Striking a Balance: How AI Technology and Employee Engagement Drives Hospitality
When it comes to technology in the hospitality industry, it’s easy to imagine the extreme: robots that clean your room or flip burgers; placing your dinner order through a touchpad. However, a smart manager will understand that these technologies aren’t doing much to drive the customer experience. While many industries use automated technologies to gain efficiencies and, in some cases, replace human workers, hospitality will always have to rely on human interaction and personalization to deliver a unique customer service experience.
While there definitely are hospitality experiences that do not cry out for human interaction, one of the real opportunities for technology in the industry is behind the scenes: AI-driven software that is both predictive and prescriptive. When customer service is the cornerstone of your success, you need tools that help your employees make better and faster decisions – freeing them up from the administrative tasks so they can focus on the elements that go into guest satisfaction.
Maintaining the Human Factor
China’s new “Future Hotel” made headlines last year for its completely automated experience. Guests are greeted by a robot, checked in via facial recognition, and smart speakers in each room take care of all requests. This is an extreme example, but many hospitality organizations will recognize that this approach is commoditizing what guest service means.
Technology is crucial to staying competitive in hospitality – of course; but staff will always be the face of your brand. The customer experience will continue to be dependent on a distinctly human factor, no matter how technologically advanced the average stay might become. And while there are benefits to automating certain parts of the experience, this also means that the best technology investment, for most hospitality companies, is in technology tools that support your staff and positively impact the team’s engagement.
Key to Guest Satisfaction: Engaged Employees
Engaging with and delighting your guests should be the focus of every hospitality employee, but too often administrative tasks and poor planning keep them from being able to focus on this core part of their job. AI-driven software, with its abilities to aggregate and analyze data, and automate key decisions, can have a significant impact on how managers tackle daily operations. By doing the heavy lifting and monotonous tasks for them, AI tools allow managers to finish up this administrative work much more quickly while reducing errors, thereby getting them back out on the floor and engaged with their employees and guests.
But it’s not just the managers’ time and duties that are improved through AI-driven processes: using AI tools to make decisions about things like work schedules, assigning duties and even setting team goals make an employee’s job more predictable and more achievable. This is no small thing. When employees feel rewarded and satisfied with their jobs, that directly correlates to a better customer experience. An engaged and happy labor force is more motivated to succeed, willing to take on new tasks and feels a sense of responsibility to the overall satisfaction of guests.
How does AI-driven software manage this? It’s all about driving better decisions based on more accurate, timely and evaluated information:
- Work Schedules: Too few people on a shift means a crazy workload; too many means boredom. Scheduling is often done through precedent and guesswork; but AI technologies can analyze historical data for trends, and couple that with dozens of external factors (the weather; local events; traffic patterns) to create an extremely accurate schedule that utilizes employees efficiently. Predictability is a huge boon for employees who formerly had to wonder whether or not they’d be sent home early or called into work at the last minute.
- Assigning Duties: Similarly, understanding how many employees it actually takes to complete a task – say, setting up a banquet hall – seems like it would be identical time and again. But small variations – style of room; amenities needed for the event; the prior event in the room – can impact the role of each team member, leading to too many or two few employees on hand.
- Team Goals: AI tools can analyze and determine realistic performance and productivity goals established for each shift, based on all of these factors – and help develop reporting that compares actual performance to these goals. This feedback and short term highlighting of successes is key to achieving high levels of team engagement.
The Right Balance: AI Driving Human Interaction
We’re going to keep seeing time-saving automation technologies – touch-screen menus; check-in kiosks – in hospitality settings. But, despite niche corners of our industry, like some fast-casual restaurants and futuristic hotels, the preponderance of hospitality companies will keep the core focus on human interaction. Afterall: hospitality, at its etymological root, means “host.” People expect the experience of being treated like a guest – and employees joined the field to engage in this customer experience.
The right balance of technology in the hospitality industry, then, is not about where to replace human engagement – but about how to best support and empower employees to enrich their work experiences and thereby create tighter bonds with an establishments customers.
Mark Heymann is a founding partner and the chairman and CEO of UniFocus, the leading workforce performance firm in the service sector. He brings to his position more than 40 years of expertise in the industry, particularly in hospitality.