Amazon Echo, Google Home ... hotels are wrong again
By Guilain Denisselle, Digital Hospitality & Innovation Expert | Advisor | Speaker | Author
100% of unicorns are customer-oriented: the customer is at the center of everything and the company is organized according to its needs. In the hotel industry, it is still the opposite: the customer MUST adapt to what hotels decide in terms of schedules (check-in 15:00, check-out 11:30 to 12:00 in 98% of hotels), booking method, digital tools, wifi, etc ... The latest fad to install Amazon Echo or other intelligent technology in the room is episode 12728 ... previous episodes still have not served as a lesson.
And the one who thinks that only the price of selling the device justifies such a debauch of energy, he or she forgets the double effect of the richness of the collected data: before we said, "if it's free, you're the product "but now we can add" even if it's not free, you're still the product ".
In hotel chains, who's the boss?
Many hotel chains are in fact headed by their CFO instead of their CEO, the example of Marriott sacrificing the Starwood CRS for the antediluvian Marriott CRS, just for a matter of money, demonstrates it perfectly.
In this regard, the troublemaker Sebastien Bazin president of AccorHotels decided to fight, not in a "against everything" mode but in innovation and investment mode. Is he one of the only ones to have understood that a new wave of hotels emerged, driven from Asia or more simply that the word "hospitality" had changed meaning? Focusing on some of his mistakes such as the marketplace for the independent hotels would be petty: Sébastien Bazin is a locomotive on his own and we need big companies to be driven by locomotives rather than followers or worse, accountants!
Working on its customer supply chain is a priority for any company that intends to last but not for a hotel chain, because the central tool in its supply chain, the CRS, is old, rigid, stuck outdated, obsolete, far too expensive, etc ... in almost every major hotel group.
How many hotels have not yet incorporated this ugly concept of "customer acquisition cost" in their business management: they suffer while it is the main lever of their sustainability.
Recent technological lessons
The main slap in the hotel business is Booking: Little guys from a tiny country have taken the problem upside down and have become the undisputed masters of the hotel reservation, at least for now. Since Booking.com exists, have we seen a single hotel reservation system from a hotel or chain be as effective? as fast? as simple for the customer? Have we seen real initiatives to offer the customer a hotel list that may seem to him exhaustive? As long as the neighbor hotel is considered a competitor instead of a colleague who is heading in the same direction, the Booking-Expedia duopoly will have a bright future. As long as the bed and breakfast or furnished accommodation will be considered enemy #1, the hotel will continue to dig his grave.
Wi-Fi is still a problem in the hotel industry: it is payable too often, it is of mediocre quality and its security is not often acceptable. Offering a high-quality internet (stability + security) and with a good bandwidth should be the same concern as providing hot water at the same time to all rooms. If a hotelier finds it logical to have a peak flow during rush hour, then why is it not the same with electricity during these peak hours? It would be funny to see the TV go down when you turn on the hair dryer or be in the dark as soon as the guests in the next room come in ... On this point, the comfort of use of Internet in an Airbnb is a hundred times better than in a hotel! If a hotelier finds that the Wi-Fi is expensive, may we suggest him to sell his hotel and to buy a shoe store where we do not need Wi-Fi, although ... the customers also need the Internet to visit in real time Amazon's store and check if it's not cheaper.
Where's gone the innovation spirit that used to drive hotel chains to innovate, for example, IHG with the 1st CRS worldwide in 1965, at a time when even the word "computer" was unknown to most?
Who remembers the beautiful days of the phone device in a hotel room, at a time most of the customers used because it was his only means of communication? Who remembers the huge margins that hoteliers could generate on the use of the telephone, especially in high-end hotels? In 2018 who's still using the room phone to call home or office? Indeed, some hotels have implemented systems allowing the customer to access from the room phone to the list of his contacts, much like the multimedia system of any modern car. Except that in the car, it is the customer's phone that serves as a transmitter, not another line with an additional cost associated ...
When you rent a car from one of the leaders in car rental, you have a clean car, recent, little damaged and yet this car is full of traces, the digital traces of ALL previous customers: just look at the list of previous navigation destinations to find out where the car has already gone. On the phone, you even have access to dialed numbers!!!
On this specific point, the hotel entertainment systems automatically reset themselves from the client (if the systems are connected) and do not speak Russian to the Argentinian client who has just checked in ... So, all is not lost!
The mania of forcing the customer
In all sectors and not only hotels, we force the customer to behave as the merchant has decided: selling channels are compulsory, it is compulsory to install this app to do that, etc… now we even push the plug to bother him/her as soon as he/she passes in the street, in the alley of the commercial gallery, in front of the laundry with incessant and exhausting solicitations.
