12 June 2015
In an era dominated by digital and social media, it’s not surprising that technology is impacting on professional communication practices more than ever before. For a people centric industry such as hospitality, this has a number of interesting and potentially game changing implications.
Technology has been transforming the way business is conducted for many years. For the hospitality industry, technological advances including online booking systems, CRMs, and most notably, social media platforms, are now allowing businesses to develop more convenient and valuable relationships with customers. In an industry that prides itself on customer service and human interaction, however, could technology be creating problems when it comes to communication?
For BMIHMS graduate and current Communications and Training Specialist, Dr. Juvanka Roberts, balance is crucial in an industry so heavily focused on customer service.
“At its core, hospitality is all about service. It’s about anticipating the need without needing to ask; about being there and serving your guests – that’s what they want and expect from you.
“One of the drawbacks of the use of technology in the hospitality industry today is trying to get that balance between technology and the human factor. I think it’s important to find balance and incorporate digital into the business. We need to look at it as an omni-channel experience for the industry and also utilise all of those different channels to communicate with our guests and customers,” she says.
Mathew Stephens, Vice President of ehotelier.com and one of BMIHMS’ first graduates, agrees that human interaction must remain paramount.
“Communication comes in many forms; the core of our industry is that human interaction that comes with providing service. Now we have disruptive technologies like social media that tend to draw us away from that natural customer service. As hoteliers, it’s a challenge to maintain the focus on providing customer service to our guests but also interact with them over digital media,” he says.
So how can brands maximise their use of technology to achieve the most effective communication with customers? Mr Stephens believes it’s a matter of consistency.
“You’ve got to understand your product and or service and communicate back to your market through multi channels. Sometimes a guest might call you; then go to your website to look something up; then jump onto social media; then arrive at your property to chat face to face, and they want consistent messaging across all channels. It’s about having a strategy and effectively communicating that across all of the different platforms available to you,” he says.
Certainly, while brands need to be forthcoming and prepared to open up the lines of communication with guests via platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, most industry professionals agree that there need to be clear guidelines in terms of what is being communicated online, and just how much information hotels are storing on their guests.
“ Just because your brand has social media at its disposal doesn’t mean that you have to put everything out there. It needs to be about structured communication and knowing who your guests are, so when they come in you can up the ante by using information you’ve gained from the digital world. For example, they might have contacted you via social media asking whether you have spare chargers; when they arrive, you can have a charger ready for them in their room,” Dr Roberts explains.
“ It’s a current dilemma for the industry, absolutely… how much information can you store on your guests, and how do you use it? Some people are thrilled when they arrive and you’ve given them the room they had last time and mentioned that they loved. Other times, you could say, “ I remember you love orange juice and I’ve put some in your mini bar”, and that might scare the guests and feel like an invasion of privacy. You need to tailor the service to what you know your guests want, but be careful in doing so,” Mathew says.
Of course, there are some areas of technology and communication that hoteliers cannot avoid or control. The rapid increase in consumer usage of social media platforms has inevitably led to a shift in the balance of power, and Consumers now have a voice and platform via which they can demand to be heard.
‘Social media is very powerful. Word of mouth is extremely strong online, and people are heavily influenced by online reviews. If something negative is said about one of your properties it can be detrimental. You need to be really on the pulse with this. This shift in the balance of power is precisely why hotels need to be so focused on keeping up with what is said about them,” Dr Roberts says.
Indeed, Mr Stephens agrees that there is nowhere to hide when it comes to social media – but that hoteliers can use this as an opportunity.
“We can no longer hide behind our glossy sales brochures – with social media, everyone is an advocate or a critic. Certainly it has empowered consumers much more, so we need to be aware of what is being said and how to respond appropriately. I think it’s made us much more accountable,” he says.
Knowing that technology is here to stay, then, how can industry professionals ensure that it doesn’t make hotels impersonal in the future?
Mr Stephens takes the advice of a colleague, Fritz Gubler, on how to stay in touch with customers and best understand their needs.
“Mr Gubler has a theory that all General Managers should have PAs to manage their emails and things so that they can get out onto the floor and meet the guests. This is so important. You really don’t know what’s going on in your business if you’re out the back checking your emails while your guests are checking in. You need to know your product and know in yourself whether you’re delivering a good product, so that when you receive a complaint for a guests you are ready with a serious, informed response. This has never been more important, he says.
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