With recent headlines indicating the pandemic may see no sign of slowing until next summer, the hospitality industry is bracing itself to weather the storm. For many, this means turning to technology.
From check-in to roomservice to restaurant dining, the hotel experience is increasingly enabled by contactless technologies. But in a contactless world, how can hotel owners and operators maintain a human touch in the guest experience?
As anyone who works in the hospitality industry can attest, it is an industry that uniquely prides itself on quality of service and a personalized human touch. But in the face of a global health crisis, service staff are forced to minimize their interactions for the safety of guests and employees alike. In this environment, the humble QR code has re-emerged as a must-have technology for many establishments. When guests can check in, view menus, order, pay and leave valuable feedback through their smartphones, hotels can make sure their guests feel like they have what they need while minimizing nonessential interaction and improving efficiency.
This technology has many benefits that are enabling companies to survive in such challenging and restrictive circumstances. Faced with operating with a skeleton staff as well as dealing with rapidly changing restrictions, many hotel operators rely on technology because it can offer scalable support. However, when adopting these new technologies, it is important to have an end game in sight and not simply use it as a temporary fix for the present circumstances. As McKinsey has stated in a recent report, those businesses that invest in new technologies and “rebuild human experiences that existed before COVID-19” ultimately will be the ones reaping the rewards as the pandemic subsides.
So how do hotel owners and operators effectively leverage such technologies now with an eye to maintaining a human connection?
- Incorporate multimedia. As a basic example, including photography in the contactless customer experience will enable guests to feel a part of the experience, and in many cases helps drive sales. In my experience with large restaurant chains, using photography of your unique menu items in contactless ordering apps can deliver up to 25 percent more in sales. Beyond driving sales, photography and video are opportunities to communicate your brand to your customer and establish a connection to the real people that run your business. Think of including a video from your restaurant chef, explaining the special of the day and the recommended wine pairing, or a video from the concierge sharing recommended socially distanced activities in the hotel or surrounding area. While they cannot meet face to face, they still feel connected to your brand and your staff.
- Leverage data to offer a personal experience. One of the biggest benefits of incorporating contactless technologies is the ability to collect useful information from your customers about what they like, do not like and how they wish to be served. Many contactless technology companies can create a bespoke program that will enable you to request meaningful information of your guests, such as what activities they are interested in, do they travel for work or pleasure, do they have young children, what foods do they like, etc. You can then use this information (often presented in an easy-to-read dashboard) to target them with offers and experiences that show you understand them as a person, not simply a “user.”
- Offer “surprise and delight” tactics to inspire excitement and brand love. Now that you have collected all this valuable information about your customers and their wants/needs, use it to show you care. For example, on a guest’s birthday, send a birthday card and an offer for a discount on their next stay, or free dessert at their next visit. These experiences are often of minimal cost but go a long way in encouraging brand loyalty and repeat visits.
- Finally, connect the contactless experience with loyalty programs. Brand loyalty programs have long ditched the paper format, and many are already administered digitally. Make sure any loyalty schemes are connected with your contactless technology to ensure that your guest’s interaction with you on their device is just as rewarding as the “real thing.”
While we all cannot wait to get back to “normal” and face-to-face interactions, contactless technologies can enable hotel owners and operators to continue to survive in trying circumstances. But if adopted now with the foundations properly laid, these technologies can continue to deliver value far beyond the pandemic.
It is always about offering the customer a choice. While many guests will continue to favor an in-person experience, you may have some guests, such as busy executives or young families, that prize speed and efficiency over all else. The ability for mobile check-in, as well as ordering and paying for meals without waiting for a staff member to serve them, could add real value to their experience.
While some may have you believe we’re heading to a future of robots, automation everywhere and our heads buried in our phones, I think the reality will be far more varied and technology will continue to play a role in the right circumstances. Not every guest is the same, and offering choice and showing them that you know them and care about them will make your business successful now and post-COVID-19.
Gabriel Weisz is founder and CEO of Kontactless.