Today, guests expect to be provided with a consumer-centric hotel experience from the word go, including when they are choosing a destination. They also want new experiences, faster customer service, the utmost comfort, ... and the list continues to grow. So, how can hotel operators meet these needs?
An industry that is ready
As various new technologies crop up and market disruptors get to their climax, businesses across various industries are faced with the need for a major overhaul. The hospitality industry is no exception. In 2020, the global hospitality market hit the $3486.77 billion mark and is forecasted to grow to $4132.5 billion in 2021. One of the factors driving this growth is the increased adoption of digital transformations. For instance, more restaurants are adopting various technologies to streamline the online food delivery process.
The accommodation service businesses are following the same trend. In a 2020 survey, on the main priorities of travel and hospitality companies, approximately 61% of the respondents stated that their priority was to adopt new technologies to better serve customers and/or suppliers. The survey also revealed that 84% of the respondents had someone tasked with managing digital transformation. These stats are a testament to how dedicated the stakeholders in the hospitality industry are to digital transformation.
How will the hospitality industry be digitized?
For starters, hotel operators need to be aware of the looming cutting-edge technologies and pioneer some of the new features their clients will embrace as being premium. They can also adopt similar technology to their competitors to gain an edge. That said, the increased digitalization may disrupt the hospitality industry - servitization could now be considered as the customer-facing component of the fourth industrial revolution. Ahead is an in-depth discussion of how digital transformation is facilitating servitization in the hospitality industry.
Servitization is typically defined as adding services to a product-focused business to provide customers with the desired outcome continually, often to the point where the business becomes solution-focused. Simply put, servitization entails selling entire solutions rather than just products.
The servitization model first gained prominence in the 1980s as a way for manufacturers to strengthen their customer relations and differentiate themselves from competitors. Even though it's mostly viewed in terms of manufacturing, servitization can also be applied to the hospitality industry to provide clients with consumer-centric products and services.
Ways digital transformation is facilitating servitization in the hospitality industry
All industries are grappling with rapid change as well as the exponential technological advancements driving customer needs. To keep up with these dynamics, hotels are majorly focusing on three areas in their digitalization journey: digital customer engagement, mobility, and connectivity through the Internet of Things (IoT). Hotels that emerge as frontrunners in these areas tend to have a better bottom line.
However, merely focusing on these digitalization aspects doesn't guarantee that, especially given the person-centric nature of the hospitality market. You need to ensure that the digital tools are servitized, such that they help address customers' needs and improve their experience.
Let us look at some of the ways the recent digital transformations are facilitating servitization in the hospitality industry:
How AI facilitates servitization
AI solutions with ML (machine learning) algorithms analyze big data to provide accurate estimates for various risk management. In doing so, they enhance the decision-making capabilities of various businesses.
AI also comes in handy in the servitization of the hospitality industry. One way it does this is through the increased use of chatbots. AI-driven chatbots are designed to improve guest experiences in several ways. For instance, they analyze data from various sources (guest interactions with the hotel, food preferences, purchase history, spa, and amenity usage, etc.) to help hotel operators provide a more personalized experience to their guests.
When more data is available for the chatbots to learn from, the easier it becomes for a restaurant to provide customized services to its customers. Besides that, chatbots have a quick response time. As such, guests can receive answers to various questions quickly the same way they would when speaking with a knowledgeable person face-to-face.
How IoT (smart rooms, tablets & beacons) drives servitization
Just like with any other industry, hotel and restaurant guests expect a seamless experience - this experience should be available right from when they are making their bookings to when they are being provided with various hospitality amenities. The level of technology at each of these stages should be advanced or at least be at par with what the customers have at home. For instance, they should be provided with remote control for devices like air conditioners so that they can easily operate them without moving about.
One way IoT facilitates servitization is through the introduction of smart rooms. Today, most hotels have smart rooms. These rooms enable guests to control amenities and order any service through the hotel's voice assistant application or mobile apps. In these smart rooms, media sets, window shades, lights, air conditioners, and other hospitality amenities are supplied with embedded software and ultra-compact IoT hardware capable of communicating with speech recognition-powered voice assistants and the hotel app. This application allows guests to control various amenities easily - it operates as a universal remote where, with just a few clicks, you get whatever you need. The smart rooms also have iPads that guests can use to make digital orders from on-site bars and shops, purchase tickets to city events, among other uses.
