By Daniel E. Craig, Founder, Reknown
On recent travels, I’ve noticed an increasing number of hotels using digital technology to interact with guests. Hotels have used technology for decades, of course, but the latest wave brings it out of the back-of-house and into the hands of guests.
The question is, do travelers want these options? And are they using them?
According to a Cognizant survey, over half of U.S. travelers want more automation in hotels. This includes using their mobile device to check in (54%), open their door (50%), communicate with staff (49%), and check out (57%). The numbers were significantly higher for frequent business travelers. (Phocuswright, 2016.)
But humans are strange creatures. Just because we say we want something doesn’t mean we will use it. And by many accounts adoption of guest-facing technology has been slow.
Take check-in kiosks, for example. Several years ago, big-box hotels began installing lobby kiosks at a frenzied rate, gleefully anticipating huge savings in labor costs. Then guests more or less ignored them.
A 2016 Market Force survey found that only 3 percent of U.S. consumers checked in online, 2 percent used an app, and a mere 1 percent used a self-service kiosk. The vast majority—93 percent—checked in with reception.
Why the resistance? No doubt our perception has been soured by airport kiosks, which may make check-in less labor-intensive for airlines but make it more onerous for passengers.
More than anything, however, I think that consumers are reluctant to give up one of the last bastions of good customer service: hotels.
While other businesses make it increasingly difficult to reach a human being in customer service, obliging us to wait in line or on hold, navigate voice systems, fill out online forms and converse with chatbots, hotels make it as easy as picking up the phone or walking up to the front desk. Hotel employees are so approachable they practically encourage complaints.
Now that so much of the trip-planning process is digital and self-directed, it’s no wonder that travelers rush into the arms of employees the moment they arrive at a hotel.
And yet so often, upon approaching hotel employees, I encounter not a smiling, eager face but a lowered head. Travelers may be resistant to technology in hotels, but employees can’t seem to unglue their eyes from their computers and electronic devices.
And what are the first words out of the front desk agent’s mouth? “Credit card and ID, please.”
I expect this type of greeting from a kiosk, not a hotel employee. If staff can’t deliver the fundamentals of hospitality—eye contact, a warm welcome, a smile, intuitive service, the ability to go off script—they might as well be replaced by computers and kiosks. Read more »