By Jos Schaap
CEO and Founder – StayNTouch
Traditionally, the guest experience with a hotel is defined by their interaction(s) with hotel staff, the upkeep of the property and amenities, and the provision of a room which meets or exceeds expectations.
However, as any savvy hotelier knows, the current hospitality landscape has outgrown that tradition to make room for improved technology and an enhanced, personalized guest experience. Where guests previously expected to be greeted with cheerful front desk staff, they now prefer mobile check-in, allowing them to bypass lines and interact with the hotel freely (and immediately). Moreover, guests, today expect customized service with a low-touch flair, allowing them to express complete control over their hotel experience. In fact, self-service is on pace to replace traditional guest service entirely.
Convenience is Paramount
The self-service trend is leading the way to a future which prioritizes convenience at every turn. Earlier this year, we saw the debut of Amazon Go’s first automated retail store in Seattle which allows customers to enter, shop and check-out their purchases without any interaction or physical cash/card exchange. Instead, when you arrive at the store, you scan your phone, and the store's automated systems track what you grab with 100 cameras before automatically charging you the correct amount upon departure. This proved to be an incredibly exciting retail model for customers who prefer a low-touch, time-efficient shopping process which allows them to get in and out with no time wasted.
Large-scale examples such as the Amazon Go store, Uber Eats and purchase kiosks, demonstrate the way in which customers are increasingly embracing this kind of technology and widespread shift to the self-service model.
As we turn our sights to the hospitality realm specifically, we see the influx of millennial travelers who prefer to make reservations and check-in by smartphone or kiosk, access a virtual key from their mobile device and communicate with staff via text messaging. In a recent study, participants were asked to estimate how much time they waste standing in line or waiting for service. On average, respondents said they waste about one hour standing in line or waiting for service in a typical week. In fact, according to a recent study by Zebra Global Hospitality, 70% of guests want to use their smartphone to speed up check-in and services. After all, who wants to find themselves stuck in a front desk line cluttered with tired tourists, families and business travelers, waiting for check-in after a long flight or day or travel? The Room of the Future The self-service model and the convenience it implements extends to the in-room experience as well. With the constant evolution of in-room technology, we are seeing hotels implement iPad and mobile-based room controls to provide direct control of temperature, lighting, bathroom amenity settings, voice-activated AI devices, streaming services, mobile concierge and more. In today’s modern hotel room, guests no longer have to ring down to housekeeping for more towels, to adjust their room temperature, restock the minibar or order room service. Instead, they can tell the in-room iPad to cool or warm the room and send housekeeping or room service requests with a few taps within the app. It’s simple, immediate and most importantly, entirely convenient and conducive to the ideal frictionless guest experience. Personalization An increase in self-service technology also translates to an increased opportunity to gather guest data for improved personalization. Within an app on their mobile device, guests are free to engage and make requests or purchases in an uninhibited manner, without any influence or hesitation they may feel within interpersonal interactions. In fact, evidence indicates that investing in technology ups in-room sales revenue by 20%. Hotels can then use this data to create guest profiles and save preferred settings to ensure guests’ expectations are immediately met (or better yet, exceeded) every visit. This also helps to remedy guest complaints and ensure those mistakes aren’t repeated, as studies note that 89% of customers get frustrated because they need to repeat their issues to multiple representatives. Moreover, 87% of customers think brands need to put more effort into providing a consistent experience.
A Different Kind of Engagement
While self-service may seem to be a model that decreases engagement with staff, this actually isn’t the case. Rather, the self-service approach encourages a different kind of engagement — allowing staff to be less transactional and focus on establishing genuine connections with guests. By making the requirements of your staff more streamlined and hands-free, you’re providing them the freedom to excel in their customer service. With this technology in place, hotel employees will no longer be confined to stationary positions within the lobby or left to guess what guest expectations might be. Mobile and kiosk-based check-in (and more) allows staff to move freely around the hotel, offer entirely responsive service and access guest profiles at a moment’s notice. Some hotels are even testing out rooms with sensors that detect body heat so that housekeeping knows not to enter when the room is occupied. Other hotels are experimenting with robots that can do everything from deliver luggage to check guests in and answer questions. As self-service technology continues to evolve and gain popularity, we can expect improved cost efficiency, personalization and a smoother, more seamless experience for both hotels and guests, as traditional service becomes a thing of the past. With this in mind, we are confident that mobile and self-service is the new way to hotel.