By Deb Gelman
With the world opening up and returning to normality post-COVID, the upcoming festive period is set to be busy for the hotel sector, and yet staff shortages continue to threaten the industry. During the pandemic, furloughs and layoffs were necessary to maintain many businesses’ survival. However, the heavy weight of those employees leaving hospitality is now being acutely felt and hotels will struggle to cope with increased demands during thanksgiving. In fact, a recent AHLA survey revealed that 87% of hotels are short-staffed. With hotels unable to recruit all the staff they need, the industry is seeing growing demand for digital experiences. Hotels must strategize to turn this predicament to their advantage.
With tech innovations now dominating almost every sector of society, new behaviors and demands have arisen. Ultimately, the customer experience rulebook is being rewritten. The digital revolution has upended traditional approaches to CX and set expectations to a new high. Paired with the staff shortage, hotels are now forced to formulate new strategies and put digital experiences at the forefront of their strategy to rebuild their brands and attract customers.
Using automation to build relationships and boost engagement
The hospitality world is becoming increasingly saturated with digital touchpoints and automated solutions. While hotels remain a relationship-based service industry, it has become clear that these crucial relationships can be elevated and complimented by automated interactions and experiences. This has resulted in a push for hotels to transform their business models, augmenting new experiences through technology which will boost customer engagement. In fact, 84% of hotels now have an individual or team dedicated to digital transformation. In a time when businesses are struggling to hire the staff they need, this is crucial as a means to survive.
Many global hotel chains such as Hyatt, Caesars and Marriott have established apps which function as a digital touchpoint to augment their customers’ hotel stay and make it smooth and enjoyable. These allow hotel brands to better connect with their customers globally, incorporating incentives to loyal customers and offering contextualized, personalized content such as local recommendations.
Apps blur the boundaries between the digital and reality, producing an immersive experience through features such as app clips, QR codes and chat features, reducing the pressure placed on staff who are stretched. They allow customers to stay engaged with the hotel, even after their stay, and on a global level—which is key for these transnational hotel chains. This ultimately drives loyalty and boosts retention, as customers will feel connected to and valued by the hotel.
Relationships between customers and hotel brands function to build more personal and memorable experiences in the virtual era, all whilst enabling solutions that allow employees to do more with less labor expense—speaking directly to the staff shortage within the hotel industry. In fact, it has been revealed that there has been a 71% reduction in customer complaints as a result of implementing technology within the hospitality industry. Technology saves a lot of time, so that when the customer arrives at the hotel, staff can focus on ensuring they feel welcome, enhancing their experience and increasing their loyalty.
Enhancing the on-property experience
In addition to building the foundations for a strong, loyal customer base, hotel apps can function to better harness convenience and produce the optimum experience for guests, all while making hotel workers’ lives far easier. Although now a part of Mariott, Starwood took cues early on to differentiate its digital experience and lean into the power of digital. With an industry first back in 2014, Starwood launched keyless entry, allowing customers to unlock their doors using their mobile phones, long before other hoteliers were leveraging digital in such a manner. This digital innovation brought about a new ease and convenience to customers and contributed to deeper loyalty for the brand.
In more recent times, Caesars has introduced an app feature which directs customers to their specific hotel room by incorporating a map feature. This produces a personalized experience, all whilst maximizing convenience, increasing speed and minimizing the need for unnecessary interactions with staff. These digitized features accelerate the industry into the future, but also allow staff to invest more time in the more impactful customer service touchpoints. A smooth, relaxing stay at a hotel catalyzed though these types of apps ultimately boosts the customer experience, in turn driving engagement and loyalty.
The speed with which the hotel sector has adapted to technology is astounding, and it is this willingness to embrace technology which prevented many companies from going to the wall during the pandemic. Although it is unlikely staff can ever fully be replaced by automation, technology certainly poses an immediate solution to the staff shortage hitting the industry now, and will form the backbone of the industry in the busy period ahead.
Deb Gelman is an author, speaker, and design leader with over 20 years’ experience in the digital design and user experience industry. She is the EVP, experience design at Bottle Rocket in Dallas.
This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.