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06/06/2022

Prevent Friction and Enhance Experience: Hotels Experiment with Automation Amid Pandemic-Driven Labor Shortages

The perfect recipe for disaster: Millions of eager, impatient guests who feel they overpaid are paired with stressed, overworked hotel workers. Find out what you can do to prevent problems.
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two happy women with their luggage getting ready to travel

We’re in the midst of a perfect storm for the hospitality industry: labor shortages combined with high demand and high inflation.

It’s a recipe for disaster: long lines, limited service and high prices. As hotels manage the influx in bookings with limited staff and resources, millions of eager, impatient guests who feel they overpaid are paired with stressed, overworked hotel workers.

Despite recent gains, the leisure and hospitality sector is still down by 1.4 million workers or nearly nine percent since its pre-pandemic state (in February 2020). At the same time, demand is way up and so-called “revenge travelers” are eager to venture back out into the world and make up for lost time. According to Phocuswright, hotel bookings were at about 85 percent of their pre-pandemic levels at the end of 2021. Our recent Travel Benchmarks report even shows that conversion rates have continued to steadily increase, jumping by 36 percent between January 2021 and March 2022.

To manage the chaos of high demand on top of labor shortages, many hotel brands are experimenting with automation technologies that help fill gaps in their workforce. Unfortunately, these new technologies aren’t a silver bullet to fixing hotels’ problems.

When automation causes frustration

From enhanced guest-facing mobile apps to internal operations platforms, tech-enabled automation is coming to the rescue for short-staffed hotels. But what happens when this software actually causes bigger headaches for staff?

The problem is that many hotel managers will simply deploy these technologies without monitoring or understanding how people use – and misuse – them. As a result, here are just a few examples of operational inefficiencies many hotels run into:

  • Failing to reduce check-in time. With mobile check-in and mobile keys established at many large chains, reducing hotel check-in times seems within reach. Many hotels have added new contactless self-check-in kiosks as an alternative. However, new tech doesn’t come without friction. If the guest keeps running into the same error when trying to check-in, there’s little time saved for guests or workers.
  • Frustration in the contact center. Many hotel contact centers are understaffed and struggling to support the recent influx of emails and chat requests from guests trying to book or sign into their loyalty accounts online. With limited staff and resources, many agents are supporting mobs of frustrated guests across web and mobile experiences.
  • Friction in hotel operations. As the need for ever-more connected hotel workers increases, new tech is enabling automation and collaboration. Hotels have added the ability to digitize daily tasks and operations, create mobile inspection checklists, and enhance online training and development apps. However, productivity stalls when employees experience friction using these internal applications.

The solution: Better real-time visibility into tech experiences

Whenever they invest in new tech, hotels must also leverage tools that can monitor behaviors and identify pain points guests may be experiencing. By identifying and reducing friction faster across digital touchpoints, hotels can address the above inefficiencies.

  1. Increasing check-in efficiency with proactive monitoring. To streamline the process of finding and fixing both technical and UX issues during check-in, hotels can equip their guest-facing platforms with proactive monitoring capabilities that will automatically alert them when high impact behavioral anomalies cause frustration. By delivering session replay capabilities along with technical details directly to all critical product and tech teams, they can efficiently find and deploy a solution. Removing friction in the check-in experience allows hotels to support more guests (who want to) self-serve, freeing up time for front desk associates to focus on enhancing the guest experience in other ways, and going above and beyond in supporting their needs.
  2. Reducing time to resolution in the contact center with real-time visibility. To better support contact center agents and equip them with the necessary information to efficiently resolve issues, hotels can leverage knowledge management tools paired with real-time, quantified session replay. This will increase agent visibility into the entire customer experience and reduce the time it takes to resolve issues. By automating insights and real-time digital troubleshooting in the contact center, agents will be more productive and supportive, which ultimately creates happier guests.
  3. Enhancing employee productivity by reducing digital friction. To improve efficiency and streamline guest operations, UX teams can view interaction heat maps to understand where employees “rage click” or otherwise face difficulties completing required operational checklists or training. Upgrading the employee app experience not only helps reduce friction for the one worker or hotel, but it potentially helps improve productivity across a network of hotel employees that may be having the same issue. Furthermore, it can lead to lower stress for staff and increased employee loyalty and retention, which is especially important in a tight labor market.

As hotels continue taking steps toward recovery, they’ll need to create empathetic experiences – not just for their guests who are finally feeling comfortable to take trips, but also their staff who are dealing with pre-pandemic levels of activity with minimal support. Automation technologies can certainly help fill some of the gaps, but it’s critical that hotels set these new tools up for success with additional monitoring and management capabilities so guests and staff can take full advantage.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Arundel is a digital thought leader who spent 15 years leading digital analytics and product performance initiatives for Marriott International. He currently serves as the director of industry insights for the travel vertical at Quantum Metric, where he also helps many of the world’s favorite brands adopt Continuous Product Design or CPD. CPD is a methodology for driving digital innovation with people at the heart. It helps technical and business teams align by empathizing with customers and discovering real-time business impact at every phase of the product life cycle.