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Overcoming Cognitive Bias in Hospitality Software Selection

By being aware of common cognitive biases, you may be able to avoid them — or at least minimize their influence on your decision.
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Diners have certain, rapidly evolving expectations, and the restaurant industry must deliver. One way to ensure a best-in-class customer experience? Having the right operational tools, including software. However, an outdated, traditional approach to buying software hampers innovation in the hospitality industry.

Think about it. Proper staffing is essential for optimal customer service. Software can help operators manage personnel, direct operations and much more. But hospitality software isn’t one-size-fits-all. So how do restaurant operators know what solution is best? Restaurant owners and executives lean into their CIO and IT leadership, expecting them to keep ahead of the curve and react quickly to changing needs.

Those in the hospitality industry may struggle to keep up with the transformative nature — and ever-growing roles — of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) and their potential application to emerging technologies, including the benefits and risks. Without a deeper awareness of the available technology and what it does, restauranteurs are more likely to struggle when choosing the right software to address their current and future needs. When key stakeholders involved in the software selection process aren’t tech-savvy, cognitive bias can creep in and impact their selection process.

How to Avoid Cognitive Bias

Spoiler alert: you can’t avoid it — at least not entirely, because everyone has biases. They boil down to the thought processes resulting from our brain’s tendency to simplify information through a filter of personal experiences and preferences. While it’s a fantastic coping mechanism helping our brains prioritize and process massive amounts of data quickly and efficiently (think heuristics), it’s not the best approach for making decisions based on complicated information we may not fully understand — like buying software. 

We know what we need the software to do, and we’re faced with multiple options, all purporting to do what we want. How do we choose the best one? Our first instinct is to gravitate toward software we’re somewhat familiar with. Enter bias. By being aware of common cognitive biases, you may be able to avoid them — or at least minimize their influence on your decision.

Common cognitive biases

You’ve identified a need for new software to increase operational efficiency and elevate the guest experiences. Great! Avoid these biases, which can complicate the software buying process.

  • Anchoring bias is the tendency to be influenced by the first sales presentation you see.
  • The availability heuristic confuses “easy” with “true” and spawns hasty generalizations based on previous experience with a particular company or software.
  • The bandwagon effect “lives” in the top right of the quadrant mentality. You might be tempted to buy what your competitors use, even if it isn’t the right choice for your company.
  • Choice-supportive/halo bias happens when we stick with our chosen option (A) – even if it’s flawed — downplay its faults and amplify the faults of a less-favored option (B) to influence others not to purchase B.
  • Confirmation bias occurs when people actively seek or interpret information to support their pre-existing beliefs.
  • Conservatism bias involves not sufficiently revising our beliefs based on new evidence because we favor older evidence.
  • Information bias happens when we inaccurately collect, interpret or measure critical information from all the stakeholders.
  • Sunk costs bias involves choosing an option because you’ve already invested time — or resources — into it, even if it’s not the best choice.

Overcoming bias in hospitality software vendor selection

While you can’t avoid bias 100%, being aware of it can reduce its influence. Doing so requires championing objectivity, establishing clear criteria and a structured evaluation process, encouraging multiple, diverse stakeholders to participate, and using data to inform your decision-making. Here are other tips to help you find the right software vendor for your operations.

  • Collaborate with as many stakeholders as possible to conduct needs assessments and gather, rank and prioritize requirements. Compare vendors to your business needs to find your best match.
  • Assess your current and future needs, including pain points or opportunities for improvement and must-have features and functions — be sure to factor in how you communicate and collaborate with your staff and guests.
  • Consider where new software will fit into your tech ecosystem. Anything you add won’t operate in isolation and must be compatible with existing infrastructure.
  • Evaluate each software product to determine what ongoing maintenance it requires, its security protocols, its alignment with the vendor’s future roadmap, whether it offers the strategic value you need now and as you scale, and whether your team can implement it or if they need training (or an assist from an outside contractor).
  • Compare vendors to see where (and how) they align with your business requirements and criteria.
  • Talk to customers with businesses similar to yours rather than relying only on vendor-provided references to get more authentic, accurate insight.

Psychologist and author Daniel Kahneman once said, “When faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.”

Businesses failing to vet a software vendor carefully may find themselves saddled with a solution that causes more problems than it solves. If you don’t avoid the quicksand of cognitive bias, that scenario becomes more likely. Reframe your strategy and anchor your approach to the software-buying process in facts, not opinions, to find a solution designed to elevate guest services and satisfaction — and make your employees’ lives easier, too.


About the Author

Olive Technologies CEO and co-founder Chris Heard started his entrepreneurial journey in England when he launched a portable cocktail bartending service, “Bars in Action.” In 2009, after working briefly in insurance sales, Chris moved to Vancouver and helped to grow local startup Mobify where he worked first as the head of business development and then as Sr. account executive. He later joined several other tech companies including Yottaa and Fuze as a sales director. In 2018, he co-founded Olive Technologies with a mission to provide enterprises with a faster, more efficient, less biased strategy for buying and adopting the right technology for their business needs.

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