As a hospitality writer, I am often contacted by new companies with emerging technologies who are looking for public relations. While my posts are almost always related to training tips for human engagement such as sales and hospitality skills, they sort of think my help in promoting the new gadget they’ve come up with is the key to their penetration into the industry. Recently, I was approached by another company about an exciting new innovation that they had invented there and were looking to bring to the hotel space. It was an application to interact with customers and respond to their requests. Wow, no one has ever thought of this before, and just what the industry needs, another new customer communication app! Yet a quick Google search for “hotel app for guest communications” reveals page after page of results. With six pay-per-click ads on the first page alone, I’m sure these AdWords auctions are costly too! Of course, most (if not all) hotel brands also have their own apps, like all OTAs.
The theory is that germ phobia will finally push guests to adopt the apps that some hotel brands have been trying to get guests to use since at least 2014. Of course, smartphone and app use is likely on the rise, and I bet some tech companies will be happy to respond with hard data on this. But let’s see how those numbers hold up now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated their advice to now say the average person’s risk of contracting COVID-19 from a surface is extremely low.
Another theory, if you listen to tech companies, is that “These Millennials and Gen-Zers, well, they despise human interaction and aspire to do everything on their smartphones, and they are taking over the technology industry. travel every day now. ” Too many hotel companies adhere to what I call the millennium myth as if it were a fact and not just the latest psychography to emerge from Strauss-Howe’s generational theory. Many of us baby boomers are still in our 50s and still occupy many seats on planes and rental cars. Plus, I think it’s really impossible to stereotype and profile guests based on their year of birth.
Somehow, despite all of these predictions, when I talk to our hotel training clients around the world what I hear is that the front desk is busier than ever, and that big -mother and grandfather do not check in at reception either.
Could it be that there are others who, like me, feel “impoverished”? Could it be that there is a new trend of “tech backlash” about to unfold?
By the time I arrived at the front desk of a hotel, I had already used the Uber app to order my trip to the airport, the Delta app to get my boarding pass, the Starbucks app to order my coffee, the Avis app to find my vehicle and the Maps app to navigate. I also used an app to check my emails, the Xfinity and New York Times apps to check out the news during layovers, and my Facebook and LinkedIn apps to stay in touch with family and co-workers. . Oh, and the CVS app keeps telling me my prescription is ready, my credit card app says “card not present” and “WhatsApp” keeps updating a group chat I have been linked with randomly.
Honestly, the only way I would like to use another app to check in to my room is to encounter an unusually long line at check-in, due to a hotel manager who cut staff so save enough payroll to pay for the investment in their new, app-based keyless registration system.
Could it be that there are others who, like me, crave human engagement and random conversations with strangers even more after isolation from this era of pandemic? Am I the only one who prefers to ask a human “Where’s the right place for dinner?” or “What is the best route to take to avoid traffic jams during rush hour?” instead of relying on an app? Am I the only one enjoying friendly banter with a local human upon arrival? If the conversations I have had with my fellow travelers of all ages are any indication of this, I think I am not alone.
Likewise, when it comes to asking for my extra pillows, coffee pods or that 4am emergency wake-up call in case I’m sleeping thanks to my cell phone alarm, I also greatly prefer to take the room phone instead of scrolling through 3 pages of my “home page” to find the right app.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-enforcement and certainly not anti-tech in the hotel space. I absolutely believe that hotels and hotel brands should definitely embrace the latest technology and make it available. It’s just that I advocate using “technology” in a way that allows us to embrace “touch” when needed.
And I know there might be a lot of tech companies armed with surveys that they’ve done that say customers prefer apps over humans, although I’d like to immediately discuss their survey methodology and the sample size.
But even for people passionate about apps and technology who prefer a touchscreen to a smiling, kind voice, hotels should still recognize the importance of human interaction. When the smartphone battery dies, when the app freezes, or when a guest has a need, a request and most importantly a complaint, a human’s empathetic words should be immediately accessible.
So give your guests the best app ever, but keep plenty of staff when they need it. Most importantly, train your staff to:
- Always greet guests first whenever they pass them in hallways, elevators, hallways, and lobbies.
- Take a moment to chat with the guests who are waiting for their car or Uber.
- Show interest in their fellow travelers, especially children, pets, and the elderly.
- Instead of saying, “How was your stay, good?” ask “So tell me, what do you think of your hotel stay so far?”
- Ask where they are from and comment on their local sports teams.
- Improve your staff’s knowledge of local attractions and off-the-beaten-path points of interest. Don’t assume that those who grew up in the area will automatically be local experts.
- Train them to proactively offer this local insider advice.
- Make your team obsessed with ‘the basics’ and do them EXTREMELY well! Eye contact, smiles, facial expressions and body language.
- Express your empathy before you apologize.
- Leaders, in particular, you should model these behaviors and use them to greet staff behind the scenes.
PS I would like to thank my client and friend, Mr. Peter Cooper, Director of Marketing at Resort Realty (Vacation) of the Outer Banks of North Carolina for being the one who, to my knowledge, coined the term “Apped Out”.