Customer service is a segment that impacts brands across every industry - and yet, it's always on the move. Despite being a universally understood (and validated) concept, the perceived standard of what defines great customer service is continuously re-inventing itself according to evolving consumer expectations. With the continued influence of new technology, brands are implored to rethink their approach to customer service and stay one step ahead (or at the very least, on pace with) emerging customer expectations.
The hospitality sector is no exception - and while the industry is often chastised for its reluctant adoption of much-needed technological updates, guest service is one segment that just can't be neglected. Why? Because the entire industry is built upon the consistent provision of an exceptional guest experience. Remaining attentive to growing customer expectations can, undoubtedly, make or break a hotel's brand. From artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) to connected devices, native apps, automation, and self-service, hotelier's have more opportunity than ever before to revamp and empower their customer service strategy. However, the question becomes, what will the future of customer service look like for the hospitality industry? What should hoteliers focus on when cultivating a network of platforms and processes that enable them to take their guest offering to the next level?
When faced with this question, there is no shortage of specific platforms and solutions that come to mind. However, there is one trend that seems to demand the most attention - and offer the most staying power. Self-service, whether provided through apps, mobile devices or kiosks, is a movement spanning across industries and touch-points to remain at the forefront of the customer service evolution. Experts predict that by 2020, 85% of all customer service interactions will be handled without the need for a human agent.
Recently, 73% of 526 shoppers surveyed by IoT and mobile device management firm SOTI said they prefer retail self-service technologies, such as self-checkout, over engaging with store associates. Not only that, but 70% of consumers expect a self-service option for handling commercial questions and complaints. Even further, self-service kiosks are considered one of the top 10 hotel innovations over the last 16 years.
While the concept of self-service may, at a glance, seem to contradict the everyday luxuries associated with the hospitality experience (having staff dote on each guest), the guest-driven demand is not at all unfounded. While many guests appreciate a high-touch experience when they travel, many guests also demonstrated a vested preference for convenient, frictionless experiences. In many instances, having complete autonomy over your user experience and the way you interact with a brand is, in fact, perceived as a luxury. Regardless of the traveler profile (Gen X, Millennials, etc.) common travel grievances are simply less tolerated - from front desk lines to manual check-in, concierge wait times and more, guests often crave more control and convenience within their stay. Some guests may simply crave more control throughout each touch-point, some may desire a more private experience, and some guests may merely want to avoid unnecessary delay. Whatever the motivation, self-service technology represents an integral opportunity for hoteliers to cater to individual guest needs with ease. In fact, this demand has become somewhat commonplace across the travel industry as a whole. When asked which specific self-service options they wish were made more readily available by airports and airlines, 63% of travelers cited TSA PreCheck, 54% said automatic flight check-in and 43% said automated border-control technology.
It's important to recognize that self-service not only offers an experience founded in convenience but lends itself to an improved workflow across service-providers. When time-consuming operational tasks and processes are automated with the help of technology and self-service solutions, staff are empowered to allocate their efforts and attention to guests in a more meaningful manner.
With this in mind, self-service shouldn't be seen as a step towards the dehumanization of hospitality, but rather a way to make those human touch-points more personalized and intentional. After all, AI-powered chatbots or self-service kiosks don't engage in banter or back and forth, but the hotel staff who are freed from the confines of front desk lines and operational hang-ups absolutely can. With newfound freedom, hotel staff can readily engage with guests in a memorable way - with the additional support of data-backed insights from guest-centric platforms.
However, it's equally important to realize that self-service only works when it works. Moreover, by that, we mean that guest satisfaction with self-service technology (and their corresponding confidence while using it) can only be maximized if the platform is user-friendly and consistent. Quite simply, people don't want to deal with technology that is ineffective or inefficient - it's counter-intuitive. If guests attempt to use a kiosk or self-service app and encounter problems, they are unlikely to be satisfied with that experience or continue to engage with that service option. And in an economy in which customer loyalty is so hard to come by, it's integral for hotels to invest in technology that makes a good impression on guests, each and every time. A recent study revealed that 52% of respondents switched brands recently because of poor service. With this in mind, hoteliers are dedicating more time to the process of vetting prospective new platforms, to ensure they invest in the right technology partnerships to empower (and grow with) their property.
Convenience and streamlined operations aside, the self-service movement also brings with it exciting revenue potential. When it comes to selling goods or services, regardless of industry, a big part of the puzzle is figuring out how to sell to the right customer, at the right time and through the right channel. The hospitality industry is no exception, as guests continue to expect more personalized suggestions, up-sells, and promotions throughout their stay. Unlike human agents, self-service platforms never forget to upsell - and they often have access to a wealth of guest-specific data that makes the process of targeting an upsell offer in a relevant way easy and automatic. With built-in, data-driven upsell prompts, guests have more purchase opportunities, without the pressure of human interaction.
Simply put, self-service makes the path to purchase that much more accessible. Let's consider a popular example - rather than just relying on consumers to seek out products they need via Amazon; the website curates purchase suggestions based on past purchase behavior. Users will also receive targeted email marketing campaigns to their inbox, or reminders that they might need to reorder a common purchase soon. Those consumers who have an Amazon Echo can even order and reorder goods using a simple voice command. The path to purchase is entirely convenient and hassle-free, which is often empowering to consumers and in the case of hospitality, guests demonstrate a similar expectation. By making each touch-point accessible, convenient and within their control, guests are empowered to interact with your property on their terms. Happy guests tend to spend more money and tend to be more loyal.
The self-service economy is here, and it's here to stay. From mobile apps to self-service kiosks and more, guests are firmly in the driver's seat of the customer service evolution across the hospitality industry. The only question that remains is this: Are you positioned to capitalize on the self-service movement, or are you at risk of being left behind?
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Ryan King is a former hotelier with almost 20 years of experience that has spanned just about every department through the course of his hotel career. He worked at TravelClick where he spent a good amount of time consulting with individual properties and large management groups helping them find technology to improve RevPAR and increase profitability. He has a love of technology that helps him discover new methods enabling hoteliers to better engage their guests and thereby increase revenues through better service & marketing. He now spends his time working with other hospitality tech companies to help strengthen the StayNTouch eco-system in order to provide a world-class offering to all of the StayNTouch's clients.