Start small but think big: how to build a digital roadmap

Hotels have been too tactical in their technology investment and missing the bigger picture. Here's how to build a digital roadmap to seamless experiences.

Seamless operations | Digital roadmap | Red Badger

Years of tactical technology investment have meant many hotels and hospitality organisations are now built on piecemeal platforms, outsourced services, stand-alone solutions or rigid one-size-fits-all solutions.

While capable of supporting the business today, escalating guest expectations and the accelerating surge of digital innovation will rapidly make operating this patchwork and complex environment unsustainable.

Not only will it be extremely difficult to adapt to changing needs as quickly as required, but it simply won’t be cost effective. And it will never deliver the seamless experiences today’s guests demand.

With the end of the pandemic coming into focus and guests returning to destinations around the world, we’ve taken the opportunity to highlight how hotels can seize the moment and exceed supercharged expectations.

This is the perfect time to evaluate service delivery. Hoteliers need to take a look at costs, and become more digitally-minded to provide incredible guest experiences and build loyalty.

In the first article in the five part series we look at the pivotal first step in creating a future-ready hotel: building an actionable digital roadmap based around customer value.

Download: 5 keys to better integrated, seamless guest services.

Conduct a comprehensive audit of existing systems and technology

Digital transformation has been a double-edged sword. The proliferation of new tools to drive automation, accelerate workflows, improve customer behaviour insights, and streamline engagement has come at a cost.

Simple subscription models, so-called native integrations and easy-to-use UX have empowered people to create their own application ecosystems with various SaaS solutions to do what they need to do. But, this dense tapestry of technology doesn’t always weave the most beautiful picture for guests or employees.

Couple this confusing picture with the inherent challenges (costs) of maintaining it all, monitoring performance, maintaining security and privacy and making the parts provide a coherent service and the scope of the problem comes sharply into focus.

Indeed, according to a pre-COVID trend report from PwC, hotels have not been disciplined enough in implementing new technology as a way to free up employees to spend less time with data entry and paperwork and more with guests.

In fact, the report found hotels are automating and digitising back-office and administrative tasks in a bid to reduce headcount without hiring people for customer-facing roles. A strategy that long term will see a reduction in bookings.

Before crafting your roadmap, you need to decipher what your unique tapestry looks like. What tools are being used across the entire chain? Are they integrated into a cohesive platform? How many suppliers are you working with? What level of control do you have over your estate?

More critically, however, you need to understand the information flow throughout your ecosystem. Smooth transitions between applications ensure maximum guest value and facilitate more seamless interactions.

Breaking down your existing systems and technology into granular detail provides the blueprint you need to inform your technology strategy.

Validate your digital strategy | Red Badger

Understand your guest journeys as they exist today

With a technology and systems blueprint in your hand, you can set to work analysing every touchpoint on your guest journeys. Which ones deliver what they want and which need improving? Which are draining costs and which are adding value?

What devices are your guests using? What platforms are they engaging with your brand on? Where are they placing bookings - aggregators, direct? How are they interacting with your existing digital applications? What journeys are they taking on and around your digital environment?

But don’t just stop there, the brand is undoubtedly one of your most valued assets. What does your marketing outreach look like for loyal guests, new guests or potential customers? How often do you get in touch and what do you send? Do you know your customers?

Think holistically about your end-to-end engagement with your customers and begin that process of re-imagining what service delivery could look like every step of the way.

The hotels that understand their guest journeys best will have a distinct advantage when it comes to adding value. Those with a holistic view will find it easier to optimise operations and reinvest savings in the right way.

Identify gaps to inject your brand and build a better tomorrow.

Marketing teams talk a lot about customer journeys and the necessary value exchange that takes place at each step on those journeys. The principles apply to any customer (read: guest) engagement.

Plotting your ideal guest journeys and evaluating them against your current most-travelled paths will help you identify where you are deviating from the ideal and where investment (or added effort) is needed.

Consider your brand mission or vision and whether you are fulfilling your guests’ expectations at each step. Convenience and ease of use are basic prerequisites for digital touchpoints so think beyond these core tenets. How can you delight your guests?

Build a prioritised roadmap of continuous improvement

With detailed journeys and a deep understanding of your technology infrastructure as it stands today, you should be in the perfect position to create a prioritised roadmap for gradual improvement.

Start with areas where you can add the most immediate value to your guests. Use a prioritisation matrix to help pinpoint your top priorities.

Think about how you can reassure them and eliminate unnecessary touchpoints. Add transparency, flexibility and choice wherever you can.

Remain focussed on unlocking further value as you go. Evolve and maintain platforms with smaller, consistent investments to enable quick adaptation and mitigate the risk of falling behind.

Apply a strategic planning approach and make sure you don’t fall into the trap of thinking tactically - deploying a piece of technology because it satisfies one use case - or a feast and famine style transformation project.

Take the necessary step back and extrapolate your plan forward, breaking it down into manageable steps as you go. Design, implement, test, improve and iterate quickly.

Your guests demand seamless experiences so plan like your success depends on it, the chances are it does.

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