As the lodging industry grapples with the toughest labor market it has faced in decades, hoteliers have turned to innovative technology solutions as a way to automate manual processes previously handled by team members. There are good reasons why they’ve done so. Automation saves time and money—two things that may be in short supply as the industry continues to navigate the recovery as a busy summer season looms. And those savings are invaluable, especially since among the 1.6 million jobs yet to recover, 1.5 million are in leisure and hospitality, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
Some in the lodging industry may argue that tech solutions only stand to take away more jobs. But that’s not the goal. Rather, innovative tech solutions have been created to enhance the employee experience. It’s all about empowering team members so that they can make a more valuable impact on guests. Here are three ways tech automation can support employees and boost the guest experience.
1. Pre-Stay: Focusing on the Guest Experience from the First Touchpoint
It’s important to remember that the guest journey doesn’t begin when guests arrive at a hotel. It begins at the first touchpoint. Then, it continues on through the guest’s stay. So, the guest experience needs to be consistently great across all touchpoints. But when hotels are working with fewer resources today, providing a consistent experience can be tough. That’s where automation comes in, not only as a way to enhance the capabilities for overwhelmed teams but also for the guest experience.
For instance, manually managing email campaigns, like the pre-stay messages for soon arriving guests, can be a lot of work. However, automated email systems can free up the time employees would spend on crafting emails. An email automation system can be integrated into the property management system (PMS), allowing hoteliers to streamline communications across the entire customer journey.
Automated marketing emails offer more value to guests because they are more personalized. That means marketing teams are freed up to focus on the strategy behind emails, enabling them to think outside the box and reach guests on their preferred channels. And with automated emails such as confirmations and pre-stay messages (and post-stay feedback requests), hoteliers will never forget to send guests important information.
Automation is equally important when it comes to the booking experience. Innovative tech today is allowing hoteliers to stay up-to-date on their operations in real-time. This is especially important when it comes to inventory. No more manually checking extranets to ensure the right packages and rates are being displayed. As a result, the reservations team can spend more time focusing on providing great customer service.
2. On Arrival: Streamlining the Employee and Guest Experience
Guests today expect an even more streamlined experience when they arrive at a hotel. No one wants to travel all day only to wait in line at the front desk for 20 minutes. Simply put, the check-in experience needs to be easier and more personalized. Automation is critical to providing a great experience here.
Take the payment journey, for example. Guests no longer want to hand over their credit card when checking in at the front desk. Contactless guest experiences in general and payments like tap, scan and mobile wallets have exploded in popularity in recent years. In fact, McKinsey reports that 58% of all customer interactions globally are now digital, compared to 36% prior to the pandemic. Even as COVID-19 concerns (hopefully) start to abate, today’s guests don’t want to be handed a key card anymore. Customers want the convenience of a digital key already integrated with the phones in the palm of their hands.
Contactless experiences are good for both guests and employees. With automation through mobile check-in, employees are freed up to focus on enhancing the guest experience. Because front-desk agents are no longer tasked with completing the mundane tasks that come with checking in guests, they can now interact with guests in a more meaningful way. For instance, front-desk associates have more time to act as more of a concierge, making area food and attractions recommendations. The front desk doesn’t go away, but it becomes less transactional, more personalized and helpful.
Thanks to automation, front-desk agents are also freed up to assist with the requests that enhance the guest experience. As a basic example, a guest requests more towels for their room. Now front-desk agents can process that request quicker because they aren’t stuck behind a computer screen completing a task that a mobile app can handle. Everything becomes more efficient.
3. On Property: Becoming More Efficient to Complete Tasks
While on property, guests will continue to make requests. They want an easy way to do that. In other words, they don’t want to pick up the phone to call the front desk. And front-desk agents shouldn’t have to spend their time answering calls either. All of this can be done through tech that automates the process.
This type of technology can also provide valuable data and insights about the guest experience. By filtering for keywords, hoteliers are able to automate responses to common guest questions and requests. This is useful for providing answers to questions guests may be unwilling to ask in person. It’s also helpful for diverting low-level inquiries away from the front desk, creating time and opportunities for more high-value interactions with guests that add to the guest experience.
Automation is also key when it comes to task management. Automatically populating employee schedules and assignments helps free time in management’s schedule to focus on other pressing matters, while ensuring hotel workers are always aware of what needs to be done on property. Take housekeeping, for instance. Certain tech platforms assign rooms and maintenance tasks in the cloud so that everyone on the team can log in and see a snapshot of what needs to be done. This helps operations managers be more efficient with assigning shifts and, in turn, saves on labor costs. It also helps to turn rooms faster so that teams can be sure to have clean rooms available at check-in time, leading to a greater guest experience.
Now’s the Time to Invest in Innovative Tech
All of the above tasks formerly required extra people. You needed extra front-desk agents to program the key cards, answer the phones for guest requests and take room service orders. Digital automation has made everything easier and more seamless for not only the guest but also for hotel operators. Most importantly, it hasn’t replaced people. Rather, automation has empowered employees to focus on the things that matter—the things that add to and create a great guest experience.
As the hotel industry continues to face a tough labor market, now is the time to integrate tech automation to boost hotel operations. Modern hospitality management software can be a hotelier’s best ally in saving time and costs, all while increasing the productivity of current team members and the training of new employees.