Article By Ian Sherratt, Services Director – Cloud Centres

As we move through the ‘new normal’ of the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses need to trade again, customers need to feel comfortable to return and technology is rapidly becoming the tool to help social distance.

Apps such as TFL Go and Crowdless, which warn users how to avoid busy transport networks and shopping areas, are typical of tech apps now available on smartphones. Zoom, meanwhile, has helped more people work from home while keeping in touch with colleagues.

Down the road in Cardiff students at the university have created an app that allows people to ensure safe social distancing on public transport. Similarly, here at Cloud Centres our sister company, GuestTalk, has created an app that is ideally suited to allow guests and employees to social distance in the hospitality industry.

GuestTalk app

Karen Foster, managing director of GuestTalk, said the app was actually launched in early 2019 but is ideal for social distancing, giving hotel guests and employees the ability to communicate without actually meeting face to face.

“We’re a Cloud platform for hotels and hostel staff and guests,” Karen said. “The app is an easy way for customers and staff to chat safely. GuestTalk gives guests the key information before they arrive, like door codes and checking-in procedures, and then helps guest request services during their stay, such as meal requests, booking times for laundry, room cleaning and satisfaction surveys once you leave. Hotels can also upsell services during and after stays, helping maximise recovery revenues…it’s the full range of communication.”

Although the GuestTalk app was launched last year it has since been adapted to fit with the post Covid-19 landscape. Karen said the software is flexible enough to ensure that not only will guests be able to communicate remotely, but also staff.

“We’re always updating the app and that has certainly been the case since Covid-19, where we’ve developed new features,” she says. “The app ensures minimal contact if required. For example, a request for towels in the room comes in and that is forwarded to the housekeeping team. They can drop the towels off and there doesn’t need to be any sort of physical interaction. There is still a personal, human touch in dealing with people this way, but it’s just that it is socially distanced.”

An app for convenience

The idea for the GuestTalk app came, as many do, from personal frustration. In her role as a senior business manager, Karen spent endless hours in hotels and, after a long day of meetings, she needed to relax rather than chase housekeeping for requests such as extra items for the room.

“If I could just message them, it would be so much easier,” she says.

Consequently, Karen made enquiries with contacts in the sector and, while there were databases of guest information and bookings, nobody was running a messaging service:

“We found that there was a big gap: there wasn’t anyone, especially in the UK, doing what we could do. And so we went ahead, created the app and it’s been really successful.”

Indeed, the app has users in hotels and hospitality properties across the globe now. While Karen had anticipated it might be something mostly adopted by small boutique-style hotels, the response has been positive from across the sector, from B&Bs through to large hotel chains.

How the GuestTalk app works

The GuestTalk app is a web-based or browser-based application that integrates with the hotel’s management systems to receive the guest and booking data. When a booking is made, it hits the app’s system and GuestTalk sends out a welcome message via email or social media messaging containing key information about the guest’s upcoming stay. This can be an automated message, or series of messages.

But communication isn’t just one way – guests can message with their queries, such as where they can park or what the wi-fi code is or order a breakfast menu. When those messages come in, whether through email, text or social media, it all goes to one inbox and matches against the guest, so the staff know who it is and can respond.

“All of these simple interactions can happen through the system,” Karen says.

The app can also be used for reporting – customer satisfaction surveys can be sent out and received and the hotel can see what people are saying and have an overall view of their customers’ likes and dislikes.

In addition, the app is multilingual, reflecting the often international make-up of hotel staff and guests. So messages can be instantly translated from one language to another to avoid any confusion.

Time has also been taken to ensure the app is as easy to use as possible, with features that look common to regular email and text message interfaces.

Another selling point is that by using GuestTalk’s app customers do not need to download a different app every time they visit a hotel run by a different company.

International potential

Globally, there is currently little competition in the market – Karen knows of a similar app in Scandinavia and a couple in the US – but there is a growing and worldwide market for such tools, so the company is busy making sure the app works seamlessly wherever it’s used.

Karen is currently focused on ensuring that UK hotel and hospitality businesses know all about the GuestTalk app, with plenty of advertising on social media and in the trade press, as well as with old-fashioned leaflet drops in hotels at seaside resorts.

“There isn’t really a better way of driving customers to your door than to give them the reassurance that they can do it all without necessarily having to bump into anybody else,” she says. “It’s a very cost-effective solution. It’s about the hotel making more sales at the end of the day and right now that’s absolutely critical. People are probably going to choose to communicate in a socially distanced and safe way for some time to come. So for people that have got the app I think it’s a really unique selling point for them – ensuring customers and staff are comfortable with social distancing measures at the hotel.”

This article was inspired by episode #004 of the Cloud Centres Podcast

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