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Guest service technologies are changing incredibly quickly. Every week we’re hearing announcements about new products designed to improve the delivery of guest services and improvements to the ones we already use.
Most of these products and improvements are based on the use of smart technologies that are able to learn from their interactions with people and improve their service, and we’re quickly reaching the tipping point where the usefulness of these products becomes great enough, and the cost low enough, for widespread use.
Smart technology and AI are extremely popular topics. However, despite the fact that so many people are talking about them, one of the most important features of these technologies (some would even argue the most important feature) is getting almost no coverage. That feature is data collection.
The coverage of smart technologies -- from Facebook chatbots to self-driving cars to Amazon Echo -- focuses almost exclusively on the ways these technologies make people’s lives easier and ignore the second major (but far less sexy) function of these technologies: learning about people’s behavior.
Every interaction between a smart technology application and a person is a point of data collection and that data is crucial to the proper functioning of all smart technologies. It’s also key for identifying trends to predictive analytics. If, as they say, data is the new oil, then smart technologies are the new oil wells and in the economy of the future, every company is going to do its own drilling. The companies that build the most robust data banks today are positioning themselves for a competitive advantage tomorrow.
In this article, we’re going to discuss the most important guest service technologies, not only for improving the guest experience but also for generating valuable insights into your customers and their behavior.
Below is a list of the most useful guest-facing technologies currently on the market with a brief discussion each technology’s benefits, drawbacks, implementation considerations, and potential for the collection of useful customer insights.
1. Voice-Activated Room Control
This is one of the most significant technologies in many respects, so let’s talk about it first.
Voice-activated room controls are growing fast in the consumer market and making headway with hotels as well. The main products dedicated in this area are Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Apple HomePod and cost $180, $129, and $349, respectively.
Although those are the most commonly-known products available and are already being used by hotels such as the Wynn Las Vegas, they’re not the only way to implement this technology. Hotels such as Aloft have opted for the use of tablets with voice interface software.
Complimentary guest smartphones are also capable of handling voice interface room controls and offer guests the unique ability to use room controls while offsite.
Regardless of the hardware used to provide them, voice-activated room controls will probably be ubiquitous within a decade.
It should be noted that, although these devices will work very well for many people, they won’t work perfectly for everyone. Uncommon languages and accents are going to present a challenge to this technology for years to come and the needs of guests who are not easily understood by the software need to be considered.
Room-control technologies can paint an intimate portrait guest behavior behind closed doors. The insights collected to enable you not only to optimize guest comfort by understanding details like guests’ temperature and lighting preferences but also to minimize resource consumption by automatically turning off environmental controls while rooms are empty and automatically restoring them in advance of the guest’s predicted arrival.
This data is highly valuable for both improving guest experience and reducing operational costs. It will also contribute greatly to more broadly applicable insights, such as the creation of robust guest profiles.
Because the data collected by room controls are so highly personal, it’s key to ensure that guests feel confident about their privacy. These best ways ensure this are anonymizing collected data, clearly communicating to guests that no person will ever have the ability to directly access information about their personal habits, and offering a simple and easy-to-use data collection opt-out.
The personal nature of this information also means that it’s likely to come under legal scrutiny and it’s extremely important to ensure that collection not only complies with existing laws but anticipates future developments.
- This technology is going to become an expectation rather than perk in the not-too-distant future. Start planning for it now.
- Consider the long-term outlook. This room controls will be deeply integrated with your hotel’s systems changing systems will be a difficult and costly job. Make sure you’re comfortable working with your provider long-term.
- Make sure your provider’s technology is compatibility not only with your current but also with your future planned, hotel systems.
- Thoroughly review your provider’s strategy for feature development. These technologies are going to advance rapidly in coming years and you want to make sure you’re working with a provider that will be at the front of the industry.
2. Smart Device Room Controls
Room controls on tablets such as iPads had a burst of popularity when they first became available, but are starting to look more like a trendy novelty than a genuine improvement to the guest experience.
The main problems are that they require guests to invest time and effort learning to use the interface and that they’re dependant on device functionality and battery power. The potential for inconvenience is great. Having to manage a hotel room from device tethered to a short charging cord or being forced to restart a frozen iPad in order to turn on the lights in the middle of the night are just a couple of simple examples of how this technology can create problems for guests.
If used, the implementation of device-based controls should always mitigate battery- and UI-related pitfalls by ensuring that traditional room controls are also obviously available. That might seem like common sense, but in their rush to implement these devices more than a few hotels have allowed their room controls to be rendered unusable by frozen devices and dead batteries.
Although these devices have all the same insight collection potential as voice interface controls, in practice the friction involved in learning a new interface will limit the guest use and insight collection.
- There are numerous vendors available.
- Steps should be taken to minimize the limitations and potential problems these devices. can create
- They should be used as an addition to -- but not replacement for -- familiar, traditional room controls.
Whether text only or voice interface, chatbots can be useful for handling both in-house service requests and general inquiries. Many standard in-house service requests can easily be reliably managed by a well-built chatbot. Room cleaning requests, room service orders, restaurant reservations, and laundry requests can all be managed by a chatbot and have the added benefit of being able to provide real-time service updates to guests that would be too time-consuming for employees. A chatbot can also answer most standard questions about services, amenities, and local attractions as has been demonstrated by Hilton’s “Connie” and Edwardian Hotels’ “Edward”.
