How Mobile Technology is Changing the Hotel Business

By Mark Heymann Chairman & CEO, Unifocus | March 26, 2017

Mobile technology has pervaded virtually every aspect of our lives, and travel is no exception. As people turn to their mobile devices for assistance with an increasing number of daily activities, the hotel industry has responded with apps designed to streamline processes from checking in to accessing one's room. Starwood Hotels & Resorts pioneered mobile room keys with its SPG Keyless product in 2014 and since then several other major brands have followed suit. There are also apps today that enable SMS two-way communications between guests and hotel staff, facilitating a wide range of interactions, including late check-out requests, room service orders, and restaurant recommendations.

The efficiency factor is clear, with benefits to both the guest (convenience) and the hotel (lower labor costs). But with automation increasing, and a corresponding decrease in face-to-face interaction, is the hotel industry, like the airline industry before it, destined for commoditization? And if so, what, if anything will drive guest loyalty? At the lower end of the market, as long as a basic standard of cleanliness is met, a hotel room is a hotel room, and price is usually the key deciding purchase factor. As one moves up the scale, however, service becomes more of a differentiator. And as it does, technology that reduces staff interaction can be a potential detractor.

The Commoditization of Airlines

As hoteliers consider the effects of automation on the guest experience, they would do well to consider the example of the airline industry. Compare flying today to the early 1980s, when Jan Carlzon took the helm of the struggling SAS Group. Within a year, the CEO had turned around Scandinavian Airlines through a focus on customer service that centered on what he called "moments of truth." In fact, Carlzon has been famously quoted as leading his First Wave seminars with "We have 50,000 moments of truth every day," identifying those moments as every interaction airline staff had with a passenger, and what would have to happen in that moment to create a positive experience.

Fast forward to today, and those moments of truth are few and far between unless one is flying first or business class. Travelers book their flight online, sometimes via a third-party site, check in and get their boarding pass online as well. Once on the plane, an economy passenger is offered a drink at best. The opportunities to change the experience for that passenger, therefore, have become more limited. So with service removed as a differentiator, the key driver of airline repeat business has become the miles one gets to travel for free as part of a loyalty program.

Checking in with Guest Preferences

Choose a Social Network!

The social network you are looking for is not available.

Close
Coming up in April 2019...

Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.