Technology is a wonderful thing that is turning society into idiots

Credit: SIphotograph

Technology makes our lives easier, to be sure: we can go grocery shopping without ever leaving the couch, watch first-run movies in any room in the house, buy clothes without dressing rooms, even get a date by swiping right. Technology does many things, and it’s turning us into idiots. And I’m not immune.

When I was growing up, there was no Google Maps, no Garmin. You found your way by getting lost. Today, getting to your destination is foolproof; so much so that even when we know where we are going, we defer to the GPS. Maybe it’s the soothing voice of the directional narrator? Perhaps it’s the reliable blue line keeping us on track? I think it’s because we’ve been reduced to technology zombies.  

I’ve made the drive from New York to my parents’ house—the house I grew up in—in Maryland countless times. I know the exact and fastest route to get there. I even know the best rest stop (the Molly Pitcher Service Area, only because it has a Roy Rogers). The point is this: I can make the trip without any assistance, yet, without fail, there I am with the GPS turned on; it telling me how to proceed even though I know exactly where to go. I know I’m not alone here. 

As a society, we are programmed to allow technology to do our heavy lifting. It’s easier, it’s simpler—heck, everyone is doing it! In our industry of hospitality, surrendering to the notion that technology is the answer for all our woes has become ubiquitous and it’s bad for business. At almost every conference I attend, a large chunk is devoted to how technology can better business. Rarely do I hear how actual people can do the same.

Finding the correct balance between humanity and technology needs to be an ongoing pursuit of hotel companies. All the predictive analytics, programmatic marketing, robotics, automation and artificial intelligence aren’t going to be the reason a customer comes back and stays at your hotel. No, it’s going to be the welcoming smile behind the front desk, the gregarious waiter who remembers a customer’s favorite drink or the housekeeper that bends over backward to service a room. The fact of the matter is you can’t substitute a robot for a human and think you’ll be able to strike an emotional bond with a guest. 

Now, I by no means serve myself up as Luddite. Hoteliers should be using new technology to ameliorate a guest’s stay. The ability to choose my room on my phone then use my phone as my room key is some George Jetson-type stuff that I am all for! These are services and amenities that round out a hotel stay, but don’t seal its success. In my estimation, winning over a guest comes from the human touch.

A recent study from Accenture focused on the balance between technology and human interaction. Of 24,489 customers surveyed, results showed human interaction still remains a vital component of customer satisfaction. In fact, 83 percent of U.S. consumers prefer dealing with human beings over digital channels, according to the study.

Companies, then, need to develop experiences that allow their customers to move between digital and human interactions so that they can dictate their experience.

Here’s the other part to that. Every staff person may have a role to fill, but all—from front desk to engineer—should be trained to assist customers rather than just perform isolated functions.

Technology may try its best to turn us into the walking dead, but blending the two harmoniously is the panacea we need.