OTTAWA, ONTARIO—Hotels have always explored ways to more effectively communicate with guests. Whether through the use of technology or face-to-face exchanges, interactions between hotel employees and guests are always evolving. What may have been important to a guest 20 years ago may not be a priority today, but one thing is for certain—guests will always have needs hotels will have to fulfill.
Seeking to supply the direct mode of communication between both sides of the conversation, Benbria, a mobile messaging and engagement solution geared toward improving customer experience, is targeting two industries: restaurant and hospitality.
For hoteliers, Benbria offers its Loop hospitality solution, which includes two products: Loop Messenger and Loop OnDemand. Combined, the mobile suite is designed to assist employees with engaging with guests, increasing revenue and improving operations. Loop Messenger, marketed as a one-on-one instant messaging solution for hotels, enables guests to use personal devices to leave comments or ask questions. It will then notify the appropriate staff member of the request. An automated, menu-driven solution, Loop OnDemand allows guests to request commonly needed items, such as towels. Requests are then auto-routed to the relevant team members.
While hotels can manage inbound requests and communicate internally with team members through an app, the guest-facing experience is a bit different. Guests don’t need to download Loop from an app store. “We heard from several hoteliers that they didn’t want to force a guest to download anything to engage with them, so we made Loop accessible by a simple web browser on any device connected to the internet,” said James Geneau, head of marketing at Benbria. “The guest receives a text or email, clicks on the link, and they can begin using Loop on their device of choice.”
That being said, Loop is designed to integrate with a range of guest-facing solutions, including a property’s existing app for guests. It can also be accessible from in-room iPads or tablets. Loop also integrates with more than 60 different PMS, CRM and ticketing solutions. “Essentially, if a client has a vision for guest engagement across multiple platforms, chances are Loop can integrate into it,” he explained.
Security settings can be configured for a client’s needs. For example, Benbria can set up authorizations so only select team members can receive and respond to messages. “We can configure limit accessibility based on check-in and checkout criteria,” Geneau said. “It really depends on the needs of the client and how/when they prefer to communicate with guests using Loop.”
As far as whether clients typically opt to leverage Loop Messenger or Loop OnDemand, it depends. What’s important to Benbria’s clients is having options, giving them room to adapt to increasing demands from guests. “The majority of our clients like to have both available, and the solution is designed to allow this flexibility of experience,” he said. “Regardless of what they choose, the experience for the guest is highly intuitive to use.”
Before making its entrance into the hospitality space Benbria focused on the restaurant industry—at least until it began receiving requests from hoteliers for a similar product. “Many had seen it in use at major restaurant chains and wanted to know if we could deploy it in a hotel-guest scenario,” he said. “As a result, we developed our first version of Loop for the hospitality sector more than four years ago. Since then, as we’ve heard more from our clients and the industry about what was important to them, it has evolved.”
The software company’s products have been influenced in many ways by existing clients. To gather feedback, Benbria attempts to stay highly active in the industry it serves. For example, with the hospitality industry in mind, the company held a series of roundtables with the International Luxury Hotel Association and Cornell University. “We gathered some excellent insight through this process to better understand the challenges the industry is facing when it comes to mobile devices and the guest experience,” Geneau noted. Benbria additionally published a whitepaper on its findings.
Some of what the software company gained from its discussions with industry leaders: messaging and texting can present a challenge to hotel employees, and using bots and AI to respond to guest needs isn’t something the entire industry is confident in. There’s an underlying fear for many of losing the human element part of hospitality.
“The latest release, which includes our Loop Messenger and OnDemand suite, was developed after we listened to our clients and the industry regarding what frightened yet excited them about guest texting and messaging,” Geneau said, speaking on how Benbria responds to industry feedback. “We took these insights and developed a completely new version of Loop that is designed for the specific needs of this audience.”
To date Benbria has more than 180 clients using its solutions, with more than 1,691 locations around the world. Included on its customer list are enterprise-level companies such as Sandals and Royal Caribbean, and a network of independent luxury hotels.
“The Loop system is a clean, simple yet very effective solution designed to efficiently engage our guests while managing and responding to their comments, concerns and requests in real time,” said Jeremy Mutton, GM at Sandals Emerald Bay Golf, Tennis and Spa Resort. “One of the highlights of the product’s ease-of-use is the fact that it is completely web-based; no app downloads, nothing to install, just browse to the URL from any data-capable device, and you’re on your way.”
Loop also allows guests to communicate with the property while they’re returning home, a feature many of Mutton’s guests have leveraged—especially for providing feedback and making special requests. “We had one memorable occasion of being able to locate a valuable and sentimental piece of jewelry that was inadvertently left behind by a guest; their quick yet detailed loop message we received allowed us to track down the valuable item within minutes and subsequently returned it safely home,” he recalled.
Benbria isn’t targeting properties based on size; it’s in search of properties honing in on one-to-one guest experiences. “Our clients have all embraced a philosophy around using messaging and mobile ordering as a differentiator—and that is what drives our engagement with them,” Geneau said. “Since Loop has so many ways it can be customized to a unique client scenario, we focus first on their needs, then apply best practices to make Loop a solution for their property and guest persona.”
When asked about Benbria’s plans for the hospitality industry in 2017, Geneau admitted there’s just “too much to list.” Some of what the company learned from industry leaders in the past year is being incorporated into future releases. Expected enhancements include adding more tools to its data and reporting features targeting operational goals.
“We will also be making some big changes to the types of messages and channels we support—with a particular focus on the guest insights we can deliver from our integrations with a property’s PMS solution and third-party sites,” he said. “We’ve developed a best-in-class user interface. Next will be the data and tools we can add on to the platform to continuously help our clients manage guest expectations and drive more revenue.” HB