Strike the Right Balance with Technology
Updated: Oct 18, 2019
These days, it’s easy to get carried away with technology. I mean, there are so many ingenious and cool ideas that come to (virtual) life right before our eyes! It’s almost magical.
Please forgive me then, as I reminisce about the good (?) ol’ days when things were mostly manual. Life was more social without social media!. And interpersonal skills were essential for success in both business and personal lives.
I’m definitely dating myself here, but my first hospitality job was the good ol’ days. We personally answered phone calls and hand wrote reservations on booking slips. All the bookings were sent to the properties by telex – does anyone under the age of 30 even know what that is? Every morning we retrieved miles of telex tapes to decipher availability updates from the properties which we then MANUALLY updated onto a calendar as our selling guide.
Availability and rates were typed directly into the GDS databases, and bookings were printed and MANUALLY transferred onto the booking slips mentioned above. Key metrics were counted by hand and plotted into spreadsheets – yes, there was a time before excel 🙁 .
But suddently, it seemed like overnight, technology arrived and made our lives easier. We could input data into computers and they would manage the output and analysis in minutes vs. hours and days. We were instantly so much more efficient. People could now be responsible for more than 1 task. We actually had time to tackle all those projects that we had set aside to do “when we had an extra minute or an extra hand” – both of which never seemed to come – until now.never had time for. Many people had to be retrained, some didn’t make it.
Technology has certainly evolved in a big way and touches every aspect of our lives now. Even mundane tasks are now automated. I sometimes wonder how we ever did without it; I’m sure many of you do as well. But the question needs to be asked… are we taking it too far or striking the right tecnology balance?
As an industry, hospitality prides itself on being … well, hospitable. Our customers are called guests and our sole purpose in life (or business) is to provide personal service to them. So as we look at all the new gadgets out there that make our jobs increasingly automated – it is more essential than ever to balance the increased efficiency (and potential cost savings) of a new-fangled tool against the personal touches that are required to be a true hotelier.
In last week’s article I referred to a GM I worked – the one who didn’t want to install voicemail because guests want personal service. That example shows that we can’t use “personal service” as an excuse to avoid innovation for the sake of it… some of this new technology is truly innovative and can actually improve customer service and loyalty. The key, of course, is to know who your customer is and how to give them what they want and need to have a comfortable and pleasant stay without sacrificing that valuable personal touch.
Here are just a few tech tools unveiled in hospitality in recent months that caught my eye:
♦ Botlr is a “Robotic Bellhop” being tested by Aloft Hotel in Cupertino California. According to Starwood, Botlr’s job is to “to hustle razors, toothbrushes, smartphone chargers, snacks and even the morning paper to any of the hotel’s 150 rooms in two to three minutes. When the robot reaches the guest’s door, the system calls the room, alerting the guest to the delivery.”
Being across from Apple headquarters ensures their guests will likely be open to interfacing with robots, and in fact may prefer it to humans! Certainly it would be more comfortable to retrieve that forgotten toothbrush in my bathrobe at 6am from a machine than a human. Sounds efficient and could result in major cost savings through staff reductions, although Starwood insists the purpose if not to replace “human talent”.
♦ Another interesting and useful tool is Zingle, which allows guests to request services via text. I am very enthusiastic about this tool. Again, there may be some replacement of “human talent” in the phone answering side of the business, but to order room service via text or send a text to the valet to retrieve your car without having to call down, wait for someone to answer and ultimately get your order wrong… sounds like a plan!
I mean, who doesn’t text these days. Even my 78 year old mom texts! It’s the only way to communicate with the millenial grandkids who are the fastest growing guest segment.
Plus texts coming into the department leaves no room for interpretation (or mis-interpretaion, as the case may be) as it is the exact request of the guest in writing to the persons fulfilling the request. Efficient, easy, promotes guest satisfaction.
♦ Hotel self check-in is being introduced by many brands worldwide. The age of self service is well and truly here and we are all very accustomed to doing things ourselves – think bank ATMs, airline check-in, and self-checkout at the supermarket. Hotels are finally joining that list. In the last half of last year, the global brands announcing either tests or adoption of such products included CitizenM and Yotel – admittedly with more GenX and Millenial centered profile – but also some big industry names with broad and high end guest profiles such as Marriott, Hyatt, Capella, and Montage.
♦ Of course the keyless entry systems are increasing in popularity in many parts of the world… allowing you to use your phone as your room key or via facial, eye or voice recognition.
While most of these installations will still offer humans available for those who prefer … this next example makes the leap to another experience altogether…
♦ If you find yourself in at the Netherlands themed destination of Huis Ten Bosch in Japan (after July 2015), you may just have to visit Henn-na Hotel. They call themselves a “smart facility” where the main staff consists entirely of robots. Everything from check-in desks to porters to housekeeping. And we’re not talking about an R2D2-like robot, such as Botlr above… these robots will have a human likeness, to make you feel comfortable, and will speak in a natural human speech pattern so you can “sense the warmth that these robots exude when chatting with them”…
I don’t know about you, but this just may surpass my tech comfort level. Maybe I’m a traditionalist when it comes to hotels, so it seems creepy to me. Not that I wouldn’t stay there just for the experience! It may just change my mind; who knows.
Remember the bible quote from Mar 8:36:
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Let’s update that for our industry:
What shall it benefit your hotel if you are so efficient that you lose your hospitality?
In other words – tread lightly! Strike the right balance. Make sure you are implementing this technology for the RIGHT reasons – that is to make your guests stay memorable and to encourage their return.
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