From apps and facial recognition to robotic butlers, technology is rapidly moving in on the very human world of hospitality. As customer expectations change, hotels are turning to automation to deliver increasingly personalized services. But at what point does speed become clinical? Can self-service ever really replace a warm welcome? At its heart, hospitality is about people. Studies show that 75% of guests still value face-to-face interaction alongside other communication channels. So, how do you find the right blend of high-tech experiences they want and the human touch they so often need?
The right tech at the right time.
Imagine you’ve just flown into town on business. You’re dog tired and desperate for sleep. By checking in online and using your smartphone as a room key, you skip the wait lines at reception and head to bed without exchanging a word with another living soul. Bliss. Forgot your toothbrush? Just ask your in-room Alexa. On the flip side, the banter you enjoy with the barista the next morning might just make your day when you’re alone in an unfamiliar city.
It’s a delicate balancing act, but let’s start by looking at the technology trends elevating guest experiences in 2020:
- Recognition technology: Facial, fingerprint and biometric recognition are transforming the speed and ease of payments online, and their potential in hospitality is vast. For example, fingerprint and facial recognition enable people to check-in and access rooms simply using their phones. Meanwhile, from the service side, staff can quickly ID guests and even monitor physical spaces, ‘reading’ facial expressions to gauge residents’ moods.
- Artificial intelligence (AI) and robots: From Connie, Hilton’s robotic concierge, to robot suitcases, smart machines are proving popular the world over. Armed with speech recognition skills and AI, bots like Connie answer customer questions, even learning from interactions. Online, chatbots instantly respond to guests across a range of digital channels that would be difficult and downright expensive to monitor with staff.
- Internet of Things (IoT): From appliances to smartphones, everyday devices are increasingly connected to share data across the web. One way the hospitality sector is taking advantage of this connectivity is by using sensor technology and smart thermostats to automatically adjust room temperatures. Other devices like smart blinds, for example, help reduce light intensity during the day. More than just a nice touch, they help hotels to slash energy consumption.
- Big data: When everything is connected, you can gather data that reveals more profound insights into guest behaviors, giving you the chance to hyper-personalize their experience. On a broader scale, big data is also enabling hotels to identify and respond to industry trends that influence pricing and overall performance.
- Virtual reality (VR): One of the most exciting technologies in recent years, VR enables guests to take a 360O virtual tour of their room or hotel online before they even book, building trust and confidence in the brand.
- Augmented reality (AR): Using simple devices like smartphones, tablets, or headsets, AR overlays your physical hotel space with real-time digital information. It may be an in-room interactive map that allows you to explore the local area or an app that reveals reviews when you point your phone at a restaurant exterior.
From entirely robot-staffed hotels to in-room smart devices, tech is here to stay. However, anyone working in hospitality will tell you that, in reality, it’s merely another layer in the customer experience. Lest we forget, the human touch—the camaraderie, humor, compassion—provides atmosphere and gives hotel guests the face-to-face contact they still desire.
5 questions to help you balance high-tech and high-touch
Investing in technology can come with a hefty price tag—getting it wrong can be costly. Just how do you decide between the technology you really need and the latest fad? Before jumping on the bandwagon, ask yourself these important questions:
- How will technology help my hotel be more human?
It may sound counterintuitive, but technology at its best empowers staff to do their job better. Use it to stay connected and build long-term relationships with guests, and to remember the little things that matter like their favorite restaurants or how they like their coffee.
- Does it dramatically improve the guest experience?
The most engaging moments during any hotel stay are personal. Big data and other technologies help you hone tailored, immersive experiences for every single guest.
- Does it help us to be more proactive in addressing weak spots?
Until recently, hospitality has adopted a reactive approach to complaints. The age of online reviews has been a rough ride for some. Customized post-stay surveys, for example, are just one way that technology is giving hotels a chance to remedy issues before they go public.
- Will it radically streamline operations and/or help us reduce costs and energy consumption?
From purchasing systems that enable greater efficiency in your kitchens to payroll software that stays on top of changing regulations and salaries, technology is serving up a host of tools that save you time and money.
- Does it integrate with our existing technology infrastructure?
Quite simply, does this technology offer enhanced compatibility and cross-functionality as part of your current systems?
Ultimately, technology and personal service need not be in conflict if you focus on enhancing your guest experience. It’s less about gimmicks and more about giving guests the option to choose how they want to interact and when. It’s about greater convenience and efficiency. It’s about building connections that optimize guest experience before, during, and after their visit.
When you’re in the business of delivering exceptional customer experiences, the key to making a successful transition to technology boils down to finding the right blend of high-tech and face-to-face that ensures long-term loyalty.