Chatbots have not yet revolutionized this game. Nevertheless, rather than go to the mobile application of our bank, would not it be easier to complete a wire transfer directly from our favorite messenger/chat application (Facebook Messenger, Skype, Telegram, etc ...)? The security of the transaction is not that difficult on these tools ... if we have the right engineers. Same to book a hotel room!
With Google Home or Amazon Echo installed in the room, once again we want to force the customer to use technology that the hotel has unilaterally decided to install.
The law is evolving much more slowly than technology
It's terrible! And it's not going to get any better because technology is accelerating more and more while the laws are long to be promulgated because made by generations who do not really understand the stakes, the quest for power for power being too often more important than the rest.
By gaining height, the recent establishment of the GDPR is a dark task in the middle of a blank page of law (s) on digital. While the GDPR is heavy for small companies, it rings the bell and reminds all businesses, especially the most powerful, that the law can touch the only place that matters to them, the dough.
For once a law is taken at the scale of a continent and not a single country, the event is literally extraordinary. Especially when at the same time this Dear POTUS renegotiates European country by European country its bilateral trade agreements, seeking to sow discord in a wobbly Europe and where small countries (in number of inhabitants and especially in GDP) that are subsidized have as much of weight than those who perfuse them.
The world is changing fast, very fast
The Internet wave was followed by a technological tsunami that destabilized entire sectors of the economy. We can waste time crying and regretting the past or we can decide to make it an opportunity.
According to Darwin's theory of evolution: the one who survives is neither the strongest nor the smartest, it's just the one who adapts!
Technology has allowed every human being to do things unthinkable 40 or 50 years ago. Who would have predicted that 97% or 98% of people in many parts of the world would have their own phone in their pocket all day long? Who would have predicted that this phone would become smart and would do more than just talk?
The era of personal data
Who can think that this wave will fade? Artificial intelligence and its associated technologies like machine learning are again shaking up the established order.
Go headlong or think 2 seconds?
There are many people who go headlong into technology without taking a step back. Is it healthy to have only one Wild West mode provider for ALL of his personal data technology tools? Is it safe to disclose 100% of one's life to an entity that does not meet any rules other than those of its own board?
How many people use for example only Google: Android + Gmail + Chrome + Google Search + Google Drive + Google Calendar, etc ...? How many do it privately AND for professional purpose? Their answer is always the same and they would almost try to pass the others for degenerate morons who are too stupid to understand: it's simple! Obviously, Google's tools are well made, ergonomic, simple and addictive! Who could imagine that Google or Amazon or Booking would have arrived there with ugly and complicated tools?
Must we give in to all that is addictive? Is not it reasonable to say that you have to divide your digital print between several tools while waiting for your own tool?
Fortunately, there are people in the world of technology and computers who think that the web belongs to everyone and not to a handful of multinationals. And among these people, many say that the way of storing his data today is a heresy: everyone should have their own silo of data from which it gives access to such or such service, for a fixed term or not, for a precise use or not, etc ...
No one has really developed its own silo data in his garage, nevertheless the blockchain today has one of the best potential on this specific topic: everyone could unilaterally control his data, give rights, revoke or modify and especially have access to undeniable and tamper-proof traceability of the use of these data.
Today we do not realize the digital footprint that we leave everywhere: we leave geolocation enabled by default and shops around our phone know and can tease, propose or even harass if the pressure becomes too much strong.
Imagine a hotel room where 100% of what you do is recorded and used to make statistics.
Do you really want the hotel to be able to do statistics on the number of your farts? Little ones, big ones, sneaky ones, monstrous ones, ...
Imagine the receptionists' face in the morning saying to a colleague "here's the record man of the month! "Or at check-in "I bet this one is the winner! ". Should we organize a prize giving?
Do you want the "system" to remember and decide to go as far as you can down the corridor or force the HVAC to stay on a loud and de facto noisy mode the next time you come not in this hotel but in one of the hotels of the chain, at the risk that you shiver?
Do you want the hotel to be able to cross this statistic with other personal and discriminating data?
The time of reason is coming
He takes his time. The GDPR has allowed some people to become aware of several things. Businesses literally disappeared with the GDPR because their business was to use data acquired without consent for non-consensual purposes. And we are not going to cry for these parasites.
But above all the GDPR makes it compulsory (in principle) for companies to the proportionality of information stored according to real needs, not to follow the fads of the head of marketing.
The personal shopping bots
Artificial intelligence is still in its early days on this specific subject of the personal purchasing robot that presents a multitude of interests, especially on social networks, rather than on the sales sites themselves: according to its settings, the fact of participating in a discussion about a product or service, or even a simple Like, allows the brand to communicate one-to-one, to access some calibrated personal details (I like blue shoes without animal matter and in 10.5 size but I do not give my name nor my mobile number) and to be able to present to the visitor a very short and hyper-targeted list of products, with personalized tariff: offering a one-to-one discount has not impact on the public value of the product because the price remains the same online.
