Why the Personal Touch in Hospitality Must Not be Lost

By Amber Fox National Director of Sales, Signature Worldwide | June 11, 2017

Not too long ago, I was researching for a presentation that I needed to deliver during an annual conference for a major hotel brand. The topic was networking and this brand had seen a drop in personal interactive skills of staff at all levels. People in all roles – front desk, sales, even managers and owners - were losing their ability to connect with others due to their reliance on electronic tools. Being in the world of hospitality, where a premium should be placed on service and relationships, this void was seen as critical.

During this research, I came across a study that was conducted by UCLA that I found fascinating. These researchers found that sixth-graders who went five days without even glancing at a smartphone, television or other digital screen did substantially better at reading human emotions than sixth-graders from the same school who continued to spend hours each day looking at their electronic devices. “Many people are looking at the benefits of digital media in education, and not many are looking at the costs, ” said Patricia Greenfield, a distinguished professor of psychology in the UCLA College and senior author of the study. “Decreased sensitivity to emotional cues — losing the ability to understand the emotions of other people — is one of the costs. The displacement of in-person social interaction by screen interaction seems to be reducing social skills.”

The psychologists studied sixth-graders in a nature and science camp. Half the study group used electronic devices and the other half did not. At the beginning and end of the study, both groups of students were evaluated for their ability to recognize other people’s emotions in photos and videos. The children who had been at the camp without their electronic devices performed significantly better at reading facial emotions and other nonverbal cues to emotion, compared with the students who did not take a break from their media devices. “If you’re not practicing face-to-face communication, you could be losing important social skills, ” said Greenfield. She said the implications of the research are that people need more face-to-face interaction, and that when people use digital media for social interaction, they’re spending less time developing social skills and learning to read nonverbal cues.

How is this relevant to the hotel business and our sales efforts today? Anyone who has been in a hotel sales office quickly sees the amount of time being spent on filling out RFP’s and sending emails. So what is happening to those traditional sales skills? In some respects, they are drying up. What is the impact to close ratios? Many studies have shown, the further removed the buyer is from the seller, the lower the conversion. Face to face selling to phone interaction to email to RFP or form. Each of these remove the seller one more step from the buyer.

What does this do to the psyche of the sales person? Traditionally sales people have been thought of as outgoing, excelling in communication, and truly enjoying engaging with others. We recently conducted a focus group of some of the top sales leaders in hospitality to establish some priorities for our sales training enhancements. What we heard was that sales people were losing those social skills. Most of their day was filled with completing RFP’s and sending emails. It has become intimidating for them to pick of the phone and make a call. The discussion then progressed to, “Is it really necessary for them to do so anymore?” The sales role has changed so much over the years, what is the best use of their time to generate the most amount of revenue for the company?

I am old enough to remember the days of sales blitzes and cold calling by walking into offices and delivering hot cookies. Backyard marketing, knowing the contacts at businesses located around the hotel, was critical to relationship selling. I also saw the changes as security tightened and many sales leaders shifted to feeling this approach was too folksy, not professional and ineffective. But the biggest shift happened with the influx of mass distribution methods for RFP’s through technology. Suddenly, the leads were pouring in. They may not be hot leads, or even slightly warm, but they had to be responded to all the same. The one size fits all approach was the solution. Create a form, change a few lines and send it out. Factory sales. There was no time to reach out to the neighbors. There was barely time to have a conversation by phone to potential clients. The sales contact was reduced to only the end of the sales cycle. We lost the luxury of all those touch points along the way and after the sale.

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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.