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.

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Coming up in June 2019...

Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.