By Tim Butterworth, independent hotel technology professional and advisory board member, Hospitality Technology Europe (HTE)
Recent years have seen an assortment of technology companies investing and developing new technologies to help hotels improve their customer service and in turn profitability.
This, combined with the growth in personal mobile computing devices and the expanding range of self-service technologies in everyday life, has led many to believe that the hotel industry is on the cusp of a customer service revolution.
It’s a revolution that those in the airline industry or anyone who has flown in an aeroplane in the past couple of years will immediately recognise.
It wasn’t too long ago that flyers were experiencing lengthy check-in queues, with staff manually entering their passport details. Thanks to new technologies, many travellers now have the option of selecting their seats and registering their information prior to arriving at the airport.
With a boarding pass already printed or one that can be scanned from a mobile phone, they can now walk straight to the plane. The only face-to-face interaction comes during the unavoidable security scan.
This is one area where new technology in hotels is developing rapidly. While many systems are still being trialled or are in their infancy, soon the vast majority of hotel guests will be able to carry out all elements of the check-in process online and walk straight to their room.
Thanks to mobile devices, guests will have access to all of the hotel’s services, from ordering room service or requesting a forgotten toothbrush to booking a meal in the in-house restaurant or checking their conference arrangements. When it’s time to leave the hotel, guests will be able to walk away as their payment will have already been made, with an e-bill sent direct to their mobile phone.
With the proliferation of these new technologies, staff will have more time to spend with customers, truly delivering a service as opposed to being seen as “processors”.
Offering proactive service, helping guests make sure that they are enjoying their stay with direct engagement and catering to their every need, new technologies will provide them the time to do this.
These increased levels of automation also have cost implications. With guests having the ability to control their own stay, staff will have more free time to focus on the more value-added aspects of their jobs.
Similar to the airline industry, in the retail sector self-service checkout is rapidly growing. Customers can also now walk around with their own handheld scanners, technology which again reduces staff and thus costs at the tills.
For the hotel industry, automating the hotel bill is a perfect way to improve the customer’s experience. No queuing, everything processed on the guest’s own device and resulting savings in time and money for hotel employees.
So how is all of this achieved? Like the airline, the hotel receives the information it needs before the guest even arrives. Preauthorised payment information, passport details (if required) and important contact information such as a guest’s address, email and telephone number are all inputted into the system.
For the customer, an online web page with room types and interactive images will give the prospective guest the chance to walk around the specific room or room type and book it.
When the guest has entered their pre-arrival data, the hotel will have all the information they need. Speed and efficiency are key requirements of good service – delivering this and great customer engagement is a powerful combination.
Next year’s Hospitality Technology Europe, where Europe’s leading hospitality technology professionals come to update their knowledge, network with peers and most importantly, source new technologies, provides the ideal opportunity for hoteliers to put the building blocks in place to get them to that next level of customer service delivery.
Taking place on the 4th and 5th of February 2014 at Earl’s Court in London, the event is focused on providing the industry with a forum in which to share best practice, enhance guest experiences and improve business efficiency and revenues.
For anyone working in the hospitality industry and wanting to harness the power of technology to transform their business and improve customer service it is an unmissable event and one which industry professionals should make an absolute priority to attend.