Guest personalization accomplished via human engagement
 
Guest personalization accomplished via human engagement
16 AUGUST 2017 8:04 AM

Hoteliers should strive to personalize the guest experience through human engagement, not through the latest technology innovations. 

Being a keynote speaker, I frequently attend lodging industry conferences of all types ranging from brand conferences to association meetings to technology meet-ups. As a lodging-industry columnist, I also read every publication that comes into my inbox on a daily basis.

As my core business is to provide hospitality industry sales and guest service training, the conference session topics and publication article titles that most frequently grab my attention usually have something to do with hospitality, guest engagement, and providing genuine authentic experiences.

Yet when I attend these conference break-out sessions and read articles with these titles, the content almost invariably seems to lead back to some type of new app, data analytics process, AI innovation or another technology-based solution. Rarely do I see the recommended solutions point to the true heart of hospitality which is human engagement.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully embrace the industry’s quest for technology solutions and the latest systems and processes. Personally, I consider myself to be an early adopter in both my personal life and professional life as a small business owner and definitely advocate for keeping up with innovations.

However, the challenge I see is that many of today’s leaders have become so focused on tech-based solutions that they have lost touch with what really matters the most to guests, which is the human experiences playing out in hotel lobbies and public areas every day.

As a frequent traveler for both business and leisure, and a member of the loyalty programs of most major hotel brands, I notice the wide-ranging efforts of hotel and travel companies to “personalize” my experiences. My email inbox is filled with so-called personalized offers to visit hotels in destinations that I’ve recently Googled or visited previously and email offers regarding lodging for cultural and sporting events which I’ve attended. After booking, I receive so-called “personalized” emails listing “things to do during your visit.” I’ve received welcome texts from guest-messaging apps shortly after check-in, which I guess are supposed to make me feel all warm and fuzzy. But to me, all this feel pretty “spammy.”

I have had front desk clerks remember to say “Thank you for your loyalty as a member of our Brand X frequency program” or “Welcome back – we have assigned you the same guest room as last time” but to be honest, for me this usually feels like a scripted, disingenuous act.

For me, what’s missing way too often is a truly warm welcome delivered genuinely by a front desk reception colleague who understands and empathizes with guests’ travel experiences. A colleague who doesn’t just ask “How was your trip in; good?” but who instead maintains eye contact and waits for my response. If I express my frustrations, such as flight delays, unexpected highway traffic jams or weather challenges, I want someone who shows empathy and understanding. A colleague who doesn’t just say “So what brings you into town? Oh, good!” but who instead waits for me to respond and then tailors the information they provide about the hotel’s location, services and amenities instead of giving me their usual spiel. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mentioned a pre-dawn departure to the airport and then had a clerk tell me all about the free breakfast that runs from 7a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Or telling the desk staffer that I’m only there to attend meetings all day and having them insist on telling me all about serving lunch at the pool or about the health spa that is closed after business hours.

In the end, I often wonder if the current paradigm regarding “personalization” might actually be de-personalizing the guest experience. As brands follow each other down the same path of obsession with technology and process over people and human engagement, I wonder whether this vision of “personalization” will instead lead to the commoditization.

The future is yours, hoteliers. You can continue the industry’s obsession exclusively on technology solutions or embrace technology but understand it’s best used only as a tool for humans to use to better connect with guests. The potential goes far beyond knowing from a CRM system that I prefer diet soda as a welcome gift rather than a bottle of wine or a feather over a foam pillow.

Why is it that no hotel I know of engages guests through live video chat from their website? Amazon is already doing this with their “Mayday” live video customer service calls; Hertz’s ExpressRent kiosks enable you to have a video chat with a live agent.

Why are we not already sending video emails to guests prior to arrival? (I use video email almost exclusively myself these days; send me a note and I’ll respond with a sample.) Why don’t hotels respond to sales and catering inquiries with phone calls (or even better, video emails) instead of sending the same responses as everyone else? Imagine the meeting planner who sent out an inquiry to 15 hotels via Cvent receiving back from your hotel salesperson a video email of them in front of a panel TV image showing the logo and color scheme of the company who is inquiring.

For hoteliers of the right mindset, there are so many opportunities to use emerging technologies for ever more personalized, authentic guest engagement instead of just copycatting.

Most of all, why do hotel leaders spend so much money, time and head space obsessing solely on technology-based “personalization” solutions instead of obsessing on training, coaching and mentoring their colleagues regarding face-to-face, authentic, human engagement?

Doug Kennedy is president of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of hotel sales, guest service, reservations and front desk training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Kennedy has been a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations for more than two decades. Since 1996, Kennedy’s monthly training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hospitality industry authorities. Visit KTN at www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com. He is the author of “So You REALLY Like Working With People? - Five Principles for Hospitality Excellence.”

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