Although the railways and airlines very quickly turned to new technologies to optimise and simplify client pathways, in the hotel industry the relationship with digital tools is more ambivalent. Smart Hotels that put technology at the heart of every level of the concept inspire desire and mistrust in equal measure.
The excitement caused by the images of a Japanese hotel that had replaced receptionists by dinosaur robots is fairly indicative of the complicated relationship that hotel owners have with technology. With their reputation of replacing human beings, new technologies get a lot of bad press in an industry that remains very traditional. Otherwise, they are lauded and presented as the ultimate solution to the difficulties of our industry. After OTAs and Airbnb, digital technology is third player that hotel managers love to hate.
One thing is for sure, in an industry where the payroll represents a significant part of the costs and where recruitment is more of an issue than in other branches, the temptation to automate as many tasks as possible to reduce the number of staff is particularly strong. But, in the hotel industry as elsewhere, it is relatively inevitable. How many companies would now be sufficiently naïve to refuse to increase their productivity by implementing the appropriate digital tools?
All the more so as, although the technological development cannot be countered, its limits remain clear. Just as, unlike a CRM, a hotel manager could never remember the names and preferences of the 3,000 clients that step through the doors of an establishment every month, a digital check-in will not detect a guest’s mood and adapt its greeting with a little thoughtful gesture or a kind word.
Digitisation will transform our industry. It has already changed the rules of the game for the distribution of the hotel industry, without us having been able to completely take back control. Within our hotels, in contact with our guests, we still have the freedom to choose what will be changed, to give meaning to the experience that we want them to have. As it is up to us to position the cursor where we wish: as there is thankfully plenty of latitude between a Japanese hotel and its robots and an old fashioned guesthouse where bookings are written down in a little notebook.
OFFERING AN INTELLIGENT USE FOR TECHNOLOGY
Any overworked entrepreneur will at some point review their daily tasks to determine which can be automated and which can be delegated to others to keep for themselves only the ones that are the most strategic and where they can make a difference. We have everything to gain from applying the same approach in our establishments.
Different digital tools offer us the possibility of automating a large part of bookings, to allow our teams to dedicate more time to customer service. This approach can also be applied in different ways and to different degrees. Some brands like Yotel have made the choice of replacing a physical reception with a range of terminals, the same technique is used at Citizen M with however hotel staff available in case of need. Others are cautiously testing a physical reception desk with a tablet computer rather than a PC, and still others offer the choice between a traditional reception desk or online check-in.
The latter approach seems particularly interesting to me, to the extent that our clients have a highly heterogeneous relationship with technology and sometimes a varying desire for human contact. We do not have the same wishes and same needs when we are on our third business journey of the week or when we go abroad for a romantic weekend or when we travel with three suitcases, a pushchair, two children and a dog.
THE CASE OF OKKO
At Okko Hotels for example, we have designed our customer pathway in such a way that checking out is not mandatory. To our great surprise, most of our guests choose to go to the reception desk to check that everything is okay and say goodbye to the team before leaving. However, when it is very busy, we note that some guests are very relieved to be able to leave the hotel in a few minutes and avoid the unnecessary stress of queuing to checkout when they have a plane to catch. Leaving customers the choice between digital efficiency and human contact is now a necessity to ensure that they have a satisfactory experience. Beyond the purely administrative aspect of processing reservations, using new technologies also makes sense for managing customer relations.
It is now standard practice to automatically collect a certain amount of information when a customer makes a reservation to offer them the best service. Using a CRM system makes it possible to take the approach a step further to target the categories of customers to implement loyalty actions and specific commercial actions. Finally, implementing guest intelligence systems makes it possible to carefully analyse
feedback from our customers, to manage the hotel’s online reputation and to adapt the marketing strategy.
This highly technological approach is still absolutely indissociable from human intervention in customer relations. A large part of the data collected by these tools must be analysed to define an action plan. And yet, not all of the answers will be contained in these data. The design of the hotel of the future is not to be found in the comments left by guests on rating sites, just as the interior decoration of tomorrow’s hotels is not on Pinterest or Instagram. However, digital technology does offer a wealth of information that can be used or ignored and that can help us to improve in the very short-term.
In the hotel industry, just as in other fields, technology is not in and of itself a good or bad thing, it is how we use it that will make our hotels smart or otherwise.
OFFERING GUESTS EFFICIENT TECHNOLOGICAL TOOLS
We often here talk of the “home from home” trend, of which the Okko Hotels chain was a precursor with other lifestyle brands. In these terms, the technological equipment that customers have at home is often at a very high level: reliable highspeed Wi-Fi, digital television with a range of international and specialist channels, an instant replay and VOD service, controllable Bluetooth speakers, a smartphone that gives them access to their digital content, home automation, etc.
This is often far better than we are able to offer in our hotels. Here once again there are many innovations, there are countless start-ups offering connected objects, smartphones with access to an online concierge service, digital artworks to view on TV, tablet computers that let you change the colour of lighting, etc. It is hard for the hotel industry to find its way and to select what is really a good idea that will change the lives of its clients and its team and that which can at times be no more than an expensive gadget.
From this point of view, it is fairly simple to identify what is an essential and what is just a bonus service. I tend to think, as far as a hotel chain is concerned, that a product or a service only deserves to be part of the customer experience if is broadly adopted by our guests. You must check the usage data, analyse customer comments and ask yourself “how many customers come to my hotel rather than a competitors because of this specific service?”. You will probably find that very few of the new equipment and services that you are offered will pass this test.
If good quality WiFi is a basic necessity, the experiences that you offer in the room using new technologies will not always be fully appreciated by your guests, either because they are not widely used (proportionately, there are more guests who care about the decoration, food and welcome than about the technologies); or because the service or product chosen does not match the character of your brand or product.
In conclusion, digital technology is undeniably transforming the hotel industry by allowing it to automate part of the laborious administrative tasks, which frees up more time for teams to dedicate to customers. The new systems also allow managers to become more professional and to make their customer relations more efficient. Finally, new technologies offer a range of new experiences, which must not make you overlook the basics for loyalty building: the quality and the consistency of the product, and what we always come back to: the quality of the welcome.