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How Hotels Can Combine Self-Serve and Customer Service at the Website


Excellence in hospitality revolves around the basic premise that customers should have choices. The self-service hospitality model rose to prominence in light of this notion, giving customers more choices in how they interact with hotels, airlines and rental agencies.
Being greeted by a long check-in line at a hotel may be a thing of the past. At boutique hotels from CitizenM in Amsterdam to the Inn at St. Botolph in Boston, weary travels are no longer ushered to the check-in desk as soon as they set foot in the hotel. Instead, companies such as NCR Corporation, are designing software that allows travelers to check-in remotely, using their tablets or smart phones. NCR’s technology provides travelers with alternative options for how to interact with their hotels and marks yet another move towards self-service in the physical travel space.
From online check-in to airport kiosks, car rental stations to automated hotel room access, the hospitality industry is in the midst of a self-service revolution. As this mode of travel becomes the norm, customers expect to have the option to make every aspect of their travel self-directed. But how is the digital hospitality realm keeping up to speed with self-service in the physical realm?
Self-Service in the Digital Realm
Though hospitality booking sites and apps appear to be at the center of the self-service trend, in fundamental ways they still reflect an outdated model of service. Rather than creating a user experience that allows for customers to choose how they seek help, customers are frequently limited to an all-purpose FAQ page—or worse, a call center—leaving consumers few choices in how they approach a hospitality website and seek help.
So what’s a hospitality booking site to do in the midst of this self-service revolution? Website self-service technologies, such as AnswerDash
and Parature among others, are hoping to address the gap in this market. By providing self-service answers alongside content, they’re one-step closer to taking the self-service trend beyond hotels and airports to the online space. 
Imagine, for example, that a traveler is trying to book a hotel in a foreign country. Rather than using a search engine to research exchange rates or currencies, causing the customer to navigate away from the booking site, the user could stay on the original page and, with the simple click of a mouse or tap of a finger, have the information at her fingertips. By simply clicking on a page or tapping directly on a particular item, relevant questions and answers appear instantly, right where customers need them. These emerging technologies help travelers to be more self-directed with each stage of the travel process—from booking a hotel and finding a rental car to identifying the best local eateries—and reflect the customer service of the physical travel experience.
How Self-Service Helps Hoteliers
Industry trends around online bookings are astonishing. A high volume of visitors initiate a reservation, but only 2% of hotel booking site visitors complete a booking. Website abandonment is arguably the greatest threat to reservation sites’ success. There are myriad reasons travelers abandon a booking. Perhaps they were only daydreaming about that trip to Prague, but when the price tag became a real expenditure, they quickly abandoned the thought. More common among savvy travelers is leaving the site to compare rates, read reviews, look at photos, or check availability. However, according to Forrester, web travelers’ top reasons for abandoning an online booking include the inability to make specific requests online and frustration with site performance.
Online self-service technologies are poised to help tackle some of the issues plaguing companies with flailing conversion rates. If customers can find answers to their questions quickly without leaving the site, which increases the site’s “stickiness,” they are less likely to abandon their booking. Tech jargon aside, providing customers with website self-service options is classic hospitality gone digital.
Digital Hospitality is About Customer Experience
Website self-service technologies are part of providing a great overall experience to online travel customers. Globe-trotting and tech-savvy consumers will likely utilize the self-service option over others, but it shouldn’t supplant other forms of interaction. The option to speak to a person on the phone or via chat should still be made available, particularly for customers of luxury hotels. A common pattern is to have self-service technologies provide the first-line of customer support, and if customers need to escalate to a live human being via live chat or phone, the self-service technologies enable that in a smooth and seamless way.
Even though these technologies appear to replace the human element of travel, they don’t need to. At their heart, they can—and should—still be centered on helping improve travelers’ experiences with each stage of the travel process. As customers ask questions via website self-service, such as, “Are there more photos of this room?” hoteliers gain valuable information to inform redesign efforts and improve their content to make their sites and apps better for each visitor. Ultimately, applying self-service principles to web and app design is about making a great travel experience for each visitor and translating the hospitality of a hotel to its website.
As hotels and airports adopt self-service and provide customers with more ways to interact, the digital realm of travel ought to consider following suit.

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