If new tech is to be introduced, it has to be more than a gimmick, says Peter Veash, chief executive at The BIO Agency
Anyone who’s trustingly booked a stay in a ‘boutique’ hotel only to discover that it’s really just a dodgy flophouse with lumpy beds and a rude receptionist will tell you that when it comes to the hospitality industry, getting the basics right is, well… basic.
In fact, even in the digital age, most customers would still gladly forego a polished booking system or smartphone app in favour of comfort, cleanliness and customer service. But it can be all too tempting for some hotels to resort to gimmickry and techy stunts before they’ve mastered the nuts and bolts.
Marriott recently launched the world’s first campaign using Echo, a projection technology which creates the optical illusion of images projected into the night sky (think Bat-Signal, but for outdoor ads). Hilton showed that innovation is still a part of their DNA when they partnered with London + Partners incubator TravelTech Lab in December 2017 to find cutting-edge technologies that can drive change for Hilton’s guests. They showed a strong interest in LikeWhere – technology that uses location data and machine learning to create personalised and contextual travel experiences.
These types of technologies are undoubtedly exciting, and for brands like Marriott or Hilton, well-regarded in terms of overall customer experience, playing with new tech arguably demonstrates a commitment to finding novel ways to connect. Generally speaking though, unless the basics are up to an excellent standard, introducing any flashy technology is likely to be a colossal waste of money.
In an ecosystem where Airbnb has afforded customers the maximum convenience and where TripAdvisor reviews are gospel, hotels need to constantly up their customer service game to stay competitive. Digital pervades every industry, and hospitality is no exception. But any worthwhile transformation programme relies on a holistic view of customer and employee, which means that getting the ‘brilliant basics’ right is a prerequisite. And by ‘worthwhile’, we’re really talking about the results we see in terms of NPS uplift, revenue and more besides that come from moulding a company’s service around its customer and its employee needs.
Britannia Hotels were recently named the worst chain in the UK by Which? – for the fifth year running, embarrassingly – this was mainly due to (you guessed it, basic) things like: uncomfortable beds, dirty rooms, and rooms which didn’t match up to their descriptions.
Meanwhile, Premier Inn continues to uphold its stellar reputation with a score of 26 in KPMG Nunwood’s annual Customer Experience Excellence study, with customers particularly appreciative of the lengths its staff members have gone to in order to ensure a comfortable stay for their guests. As one customer noted, “The room was clean and comfortable and had extra measures such as fans, extra blankets, different pillow types, to accommodate for all [our] needs”… Let’s stick with a tech analogy – it’s not exactly rocket science, is it?
Premier Inn’s app went down a storm with customers, and a very good one it was too – it allowed guests to check in, order breakfast and adjust the temperature and lighting in their rooms, as well as offering useful localised pointers for things like restaurants and bars in the area. But long before the app was launched, Premier Inn introduced the Good Night Guarantee – a stroke of genius in terms of understanding the bottom line of what really mattered to customers in their hotels, which (unsurprisingly) turns out to be a comfortable bed and good night’s sleep.
Investment in tech does, of course, play a hugely significant part: as it stands, far too many hotel brands still rely on legacy back-office software and run the entirety of their operations from Property Management Systems that are simply not built to do the job; it would seem that if it’s not seen by customers, many hotels prefer to ignore any outdated tech and hope for the best. But the truth is, for digital transformation projects to work, the fundamental ‘behind-the-scenes’ stuff like this must be considered and included from the start.
The uses of tech in hotels should strike a happy medium, and be incorporated holistically to ensure the fundamentals are up to scratch too. The PR value of experimental but unused tech is fleeting. Beyond this, streamlining processes like checking in and out, updating old fashioned systems for locking rooms and, when appropriate, personalising the experience for individuals are great places to start. Another crucial, often overlooked element, is to make sure that employees are communicating effectively at top and bottom levels within the organisation, as well as consistently across multiple branches: not only does this contribute to overall employee satisfaction, but can be a huge factor in the quality and consistency of the experience guests receive from staff at ground-level.
It’s now been 2 years since Edwardian Hotels released Edward – an AI concierge that never says ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I can’t help you’. It uses a conversational language to resolve any low-level queries guests might have throughout their stay, and alert the relevant team if any higher-level query needs to be resolved with a human input. Edward means employees have time to focus on more complex tasks than booking a taxi or answering an overwhelming number of similar questions that customers ask every day. But a virtual host is not the only innovation that Edwardian Hotels can brag about. They have an extensive internal communication system and a wealth of internal apps to ensure all employees can do their tasks most efficiently.
If new tech is to be introduced, it has to be more than a gimmick. Employing software in an intuitive and common-sense way doesn’t have to be radical or revolutionary, it just needs to make each guest’s stay as pleasant an experience as possible.