Hospitality Technology as a Guest Service Differentiator
Whether it's a five-star property providing five-star service or an economy hotel ensuring a warm welcome and efficient service, a property's reputation and success are founded on friendliness, efficiency and face-to-face interactions with their guests. Today's hospitality technology has emerged as a crucial tool for hotels and resorts to meet those goals as they strive to balance their use of technology with classic and timeless customer service. Properties have developed several strategies to enhance service delivery with technology without diluting the essence of hospitality.
"Guests need to feel connected to us, not their phones or other tech gear so that they can truly relax and enjoy," commented Denny Grosclaude, Hotel Manager of Salish Lodge in Snoqualmie, Washington. "Less tech and more personal engagement is always a good way to go."
In today's digital landscape, guests' expectations are influenced by their experiences online where their preferences are automatically remembered. Guests know that Amazon can remember and suggest their favorite brand of shampoo. Their expectation now is that their favorite resort should remember their anniversary or the bottle of wine that they always purchase. Hospitality technology can provide the framework to make that level of guest service operationally feasible if the solution is carefully and thoughtfully implemented.
"Technology can automate processes but it needs to be carefully applied as there is no automation for personal interaction with guests, especially in the resort industry," noted Tjibbe Lambers of Otesaga Resort Hotel.
Use Technology to Recognize Repeat Guests Building a closer relationship with guests is one of the ways that a property can distinguish itself amidst a sea of hospitality providers. Recognizing their repeat guests will go a long way toward establishing this relationship.
"We start by identifying return guests at the point of making a reservation," commented Susan Engler, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Blue Harbor Resort. "Understanding the guest's history prepares us to have a better understanding of their expectations and provides a platform to deliver a personal level of service."
Use Technology to Personalize Each Stay "We use technology to manage the guests' reservations, itineraries, communication and preferences “ even down to the color of flowers they like for their stay," commented Tanya Walker of Chateau Beaver Creek in Colorado.
Crafting a unique and individualized stay is another guest service differentiator. With a combination of hands-on service and technology, hotels and resorts have the ability to ensure the guest experience reflects the unique preferences of each guest and exceeds their expectations.
Singita Safari Lodges and Reserves in South Africa captures important guest details in their property management system prior to arrival. These room requests, dietary needs and personal preferences are automatically shared with the 12 different Singita properties, ensuring that guests enjoy this personalized attention from the moment of their arrival. Once on property, the guest's profiles are continually updated in SMS|Host with detailed information about their experience, their activities and interactions.
At Pursell Farms in Sylacauga, Alabama, reservationists have honed their listening skills. "We make notes in our guest-centric PMS as we speak to guests on the phone during the reservation process," noted Beth Bagley, Hospitality Manager at Pursell Farms. "We catch things that are important to them, even if they weren't necessarily relaying the information."
This ability to use high-tech to power a high-touch service environment helps hotels and resorts create that memorable stay that attracts guests to return.
"Our shift supervisors write notes on all significant guest interactions and share them electronically with all departments so guests do not need to repeat themselves and staff can anticipate needs," commented Ted Horan, General Manager of Primland, a luxury resort situated in the Blue Mountains of Virginia.
Building Specific Guest-Facing Applications Recognizing the shift in guest communication preferences, some properties are introducing guest-facing apps to facilitate service requests. Other properties are rolling out apps to assist with on-property text messaging and social engagement.
"With our guests and, particularly, millennials becoming increasingly technology focused, we recently launched a new app that allows our guests to communicate with us in their preferred messaging platform of choice," commented Marc Rodriguez, General Manager of Esperanza Resort. "With the app, they can make reservations at restaurants, arrange transportation and even request a margarita while at the pool."
Using Technology to Cultivate Loyalty The Otesaga Resort Hotel in Cooperstown, New York automatically enrolls repeat guests into the Otesaga Select Program. The loyalty program offers individualized concierge service and rewards guests with personalized gifts, discounts and other benefits based on their visitations.
The Bavarian Inn Lodge in Frankenmuth, Michigan also invests considerable effort into their loyalty program with great success and engagement. "We have grown our loyalty club to over 24,000 families who pay to be a member," commented Jim Engel, COO of Bavarian Inn Lodge. They are able to leverage the transactional data of their loyalty club members to offer personalized and relevant offers.
Overcoming Challenges in Deploying Technology As hotels and resorts expand their use of technology to power guest service, they face multiple challenges. Connection issues, integration problems and staff training are just a few of the hurdles that a property must leap in order to have a successful technology roll-out.
"At a rural resort with limited internet connection, where many activities take place in different locations or outdoor locations," commented Beth Bagley of Pursell Farms, "you can't always access property management systems or other programs you need to assist the guests. It makes it even more important for us to truly know our guests and anticipate their needs."
Many of these challenges in deploying technology are not new - hotels and resorts have faced integration and training issues from the beginning. However, hospitality technology tends to be a fragmented ecosystem and properties have to deploy a myriad of new systems to keep up with the needs of their guests.
"The choice and variety of software to assist in digital engagement with guests is widespread," commented Jim Engel of Bavarian Inn. "Though no two companies offer the exact same features, none provide them all so comparing is difficult."
For most properties, the value of adding software solutions to support guest service efforts far outweighs the challenges. Hotels, resorts and their technology partners continue to innovate, helping them extend the warm hospitality and service that characterizes this industry.