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Putting technology at the heart of customer experience in hospitality

Putting technology at the heart of customer experience in hospitality

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Putting technology at the heart of customer experience in hospitality

The hospitality industry needs to embrace new technology to improve the guest experience. Rohit Gupta, VP Europe – Products and Resources at Cognizant, explains how the UK hospitality industry should embrace digital processes.

The guest experience has always been at the heart of the hospitality industry. As new technology becomes available, we are already seeing hotels across the world embrace innovation to further enhance and personalise that experience, for example, hotels in Singapore are trialling facial recognition for faster check-ins.

Traditionally, the UK industry has benefitted from workforce abundance, particularly from the EU, which makes up approximately one fifth of the total hospitality workforce. Consequently, it has been slow to adopt emerging technologies, due to management seeing little need to free up employee time. This means that jobs in the industry are often mundane and repetitive – which is worrying considering research shows that one of the main reasons hospitality employees in the UK would decide to leave the industry is due to the lack of career prospects. Technology can better the working environment for employees by increasing transparency and reducing the time spent on banal tasks. This ultimately improves job satisfaction and, in turn, would boost employee retention rates, which currently stand at 15% below the national average.

Beyond this, COVID-19 has now added to the requirements of today’s customer and employee experience, making safety and hygiene a bigger priority for businesses than ever before. As a result, the hospitality industry is turning to digital to provide the experience that customers not just want but need.

There is no time to waste – hospitality businesses in the UK need to recognise that Digital Transformation is vital, especially in a post-COVID world.

Understanding guest behaviour to yield true value out of digital processes

A typical connected experience should empower guests with access and control. Using a mobile app, for example, guests can check-in and out, use a digital room key, control the room temperature, make a restaurant reservation, order room service, request extra towels and more – all from their fingertips. Yet, despite the promise of apps providing ultimate convenience, guest adoption is proving a challenge. A primary reason may be that today’s connected experiences are still largely ‘one size fits all’, lacking a personalised value proposition for guests. Each guest values different things: some a room upgrade, some a free gym, others a spa to relax in. The same traveller may have different preferences based on their reason for travel – business, leisure etc. – prompting different wants and needs.

The key lies in using smart technology, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), to unlock vast amounts of data to understand guest behaviour and drive automated decisions that ultimately deliver meaningful experiences. Some of the key technologies that the hotel industry should be considering include:

  1. Unlocking new possibilities with IoT
    The need to provide personalised services is leading to significant investment in data gathering technologies. Interconnected IoT devices are now becoming embedded throughout hotels and can provide digital access to amenities, such as room keys, entertainment and room lighting. Tink Labs, for example, created Handy, a mobile-based IoT tool for hotels to create and deliver curated content and experiences for guests. This includes information about local activities, the option to order room service and a helpdesk to assist with the local language.
  2. Understanding the value of data Beyond the bells and whistles, the real value of an IoT strategy is in the data that it generates to enhance the customer experience. However, data from IoT devices and sensors is only effective if it can be harnessed and applied. This requires a sophisticated data platform to aggregate the immense volume of data that often exists in disparate formats and turn it into valuable insight that will inform decisions for both guest experiences and operations. Data modernisation paves the way for hotels to drive analytics automation at scale, which can create big advances in customer experience and open up new revenue opportunities. For example, advanced analytics such as Evolutionary AI can help hotels decide which offers are most relevant both before arrival and throughout a stay.
  3. Making life easier with cloud
    Like many other industries, most hospitality businesses are currently in the process of migrating many of their critical applications to the cloud – a key starting point to their Digital Transformation strategies. Despite being slower in other areas of technology adoption, the UK hotel industry currently leads the way in cloud PMS (property management system) adoption – which enables hotels to manage bookings, customer records, rates, marketing data and operations – with as much as 90% of all hotels consisting of a PMS system and 32% having a cloud PMS.
    Having the customer database in the cloud helps companies to ensure a uniform experience for guests across the business by giving complete control of all daily tasks in one place, whether that is managing reservations and check-ins or even financial forecasting and revenue management.
  4. Creating a decentralised and traceable place for data
    The distribution of hotel rooms on Blockchain to eliminate intermediaries and provide rooms directly to guests is another recent trend in the UK and one that is certainly worth considering for larger hotel chains. Its core benefit to the hospitality industry is in providing a decentralised and traceable place for data, as well as improved cybersecurity, which is vital for customers when dealing with financial information.
    TUI, for example, moved 100 million hotel rooms to its private Blockchain. One of its projects, BedSwap, allows hotel owners to monitor and record hotel inventories and room availability live, so TUI knows exactly where and how many hotel rooms are available for accommodation.
  5. Enhancing the human touch with AI While AI can never fully replace the human touch, there are many opportunities for hotels to automate customer engagement in ways that enhance their experience.

Take, for instance, common frustrations such as calling the front desk to report a problem with a room or requesting assistance and being put on hold, or worse, getting no response at all. Instead, an integrated AI-enabled messaging platform that uses asynchronous communication can engage immediately and interact with guests on a personal level. Because it is integrated with other systems, it can access the necessary information to resolve common requests. Automation can also drive operational efficiency, reduce costs and boost employee morale by reducing time spent on repetitive and mundane tasks. This frees up time for staff to focus on personalising and enhancing the guest experience and solving complex issues more effectively.

Recognising new priority areas to maintain growth

While adhering strictly to data privacy regulations and COVID rules, the UK’s hospitality sector must continue to develop digital capabilities to meet the expectations of digital natives, gather data to find out what guests want, discover patterns within guest journeys and free up employee time from admin tasks to focus on ones that improve job satisfaction. Only then, can they boost the customer experience and deliver memorable stays for all guests.

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