Art of Staying Digitally Connected With the Customers

Technology is all very well in its place but its deployment is what draws the critical line between meaningful interplay supported by valuable data generation and thoughtless practices that may do more harm than good.

NO MATTER which side of the Great Technology Debate you’re on, there’s no denying that if you aren’t on the bandwagon you’ll most likely end up under it. Morbid metaphors aside, technology has indeed empowered us in the hospitality industry to seek, understand and engage customers at every point in our interaction from the first point of contact to the feedback received after the guest has left the hotel. It has also helped us improve our own processes, monitor operations efficiently and implement large-scale centralized control followed by accountability.

Technology is all very well in its place but its deployment is what draws the critical line between meaningful interplay supported by valuable data generation and thoughtless practices that may do more harm than good. The hospitality industry more than most others is reliant on the understanding of human emotion to build and improve a product. Hotels represent many things to different people; they symbolize luxurious living to some, to others they mean comfort and rest after a long day of work, to still others they are venues where treasured memories are created. The complexity of our relationship with our guests cannot be reduced to algorithms, at least not yet.

Thus, we use technology carefully to further our endeavour to connect personally with the people who matter – our guests, our employees and our community. Technology and personal connections seem oxymoronic but it is actually a beautiful synergy. Take for instance the first communication between a guest and a hotel: be it through social media, a digital ad or a website, hotels put their best forward in the form of site videos, photographs, and testimonials to stir the aspirations in their audience and lure them in with the promise of good times. Hotels counter the cold anonymity of a web interface by including live chat plug-ins to respond to any queries a potential guest may have while browsing through their websites. Most hotels communicate consistently via email with guests from the time the booking is made to the time the guest comes to the hotel. This communication can include further information about the hotel and its facilities and can also invite information from the guest in terms of preferences and requests to customize the guest’s stay and make it memorable.

At the hotel itself, technology is used extensively to study and gather data on guest behaviour. Guest details are stored and analyzed to understand the customer demographic and also shape future marketing and sales efforts. Additionally, a lot of hotels meticulously collect data on the preferences of their guests through their food orders and use of hotel amenities to improve the guest’s experience at the hotel on subsequent visits by recalling what they liked and perhaps even turning it up a notch by improving upon the offering keeping the guest’s inclinations in perspective.

Perhaps the most relevant aspect of the technological revolution for the hospitality industry specifically with regard to guests has been the hugely expanded capability that the hotel is now bestowed with to interact regularly with them even if they are not in the hotel. Feedback is often collected from guests after their stay and incentives are offered to return. Many hotels run regular email campaigns to constantly stay in touch with old guests and new and keep them updated on new hotel openings, new menus at restaurants or even just to rekindle pleasant memories they may have of the hotel. Social media and digital advertising offer an almost invasive way of connecting with people through their virtual lifelines – the smartphones and laptops – making communication exponentially more widespread and effective. It is, of course, argued that this bombardment of communication may actually be detrimental but the ground reality remains that we as consumers are easily manipulated by what we

see in the digital space and there is practically no other form of advertising except perhaps word of mouth that we find more convincing.

External interactions aside, technology has also enabled the hospitality industry to improve upon its processes and procedures. Efficiency in hotel operations has seen vast improvement following the smart implementation of technology for many hotels. It is an ongoing process and one which involves considerable trial and error but the contribution of automation, data collection and analysis, and communication to the increased productivity of hotel staff cannot be underestimated.

Having sung enough praises of the digitization of the world, I return again to the point that all this will come to nought if we don’t use technology to actually go back and return to the roots of this industry - good ol’ fashioned hospitality that is about people and their experiences with us.

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