What Matters More for Customer Experience: People or Technology?
— 5 experts shared their view
The last few years have forced companies to adapt more quickly than ever to changing customer expectations in terms of technology. Hospitality is no exception, from mobile room keys to automated notifications across guests' channel of choice (text, email, phone) to inform them of things like confirmed bookings and reservation changes. Yet it's the people customers interact with that usually leave the greatest impression: the front desk worker, the support team member, the event planner. In today's digital age, what role do people play in service strategies? How important is the human touch for delivering meaningful customer experiences?
In a nutshell, how have the strategies of hotel companies changed in the last few years to balance people and technology?
Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited
The customer experience should never be subjugated by technology. Rather, technology should be utilized to enhance the guest experience, streamlining time utilization and created an environment of service excellence. Humankind is, by and large, social animals. While we often need our 'space,' we enjoy the company of others. A question: would you rather interface with Alexa, Siri, or a knowledgeable human? Given the choice, I am sure we will all opt for the latter. I'm not insinuating that we are all luddites at our core. Rather, society is not yet ready to embrace a pure technological environment.
President of the Kennedy Training Network
Indeed, it is the people that make the difference between one hotel and the next. Unfortunately, too many hotel companies have become so obsessed with "tech" that their leaders forget to focus on the "touch" part. The hotel tech providers have done an amazing job at pushing what I call the "Millennial Myth," that anyone born after 1980 has no personality, never wants to have human interaction and lives on their phone. While the Strauss-Howe Generational Theory labels like "Baby Boomer" and "Gen Xer" are interesting, no generation is homogeneous. There are already signs of a "tech backlash."
The obsession with copy-catting each other's tech (and also design, amenities, F&B and loyalty programs), will lead to the commoditization of the lodging industry where the only remaining differentiator is the price.
Instead, hotels should obsess on human engagement. Recruit and select staff with high emotional intelligence and people skills. Train empathy, reflective listening and encourage compassion.
Customer Service and Experience Expert, Keynote Speaker and Bestselling Author
While digital and self-service options are growing in popularity, the stats and facts are still telling us that the old-fashioned human-to-human connection is still the number-one way customers like to connect for having their problems resolved. Yet, take a look at the first part of this statement. Digital and self-service are growing. Digital support is very popular for simple questions and needs. Communicating via email, text and messaging for confirmation is not only acceptable but gives the customer confidence. The best companies give their customers a choice. They always make it easy for a customer to move from digital to live support.
The last 5 years has seen the consolidation of some of the largest hotel brands in the world, giving franchise organizations and the properties in their portfolios more presence and power in the marketplace. At the same time, the race to capture market share and new generations of travelers has given rise to soft brands, localization, and technology that gives guests more control over their experience, often without the need for human intervention. However, interactions with staff remain the differentiating touchpoints that drive return business and brand loyalty. The ability to request in-room dining or fresh towels by speaking to your phone, for example, isn't helpful unless there are associates that are trained and ready to deliver upon the promise of a guest-centric, personalized experience. Technology doesn't remove staff from the equation but rather places a larger responsibility on associates to deliver personalized experiences in real-time. Brands that can engineer that meaningful balance for travelers will drive differentiated loyalty and financial success in the coming years.
Hospitality Leader and Guest Experience Expert
For the last decade or so, there's been a huge debate between man vs. machine in business. The way I see it, it's man and machine. When approached correctly, the two go hand-in-hand. Artificial intelligence (i.e. robotic process automation, machine learning) can perform tasks faster than any human can, yet people have the ability to express emotion in a way that technology simply can't. Technology helps serve customers more efficiently, but the human touch is still needed for delivering meaningful experiences that matter.