Bridging Today's Technologies to Customer Service Needs

By Mark Ricketts President & Chief Operating Officer, McNeill Hotels | September 17, 2017

One is tempted to call them our phantom guests. With today’s technologies, a guest can make a reservation, sign in and, perhaps, check out without talking to or being seen by someone at the front desk. Timed right, a guest may not even interact with maintenance or housekeeping.

We are starting to confront realities like this in an industry grounded on deep human interaction and the personal touch. We pride ourselves on being good listeners, both verbal and nonverbal. We are rewarded for anticipating and responding to the needs of others. The “guest we don’t see” is just one example of how modern communications, our own human resources systems, marketing or transaction technologies continue to transform what it means to be a hotelier.

The challenges abound. They include how to interact with that guest that we never see on check-in. How do we know that their needs are being met? How do we satisfy our own human needs, as hoteliers, to interact with others? At the same time, our brand partners, ownership and the competition are pressing us to deploy ever-more complex technology. How do we avoid getting “lost in the numbers” with the steady streams of data we receive daily? Whether it’s room pricing, housekeeping inventory and preventive maintenance, or property reviews on social media or OTA web sites, we are expected to master and make positive use of these information and communication technologies.

Thinking more about technology. In some cases, technology has been transformational, creating functionality that did not previously exist. Examples include computer-controlled climate and security systems, entertainment-on-demand streaming, Internet-based reservation systems or the modern revenue management systems with access to tremendous amounts of occupancy and pricing data. These are clearly game-changers.

However, in other cases, technology is revising and possibly improving activities that have always been part of our hotel DNA. We always have welcomed guests and chatted them up, particularly at the front desk. “Thanks for staying here.” “How long do you plan on staying?” “Will you be visiting any special attractions?” “How can we make your visit more enjoyable?” Today, we are doing the same things, although it may be in the form of an email or text to confirm a reservation; mark guest arrival; or check in with the guest during the stay. Instead of tracking the preferences of frequent guests (loyalty program) with pencil and paper, in a notebook in a drawer at the front desk, we have a digital version.

The modes may have changed, but the functions are the same. Our task is to master these newer modes of interaction so that they are efficient, yet cordial and personal. We are also being scored by how well we respond to exchanges that can be tracked and quantified, including by brand partners, which increases the stakes. This means we must be patient and sensible even as we are being graded for our technology performance. At the same time, we must guard against overstepping common sense and formal guidelines with respect to guest privacy. Just because we can “look something up, ” doesn’t mean we should; or we don’t have to say everything we know. While a younger generation might not be alarmed with how much we know about them, older guests might not be as appreciative of our guest intelligence. We must exercise caution in our zeal to help out. Examples include matching up a guest against their Facebook or LinkedIn page or looking up where they stayed previously.

Coming up in January 2018...

Mobile Technology: Relentless Innovation

Technology has become a crucial component in attracting and retaining hotel guests, and the need to enhance a guest’s technology experience is driving a relentless pace of innovation. To meet and exceed guest expectations, 54% of hotels will spend more on technology in 2018, and mobile solutions in particular will top the list of capital investments. Many hotels are integrating mobile booking, mobile keys, mobile payments and mobile check-in into their operations. Other hotels are emphasizing the in-room experience, boosting bandwidth and upgrading flat screen TVs to more easily interface with guest mobile devices. And though not yet mainstream, there are many exciting technology developments on the near horizon. The Internet of Things (loT) is taking form in some places, and can be found in guest room control systems, voice activation systems, and in wearable sensors that can be used for access and payment options. Virtual reality headsets are available at some hotels so guests can enjoy virtual trips to exotic locations or if off-property, preview conference facilities and guest rooms. How long will it be before a hotel employs a fleet of robots for room service, or utilizes a hologram as a concierge, or installs gesture-controlled walls that feature interactive digital displays? Some hotels are already using augmented reality for translation services, or interactive wall maps, or even virtual décor. This pace of innovation is challenging property owners and brands to stay on top of the latest technology trends while still addressing current projects. The January Hotel Business Review will explore what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in the mobile technology space.