The cost of creating a chatbot varies by platform and the long-term costs are not yet clear. Implementing a chatbot in a hotel app is quite costly. Creating a chatbot for Facebook Messenger, WeChat, or WhatsApp, on the other hand, is much cheaper in the short term but may turn out to be costly down the road if those services decide to start charging for chat ability.
Guest service chatbots are an excellent tool for automating the collection of detailed data about guest service requests, uncovering upsell and ancillary revenue opportunities, and automating the addition of personal data to loyalty membership profiles.
- Chat is widely considered the next major channel for reaching customers and should not be ignored. Chatbots are going be an important tool in managing customer relationships.
- Only the hotels with the greatest resources can currently afford to implement chat in their native apps, but those who have the ability are actively working on it.
- New services for providing chatbots on all platforms are popping up every day. Trending markets like this are a magnet for inexperienced vendors. Do your due diligence to ensure that the service provider you choose is competent and reliable.
- Chatbot technology is reliable for simple interactions but is not a standalone solution. Any chatbot implementation should include an easy option for connecting instantly with an employee.
4. Bluetooth Beacons
Bluetooth beacons were announced years ago to much fanfare because of their great potential, but largely failed to deliver because of a crippling Achilles heel: they require several layers of functions to be operating simultaneously on the receiving device.
In the age of diminishing battery life, a lot of people keep their Bluetooth switched off unless there is a specific reason to turn it on. On top of that, a phone also usually needs to have location services on and have previously agreed to receive notifications.
This is unfortunate because beacons are relatively economical to set up and are an excellent tool for upselling, increasing ancillary revenue, and adding value. Hotels that have their own apps or that provide complimentary guest smartphones are in the best position to overcome these challenges and take advantage of this tool.
Beacons can offer valuable guest behavior insights, especially regarding the promotions and services that guests find interesting.
- Beacons are relatively easy to implement and there is an abundance of vendors that provide this service. They are most effective when used in conjunction with a hotel app or a complimentary guest smartphone.
5. WIFI Connectivity
Three years have passed since vice president of brands for Hyatt Kristine Rose, announced, “Internet connectivity is no longer an amenity. It has become an integral part of travelers’ daily lives and a basic expectation.”
The way in which access to this amenity is granted, however, presents an excellent opportunity for gathering guest insights. Free guest WIFI provision should always optimized for data collection. One of the easiest and most effective is a mandatory Facebook login that logs the user’s Facebook information, connects user information to registered guests when possible, and separates users with information that indicates they are probably local visitors to the hotel into a separate data bucket.
This is an excellent opportunity for gathering basic information about all visitors to your property.
- Implementation is simple and a variety of services are available. If you’re not already offering free WIFI and with a simple login this is an easy win.
6.Custom Mobile Apps
Custom mobile apps are possibly the most powerful technology a hotel can use to digitally connect with its customers. They’re an excellent tool for building guest loyalty, they enable real-time promotions and communications, and offer nearly frictionless reservations and payment. The only limitation of apps is that some of their functions rely on the guest having mobile connectivity while traveling, which is not always the case.
The benefits, though, come at a price. Quality apps are expensive to build and maintain and few players other than the biggest hotel chains have the ability to drive enough downloads to justify the expense.
Apps are fantastic, but they’re really only suitable for big chains or companies with an extremely loyal customer base.
Apps are one of the most powerful insight gathering tools available. They can deliver information about a customer’s booking habits, onsite purchases, response to promotions, travel habits, and in-destination activities, and connect them all to a guest profile or loyalty account. The granularity and personalization of this data is unrivaled.
- The costs of development and maintenance are high
- The challenge of driving customer downloads is significant
- The decision to develop an app should only be made after thorough research and consideration.
7. Complimentary Mobile Devices
Complimentary mobile devices for guests offer many of the same in-destination benefits as apps while mitigating some of the drawbacks.
Complimentary mobile devices provide frictionless guest communications and instant promotions constantly throughout their stay. They can be equipped with all of the same useful property and destination information provided through hotel apps and can be directly connected to the guest’s reservation and loyalty account for seamless payments. They can also be configured to maximize the effectiveness of onsite Bluetooth beacons and aren’t subject to the same connectivity limitations as apps on the devices of guests who are traveling and may not enable data because of costly roaming charges.
For hotels that already have a custom app, complimentary mobile devices are an excellent way to introduce the app to guests who haven’t already downloaded it.
For hotels that don’t have apps, complimentary mobile devices provide an easier-to-implement solution that offers many of the same benefits without committing to the expenses associated with development, maintenance, and promotion.
Complimentary guest smartphones are in most respects equal to custom apps for insight collection, but there are also a few slight differences. Complimentary guest smartphones can deliver detailed information about guest onsite purchases, response to promotions, travel habits, and in-destination activities. They can also be connected to guest profiles and loyalty program memberships.
Complimentary mobile devices are more limited than apps in one significant way: data collection ends when the guest checks out. During a guest’s stay, however, these devices have two advantages:
- They have constant in-destination connectivity &
- Complimentary mobile devices are used by all different segments of guests, not just those loyal enough to download a hotel app.
- While more budget-friendly than app development, the cost is still significant.
- While the development and maintenance problems associated with apps are removed, the much of the same content development is still required.
These aren’t the only technologies for learning about hotel guests. There are entire sections of the information economy, such online data gathering techniques, which are also very important for understanding guest satisfaction and booking motivations.
These are, however, the best tools hotels can use to improve the guest experience while collecting rich insights into guest behavior that can’t be obtained elsewhere, which are key to building a robust customer insight database that will be necessary to succeed in the years to come.