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TELUS International Europe: Enhancing customer experience in the hospitality industry

In an era of growing personalization and concierge support services, a European hotel chain is doing away with doormen, concierge, room service and even the little chocolates on your hotel room pillow

2017-11-12 15:09:58

Grégoire Vigroux
Vice-President Marketing Europe at TELUS

citizenM, a Dutch chain with hotels in several European cities, as well as New York City's Times Square, is trying to master the art of simple customer service elegance.

The chain markets itself as providing guests with affordable luxury. What it's really done, however, is leverage Millennial consumer trends and technology to eliminate excesses and concentrate its products and services around what matters most to travelers. From minimalist yet cozy interior design, to a 24/7 bar and canteen, to free Wi-Fi throughout the entire hotel, citizenM has rethought the conventional hotel stay and rewired it for a new, younger generation of travelers and digitally savvy nomads.

Start by listening to consumers

citizenM's design evolved from listening to what travelers want and need from a hotel experience and removing the added services of little value. "We first [listened] to the customer and to their expectations," explains Michael Levie, partner and CEO of citizenM. "Meeting those expectations means reducing friction and increasing the level of their experience."

For example, a doorman or bellboy waiting for a tip are of little benefit to modern travelers. These unwanted extras can create points of friction which take away from a satisfying guest experience.

In lieu of bellboys and doormen, citizenM hires actors and baristas — chosen because they aren't trapped in the traditional hospitality mindset, and because they are open to expressing a positive brand image when interacting with hotel guests, says Levie. They're there to ensure travelers get what they want most: A good night's sleep at a reasonable price, and a quality cappuccino.

Putting the tech touch in the guest experience

The popularity of this bare-bones hotel model reveals that a focus on hiring staff for their people skills, and using technology to take care of the "little details," can be a winning formula.

For instance, the chain guarantees a one-minute check-in and check-out via its self-service terminals. Free Wi-Fi and free access to a computer café stocked with iMacs are other easy tech touches that the chain says keeps customers happy. citizenM also engages actively with its guests on social media, not only to promote their services but to also answer common questions while maintaining a distinctive and cheeky brand tone.

For citizenM, technology helps to define the brand around an elegant self-service model, but it also proves modernity and relevance. "Technology is rapidly becoming a means by which brands can show they are a) contemporary b) differentiated from competitors and c) integrated with consumers' lives, tastes, preferences and experiences when shopping, buying or reviewing," says Chris Nurko, the global chairman of FutureBrand, an agency that helps companies evolve. "Brands that adopt a customer-centric strategy — integrating technology that is simple, enjoyable and rewarding — will have a competitive advantage in service, as well as in product development," Nurko says.

Blended customer service heightens the guest experience

While citizenM might be considered a pioneer in using technology to elevate the customer experience, it isn't the only company rethinking the hospitality wheel. Henry Harteveldt, travel-industry analyst and president of the Atmosphere Research Group, points out that other travel and hospitality brands are picking up on the added value that a blended experience provides.

As an example, Harteveldt points to Hilton's OnQ enhanced customer relationship management (CRM) platform. The program helps Hilton staff recognize loyal, high-revenue customers and highlights customer feedback from previous stays. "[OnQ] enables the entire guest experience at all the Hilton brands — even [the] operational departments at the hotel," Harteveldt says. "They know who should get an upgrade when they have limited rooms. During times of peak demand, the room service delivery person knows which room to deliver to first."

This application of technology is especially useful for reinforcing the essence of hospitality when hiring and training new staff. But hiring for personality and attitude remains as important as ever. "As much as we rely on technology, it is only an enabler," says Harteveldt. "It's about using a combination of technology, managers' own smarts and common sense, then putting them together in a way which helps brands distinguish themselves," he says.

From multichannel to omnichannel customer experience

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As a trailblazer in the hospitality industry, citizenM has laid the foundation for a major hotel-business overhaul. But as the company demonstrates, technology on its own doesn't make for a great hotel stay. An exceptional guest – and customer – experience comes from a thoughtful application of high-tech tools complemented by a human touch.
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