Forget what the surveys and trends say, tech (while useful) is no substitute for personalized guest service at your hotels.
Being in the business of hotel hospitality training, I’m always eager to keep up on the latest trends. As I scan the headlines for topics in my wheelhouse, anything with the words “guest service,” “hospitality,” and/or “personalization” always catches my eye. Most of the time, however, it’s a post about how some new app, chat bot or voice automation tool is going to help hotels achieve more guest loyalty.
Often these posts reference surveys claiming guests prefer some tech solution over live human conversations. Yet when I dive deeper for details on the survey’s methodology, I can rarely find anything on how the respondents were selected, how the survey was conducted, or how the survey questions were worded. Often there’s no data at all to back up the claim.
My sense is that too many hospitality leaders are blindly accepting these survey results as facts without questioning the results.
I believe this “tech-first” approach is leading this industry down the road to commoditization. Perhaps we are already there. More often than not, when you compare hotels within the same classification, the rates are the same, because hotels use the same market reporting data and similar revenue-management tech; designers have copy-catted amenities and décor; and digital marketing companies all seem to be following the same style of website design. If tech companies have their way, all guests will soon be getting the same “personalized” welcome-text and “personalized” email blast.
Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love tech and am an early adopter. It’s wonderful to be able to book online when I need a room for one-night business trip or when attending a conference. My smartphone home screen has apps from all the major hotel brands, airlines and rental car companies. It’s nice when an Avis app message sends me straight to my car, Delta messages me that my baggage is loaded on the plane, or Hilton sends me straight to my room to open the door when I arrive at 2 a.m.
My concern is that our industry is becoming obsessed with tech to the point that we are neglecting the people part. Real guests love the convenience of tech, but the key is to make it easy for them to reach a live human when they need one, and further, a human who is knowledgeable, efficient, and most importantly, able to represent the “face” of your brand.
Instead, hotels (like most companies) are hiding behind this new tech and making it harder than ever to reach a live person. For example, when you’re standing at the airport arrivals area wondering where the hotel van is, if you can manage to find the local number (which in itself is no easy task), you first have to endure a long greeting that does everything possible to push you back online or send you to a call center, where you will encounter a second auto-attendant spewing out yet another string of options.
Remember the good old days when all you had to do was press “0” for the attendant? If you do so now, you’ll probably hear “invalid entry.” Am I the only one screaming like a banshee into a smartphone, “REPRESENTATIVE” followed by a string of expletives?
Consider a scenario in which you really need to speak with someone directly about a special need when booking a room, such as you’re traveling with pets, children, the elderly, or just really emotionally engaged in your travel plans and wanting the best room. If you call most branded hotels, you’ll be transferred offsite, even if you ask for local-site assistance. When your call is answered by that brand, chances are that you’ll have to endure a virtual agent asking where you’re traveling to and what your dates are, before they will pass you through to a live agent.
While waiting, callers have to endure ridiculous reminders such as “For your convenience, you can visit us online at www.brandname.com.” Duh! Do they expect us to think, “Oh, wow, this company has a website! How cool!” It’s not 1995 anymore! Does it not occur to whomever is writing these on-hold scripts that the website is probably where the caller got the 800 number?
Is it just me or do these automated voice systems tend to get whatever I say wrong? Who else has called these systems from a noisy location and had their system think background noise is a response, prompting the computer voice to deem it “invalid.”
Let’s talk about chat. I used to love chat back when you actually chatted with a person. Increasingly though, it’s just a chatbot on the other end responding with links from the FAQ’s I’ve already read at the website I accessed chat from.
Now let’s talk about the texting systems these surveys say guests prefer. If a guest needs extra towels, pillows or perhaps more coffee packets, texting might work great and make delivery more efficient. But when guests want to complain about a noisy air conditioner or sub-standard housekeeping, receiving a scripted response is not reassuring nor empathetic, especially if they are arriving tired, hungry and emotionally spent after travel.
It’s certainly important for hotels to keep up with the latest technology options and to embrace change, but don’t think that you are going to simply “out-tech” the competition. The novelty of tech wears off, and eventually everyone has the same system.
It’s the “people” part that will continue to stand out, as it always has. It’s authentic, genuine hospitality, delivered by humans, that creates real guest loyalty far more than any loyalty program. Let’s use tech to make humans more efficient, so that they can focus on real engagement and forge emotional connections.
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 at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the author of “So You REALLY Like Working With People? - Five Principles for Hospitality Excellence.”
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