The setting of this shopping bot allows you to pause your purchases, to plan a long-term search or to start an urgent search for delivery within an hour.
Except in the business travel where premises are visible, we do not yet see a real shopping bot in the field of B2C travel, however it should happen. With these shopping bots, Booking.com can have some chilling to do because what will be its added value for a casual customer? Booking.com may be able to use a loyalty system for a regular traveler but not for others, and still it will be necessary that this system of loyalty is advantageous for the customer ... And when the transaction will take place on the ground of customer, the added value of booking ergonomics will no longer be worth a kopeck! No false joy, by then Booking.com will have found something else. Remember that with the money you give them every month, they have billions in the bank to hire the best of the best ...
Besides, how many customers book EXCLUSIVELY by an OTA to avoid giving too much personal details to the hotel? To avoid credit card details to be lying on a piece of paper?
The explosion of data collection points
All experts predict an explosion of so-called Internet of Things (IoT). A multitude of objects for programmed use (a refrigerator, a television, a shutter, a coffee maker, a switch, etc ...) are not replaceable by a single object that will do everything.
On the other hand, objects of the Amazon Echo or Google Home type will not be able to multiply indefinitely and anarchically. As for the phone, this item will inevitably become personal and no longer attached to a home, room or hotel room. At this stage of technology, we almost all have a tool that already has this technological component.
What should hotels do then?
But the chains can.
Instead of trying to multiply the points of collection (and de facto friction points with the customer if he is "allergic" to a technology) and at the same time to put himself at odds with the law and the GDPR by collecting and storing data that they clearly do not need, the logic would be for hotels to do everything so that the customer's connected watch can turn on the light of the hotel room. Idem for the reservation: the customer must be able to book a room in his own environment that he could punctually leave to be possibly reassured (see a room in video 360, see breakfast room, ...). And so on for 100% of the tools and services.
Imagine being able to say to the maniacs of the cleanliness: here no more common remote control, it is your telephone that controls everything. This customer segment alone is worth the investment!
A priori the personal system of the client will know very well his accent and his way of speaking, which will necessarily reduce the risk of error. But above all, it will be THE system chosen by the client and that he/she will TRUST.
Why should a customer trust a hotel and its employees? With these new tools, which guarantees to a customer that his extra-marital "fitness" will remain within the 4 walls of the room as it always did? It's important to remember that hotel and sex (not priced) always got along well!
In this way, the customer is therefore responsible for his own digital security. The hotel does not collect and therefore no longer stores personal and unnecessary data.
No need to push the reasoning very far to say that we could very well ensure that the hotel does not hold the information of an intolerance to the feather pillows until before guest check-in and DELETES it of its system once the client left. What a change of mind for hoteliers, especially in luxury segment, who think they are allowed to know everything and especially store everything on their regular customers. Yet the only data they are legally required to store for several years is the invoice and billing items. The word hospitality only means "welcome well" and not " hold a very detailed sheet" of which even the STASI would not have had the crispy details.
The era of true customization
With the arrival of shopping bots, chatbots and the rapid growth of their artificial intelligence, it is no longer the merchants who push information to the visitor. It is the potential customer who opens the floodgates of his data to merchants who meet his next generation RFP without having access to data that is not necessary to provide the service.
Idem for the transaction that, for these users of a new kind, will happen on the customer side and not on the merchant side, with at stake a better understanding by the customer of the small lines, deadlines, modalities, supplements, etc ... because he will at some point be able to compare in his familiar environment.
If the hotel industry wants to become again an industry that innovates, then perhaps it will be necessary to start and become precursor instead of follower.
If the hotel industry wants to regain market share it would have lost due to the "furnished accommodation" business, perhaps it would be tight moment to make these tourist accommodations amateur in terms of technological security in comparison to what hotels could guarantee on the specific subject of their customers' data.
In any case, the time when hotels could force customers to use a system is over. It is up to the hotels to adapt to their customers'.
Whoever does not take risks and does nothing has no chance of being wrong, has no chance of adapting and consequently surviving!
Guilain Denisselle has been an international hotel consultant since 2001 with clients throughout EMEA and North America. Specialist in hotel technology, he regularly speaks at conferences and events in Europe. After a dozen years of operational experience, he has worked with numerous technology companies (PMS's, CRS's, Channel Managers, OTAs, business travel, VAT) and hoteliers (chains, owners, operators, etc.More from Guilain Denisselle