Friend, Not Foe: Why Hospitality Should Embrace Automation, AI

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Friend, Not Foe: Why Hospitality Should Embrace Automation, AI

10/11/2017

Almost every industry has been impacted by automation in recent years, and the hospitality industry is no exception. From AI-powered assistants to messaging apps, businesses are increasingly turning to automation to cut operational costs and improve customer experiences.

Hospitality-focused automation technologies are providing guests with simple, self-sufficient and streamlined experiences for planning the exact experience they want — all void of the need to interact with a real-life person. This shift in power has left many hospitality workers fearful of losing their jobs, and even of a full robot takeover.

But the nature of the industry will protect them from that occurring.

Hospitality is traditionally — and always will be — dependent on the human element. Whether it’s a hotel, restaurant or cruise line, touch and natural conversation are essential components for connecting and building relationships with guests, and machines aren’t close to replacing that.

With both humans and automation here to stay in the industry, workers should look to embrace the technology as their helpful counterpart, rather than their enemy. That said, this article from Talmetrix will share three key areas of the hospitality business where AI and automation have the ability to enhance employees’ roles.

 

Streamlined guest communication and staff efficiency

Customers expect to be able to contact businesses at anytime, anywhere and on any device. Hotels have been keen on using chatbots to address this, allowing guests to bypass the front desk to book stays and ask simple questions on the platform of their choice. As a result, front-desk staff are freed up for critical interactions only humans can provide, such as upselling or handling complaints or special requests.

Artificial intelligence also helps workers better handle communication with guests during their stays. Today many hotels have launched messaging platforms that allow guests to send requests from anywhere around the property, but the high-volume of messages can put a strain on the front desk and its ability to redirect service requests to the appropriate departments in a timely manner. Artificially intelligent technologies like IBM Watson’s “Ivy” are capable of automating almost the entire guest messaging process. Designed specifically for the hospitality industry, Ivy handles around 90 percent of real-time requests from guests, effectively becoming their main point of contact throughout their hotel stay. Instead of calling the front desk, guests can use Ivy to receive answers to small questions, such as “What is the Wi-Fi password?” without human intervention. Ivy also allows guests to bypass human interaction with its ability to reroute specific requests to relevant departments. For example, a guest’s request for extra towels can be sent straight to laundry services instead of the front desk, better streamlining tasks and saving employee time.

 

Holistic view of customers for evolving guest experiences

Hospitality businesses often have piles of customer data on habits, interests, and unique preferences, but don’t have the time or resources to analyze it manually. That’s why the industry, especially hotels, cruise lines and theme parks, is using machine learning and automation to collect the data and identify trends. From there, AI-powered platforms can take that data and act as a consultant for the operations and marketing leaders, analyzing trends and providing actionable insights for more personalized guest experiences.

For example, AI has the ability to help theme parks better analyze big data to make specific recommendations for restaurants in the park, suggest rides, or sell additional services. Disney has been the first to attempt something like this with its rollout of the MyMagic+ wearable tech for its theme parks. When guests wear it, Disney can track their location to see what attractions and amenities they visit and when they do — giving the company insight into several operations for better optimizing operations and servicing guests in the future.

 

An empowered HR department focusing on what matters most

Like the hospitality industry, the human resources department plays the same game of tug-of-war between pushing automation and maintaining the human element (it is human resources after all). Many hospitality businesses have already made the decision to use technology like employee feedback platforms to get pulse checks on engagement and experience, but many have been shy to embrace technology past these platforms.

However, there are two HR functions that should never be automated, especially in the hospitality industry. The first is anything performance related. While machines can sense information, they cannot detect and adapt to human emotion — and communicating this type of information via technology is the least hospitable approach an HR leader can take with their employees. The second function is recruiting and new hire selection. While part of the process is analyzing and assessment scoring, there is still the need to see and engage with an individual to determine if they are a good cultural fit.

That said, the largest opportunity for automation in HR currently lies with task management. Almost any repetitive job can be automated, so workers can tend to other roles that require more attention. The functions most ripe for automation include the distribution of onboarding materials, management of employee personal data, validation and tracking of timesheets, and the approval of leave requests — just to name a few.

However, AI and automation have the potential to disrupt HR more than just menial tasks. In the future, we can expect to see more businesses leveraging AI for better employee engagement and retention in the same way they do for more tailored guest experiences. For example, organizations have a mountain of employee feedback data from annual engagement and pulse surveys to manage, but don’t have the ability to efficiently analyze it and identify actionable insights. Machine learning quickly and precisely mines and categorizes all the data for them, allowing organizations to predict business outcomes and make data-driven decisions.

While tasks may be shared and distributed between humans and machines, the hospitality industry can never fully replace the human employee. There is a complementary relationship between human capabilities and technology; technology helps us get smarter, but only we can help ourselves get better. Automation and AI can provide us with enough actionable insight, but at end of the day the decision to change a guest’s experience is still an action of the human mind.