, orders roomservice and calls down to the concierge. 
I have a difficult time believing it will take off, at least immediately. Not only did I feel like a dope wearing the thing, but I most likely would have walked into the lovely display nearby for Nescafe if I were set loose. (It’s a tad difficult to see through your emails on the display.) 
And what happens when a guest misplaces them? God knows I’ve left a few (dozen) pairs of sunglasses in my day. At least they didn’t retail for $1,500.
Stat of the week
5%: Increase in international tourism arrivals during 2013, which was above expectations, according to United Nations World Tourism Organization. 
International arrivals were up by 52 million to a record 1.08 billion in 2013, with the Asia/Pacific region and Africa as the growth leaders, followed closely by Europe and the Americas.
Quote of the week
“OK, there’s all this information in front of us, now what?”
Josh Henegar, corporate revenue director at 1859 Historic Hotels, discussing the challenges of turning mounds of data into actionable intelligence, as reported in “How to use all the pricing data available.”
Reader comment of the week
“The value of the Google Virtual Tours is that being associated with Google puts them on Google Search Results, Google Maps and Google+ Local. They can also be embedded on company websites and Facebook. That’s a huge advantage over a virtual tour that is not seen unless someone actually visits the actual website.” 
Reader “J. Sampson” discussing the not-so-hidden advantages of using Google’s growing toolbox, as reported in “Weighing pros, cons of new Google tools.”
Email Patrick Mayock or find him on Twitter.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

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