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Embracing technology to enhance customer experience in the hospitality industry

By Peter Stack - Posted on 8 January 2015

Peter Stack, Regional Operations Manager at Jurys Inn Hotel Group, explores whether technology can enhance customer service by freeing up employees from procedural tasks…

While self-service technologies (SST) may be old news to industries like banking and aviation, they are a relatively new phenomena for the hospitality industry. Increasingly, hotels are harnessing technology to differentiate their brands from competitors and meet evolving customer demands. There are many recent examples including the launch of Hilton’s new Canopy by Hilton brand, allowing customers to select a room and check-in prior to arrival, and the emergence of technology focused hotels like Citizen M.

There are, however, technology challenges in the hotel industry as each customer receives a different service experience. My research indicates these challenges may be changing as customers increasingly become intrinsically motivated to engage with SST. This raises the question, are the advantages of customers receiving personalised service now being realised?

This was something I was able to focus on when I wrote my dissertation for the Executive Masters in Hospitality and Tourism Leadership programme offered by Strathclyde Business School.

At Jurys Inn we are exploring if new value can be created by utilising technology to enable customers to personalise their hotel experience. Are customers prepared to pay a premium if they have the option to go online and select a preferred room, change the items it contains, choose an earlier check-in or later check-out, and so on? Technology can open up many more options and potentially change how the hotel industry engages with customers on a huge scale.

Many industries utilise SST to reduce labour costs but my research findings show that hotels can and should utilise SST to enhance the customer experience by redefining the role of the service employee. A good example of this is an area frequently mentioned in the focus groups and interviews conducted for my dissertation. Many participants highlighted the importance of a friendly welcome when visiting a hotel. This may seem like a basic expectation; however, many of the interviewees claimed receptionists are increasingly more like ‘cashiers’ where the priority is securing payment and completing paperwork. This presents an opportunity of where technology can be used to change the role of the receptionist from a ‘cashier’ to a friendly ‘welcome host’.

Unfortunately, my research also found customer facing technology is currently failing to have an impact on many mid-market hotel organisations and as a result is currently not improving the customer experience. The research suggested a significant change in attitudes towards the hotel customer experience is needed to meet expectations, and that the industry is struggling to achieve true value from technology investments that lack strategic direction. There are claims hotels are investing in technology simply to keep up with competition rather than to become market leaders.

I found that the industry’s hesitation to give some of the control back to customers is causing dissatisfaction. This issue is further emphasised as tech-savvy Generation Y grows older, gains more disposable income and increasingly become hotel users in an era described as ‘an experience economy’. Some hotel groups are now beginning to change how they utilise SST and consequently appear to be meeting customer expectations. This may stimulate that required wider transformation within the hotel industry - where embracing technology to cater to evolving customer demands -becomes the norm.

What are your experiences of SST in the hospitality industry? How would you like to see it be utilised in the future? Let us know in the comments section below.

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