The adoption of motion sensors in the hospitality industry is another way digital transformation is improving customer experience. This technology helps indicate which rooms are occupied and those that are empty. As such, it not only helps reduce friction between guests but also ensures the timely upkeep of rooms.
Today, many hotels offer multi-bedrooms and villas. Previously, controlling various amenities in such an accommodation setting was somewhat challenging. Now, by using smart room apps, guests can easily and intuitively control different amenities in different rooms. They, therefore, won't have to move around a lot given the control that the smart app gives them. To top it off, the data gathered by the smart room apps can be used by hotel operators to address the specific demands of each guest and fine-tune the guest experience.
How AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) drive servitization
Let's face it, not all the pictures of hotel rooms and exteriors tell the full story to guests when they make online bookings. As such, it is not unheard of for guests to make online bookings and end up disliking the hotel when they check-in. The purchase of the right to use property should be treated like any other online purchase. Ultimately, guests want to see what they are purchasing, especially if the hotel is far from their home and is expensive. This is where AR and VR come in.
Today, many hotels capitalize on virtual tours to give their guests a sneak peek of what they should expect. Videos providing a 360-degree view of the hotel and restaurant ambiance, hotel beachfront locations, among other sceneries are provided for customers to help them make an informed decision. In essence, through augmented reality and virtual reality, guests can now look up an establishment to decide whether it's ideal for them. This helps reduce guest dissatisfaction rates.
Digitalization as part of a customer-centric transformation
The desire to explore a plethora of technologies out there and adopt a couple of them into existing services as a servitization method is an ongoing trend in the hospitality industry. That said, if servitization is to be truly successful, it must be built with the customer in mind. A customer-centric transformation requires that businesses engage with users to find out their needs. They should also consider the whole value chain. Among the questions they should ask themselves before adopting a technology include:
- What are our customers' expectations and how can we meet them?
- What touchpoints can we identify and how can we improve the customer experience?
- What do our customers like about us and how can we improve on this to enhance their experience?
- What problems are our customers facing and how can we help solve them?
- Can we achieve any of these through better digitalization?
Adopt technologies that increase the bottom line
While the prevailing market conditions demand that players in the hospitality industry adopt various technologies to better their services, the players should not digitize just for the sake of it, but rather adopt those technologies that increase their market pull and improve their bottom line.
This means addressing trade-offs and adopting a zero-waste approach to corporate digital transformation. It means adamantly refusing to create services that no one wants. It also means establishing a firm value creation policy and acknowledging that not all the services you offer will be appreciated by everyone. Decide what you want your hospitality business to be all about and stick by it so long as you are satisfying your customers' needs. This will ensure that you stand out from the crowd while still maintaining your edge.
It is incontestable that digital transformation helps improve customer experience to a large extent. However, offering customers personalized solutions thanks to servitization helps relieve some of the stress that the digital world brings forth. When the digital transformation is done in a manner that facilitates servitization, customer experience improves massively.
About EHL Group
EHL Group encompasses a portfolio of specialized business units that deliver hospitality management education and innovation worldwide. Headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Group includes:
EHL Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne is an ambassador for traditional Swiss hospitality and has been a pioneer in hospitality education since 1893 with over 25,000 alumni worldwide and over 120 nationalities. EHL is the world's first hospitality management school that provides undergraduate and graduate programs at its campuses in Lausanne, Singapore and Chur-Passugg, as well as online learning solutions. The university of applied sciences is ranked n°1 by QS World University Rankings by subject and CEOWorld Magazine, and its gastronomic restaurant is the world's only educational establishment to hold a Michelin Star for a third consecutive year.
EHL Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality has been one of the leading hospitality management colleges for hotel specialists for over 50 years. The College delivers Swiss-accredited federal diplomas of vocational education and training and of higher education in its 19th century spa-hotel in Chur-Passugg, Graubünden, to Swiss and international students from 30 countries.
EHL Advisory Services is the largest Swiss hospitality advisory company specializing in service culture implementation, business consulting, as well as the development and quality assurance of learning centers. EHL Advisory Services has offices in Lausanne, Beijing, Shanghai and New Delhi and has delivered mandates in more than 60 countries over the past 40 years.