In today’s digital world, many consumers are well accustomed to doing things like booking hotels and tables at restaurants online, or even through apps or via social media.
While using technology in this way is becoming the norm, there are a myriad of other emerging trends that apparently represent the future of the hospitality industry. From robots that take hotel bookings, to AI powered menu suggestions, there is huge potential for the application of technology, but it can also be difficult for hospitality brands to know what to focus on.
We always ask our clients one critical question: Does the technology enhance the human experience? People still like people, and technology should never feel like an awkward replacement of interaction with a real person. There are a number of ways that hospitality brands can harness the latest technology but still retain that human touch. Here’s how:
Employee focused technology
When you think about the restaurant or hotel experience, it’s an analogue one. People base their enjoyment of it on the quality of the food, or the comfort of their room, the service, the company and the conversation. These things are primal and personal, yet many hospitality brands feel they should shoehorn technology and digital trends into their customer experience without considering whether they enrich it.
For example, using technology so that employees can offer food entirely appropriate to a customer need, perhaps they are travelling and need a quick turnaround. The technology could allow the waiting staff to see exactly when they need to leave and they can then recommend menu items which can be ready quicker. Equipping them with this detail will also allow them to engage and upsell in a more personalised way – but the customer themselves won’t see or ‘feel’ any technology. It is unobtrusive but it feels great for them. The same applies in hotels. Upon check in, guests could be offered services that are tailored exactly to their stay based on information they supplied at booking stage. This is all powered by technology, but the customer doesn’t see that, they just feel like they’re getting an exceptional service.
Conversing with a bot is set to become the new normal this year. Many of us might resort to Twitter to complain about a restaurant experience which wasn’t up to scratch, but having a one to one conversation isn’t currently commonplace.
Pizza Express recently launched a Facebook messenger bot for table bookings, allowing customers to make reservations wherever they are and whenever they like. Although the idea of conversing with Artificial Intelligence appears to detract from the focus on the human experience, there are ways hospitality brands can get it right, although it isn’t without challenges. Because the conversation is happening on a social media platform, the interface isn’t as tightly controlled by the brand; all the marketing wrapper vanishes and you are left with a core service experience. The trick to getting it right is about choosing the right things to automate, and focusing on utility rather than trying to inject personality. If a customer is using a Chatbot because they want to quickly check in on a hotel reservation, they want a speedy and accurate response, not a friendly joke or chat – which is where chatbots often come in very useful.
The future of Chatbots is exciting, and the creative ways they can be used is set to evolve rapidly. Facebook announced just this month that it is taking a step towards more conversational AI with ParlAI, it’s open source research platform for Chatbot developers. Hospitality brands will need to stay abreast of these developments, especially as other consumer brands are pushing creative boundaries on Facebook messenger as we speak, which will raise customer expectations across the board.
The introduction of the sub £50 Amazon Echo has marked a shift towards voice control becoming more integrated into our homes. Over the last 12 months, numbers of us that have issued a voice command to the likes of Siri, Ok Google, Amazon Echo, or Alexa, have grown considerably.
In future, hospitality brands will need to consider how to integrate with these devices and methods. Domino’s Pizza have recently announced they are integrating with Amazon Echo, meaning that customers can issue a voice command to place an order. Marriott also recently announced they are testing Apple and Amazon’s voice assistants in their Aloft hotel in Boston, to identify which is best suited to allowing guests to control temperature, lighting and more in their hotel rooms.
Although when it comes to Domino’s some have suggested the process isn’t as smooth as it could be, the notion of a restaurant brand being ‘in the moment’ and making it easy for customers to order when they impulsively decide they don’t want to cook, is impressive, and that’s something any hospitality brand should be aspiring to.
Apps aren’t over
For hotels and restaurants, mobile apps help bridge the gap between the digital and physical environment, helping to encourage repeat visits, increase spend and redemption of offers in some cases. In London, many suggest we are at a point of app over saturation, but for restaurant and hotel brands this isn’t the case. If you are a fan of a restaurant or hotel, having an app to help you achieve certain tasks with less energy presents the path of least resistance. It’s easy, you can do it anywhere, and often you get to access exclusive deals you wouldn’t get elsewhere.
That’s one of the reasons why apps will be increasingly used as loyalty models, and the functionality of them will need to become more sophisticated in line with the needs of a more discerning group of customers.
CAB Studios is a specialist business, technology and marketing studios, with a long history of working with restaurant and hospitality brands on everything from creating new websites and digital solutions, to defining the brand proposition and purpose.