In most industries, common sense is to optimize, digitalize, and automate. Avoiding human connection is often a byproduct of this cultural obsession with convenience and modernity. And in many cases, it works out.
But not always.
The hotel sector of the hospitality industry is trying to keep up with the rest of the business world by hyper-modernizing. But in an industry where "hospitality" is literally in the name, this substitution of tech for human connection may take the necessary warmth out of the business. For guests, this can end up feeling sterile, unwelcoming, and unmemorable.
The hospitality industry, whether it's hotels, amusements parks, events, or restaurants, should set the gold standard for customer experience. Since they are essentially selling an experience, not a product, this industry can set a great precedent for what it means to truly prioritize guest experience. That is, if it's done right.
Don't get me wrong, some technological developments in the industry, such as digital room keys, can contribute to a positive guest experience and reduce overhead costs. But overzealous use, like an AI telling you "good morning," can detract from the authenticity and emotional connection that hotel guests still crave.
Differences in tech will eventually level out, leaving employees as a crucial and sustainable differentiator. Unlike tech, you can never copy those interpersonal interactions between guests and passionate employees.
Regardless of how much money you put into your hotel, without those necessary moments of human connection, it's hard to nail down those highly connected, loyal customers, which are 52% more valuable than just any old customer.
Your employees are your best brand ambassadors, especially in hotels where they are your best chance at a great first impression. However, with the hotel industry's current turnover rate of 73.8%, it's clear that the employee experience has room to be improved.
Great customer experience will naturally follow the efforts of engaged employees who feel valued.
The first step in cultivating a great team begins in the interview process. If you want to put together a team that can be personal and empathetic with your customers, look for these human cues from the very beginning. In a role that is almost entirely customer-facing, experience is not necessarily the most important consideration; you can teach skills but you can't teach humanity.
Second is aligning your processes, from hiring processes to the day-to-day interactions with your employees, with how you want your culture to be. I had the pleasure of listening to Kathleen Reidenbach, Chief Commercial Officer of Kimpton Hotels, speak at Inbound 2019, and she mentioned how "leveraging the power of workplace culture" can go a long way.
If you want your hotel to be a fun, relaxing, and personal oasis for your guests, you need to make your employees' experience align with this. If your employees are not getting the recognition they deserve, are not empowered to make decisions, and don't have fun in their roles, they have to be putting on a front in order create the desired experience for your guests, and they can see right through this inauthenticity.
Foster a culture of learning and appreciation, and your employees will naturally be led to contribute to the warm and positive environment you want for your guests. Take the Ritz-Carlton, for example. There are many reasons that they are revered as the ultimate example of providing great customer experience in the hospitality industry, and amazing employee culture is near the top of the list. Their employee processes revolve around endless training and recognition, and they have insanely high standards for who they hire.
Another method of ensuring that your employee experience is top notch and in line with your customer experience goals is using Voice of Customer (VoC) and Voice of Employee (VoE) data in tandem.
Of course, still survey your customers to gauge the strong points and pain points in your business. Getting to the core of what motivates your customers' decisions will always be valuable, and with new metrics that use AI to get to the raw Voice of Customer, it's more possible than ever. But using employee feedback in combination with customer feedback can point out where improvements can be made behind the scenes, which your customers would be unable to tell you.
Engaged, happy employees are just the first step. Once a solid team is in place, it's important to take advantage of that strength to create consistently amazing experiences for your guests.
Some things are great steps to be automated, such as late night room service orders, innovative loyalty programs, and optional self check-in, but forcing automation on processes that are perfect opportunities for human connection is a huge error. When you have a great team, use technology where it helps, but don't let technology get in the way of spontaneous moments of relief and delight for your customers. Put your employees' character on display.
When I have stayed at hotels in the past, I always appreciate the moments where technology has made something simpler, but the moments I remember are the ones where I got joy out of an interaction with a team member. Whether it was them going out of their way to ask what brought us there, recommending a favorite restaurant of theirs, or even just smiling at me during a long, hard day of traveling. Those connections can't be made by anyone but a human.
Adding flexibility into your day-to-day processes allows for the experiences of each of your customers to be tailored just for them. You have hired the right people, so you can trust them to read the crowd and understand what needs to be done.
Another great example from the Ritz Carlton is their famous $2,000 rule. Because they have a team that they trust, their personnel is authorized to spend up to $2,000 to resolve any incident, without consulting their boss. Rather than having a standard resolution procedure, it is at the discretion of these employees to decide how to best nurture that connection with that particular guest.
As Kathleen Reidenbach put so perfectly, the feeling of the experience in your hotel should always be similar, but the what and the how can look different every time. Each customer is different, so empowering your employees to accommodate these differences without worrying if they are going to get in trouble for going "off script" will ensure that the preferences of your customers are always prioritized.
Though guest interactions rank among the most important considerations in the hospitality industry, the guest experience is crucial to consider in any industry where your employees are guest-facing.
Humans are emotional creatures, so making sure that you have a team in place that not only will consider the delicate needs of your customers, but actually get joy out of these everyday interactions, will differentiate you from others in your industry, no matter the price point, because you can't put a price on connection.