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Rob Jones
Written by Rob Jones
June 12, 2018

Automation and Human Interaction: Striking the Right Balance

Automation is the future of hospitality and foodservice.

From robot room service to online check-ins and messaging apps, hotels and restaurants are increasingly relying on technology to cut costs and streamline services. And customers themselves have come to expect and even prefer automated solutions, especially when they enable self-serve options or customized service.

human hand robot hand Adobe-640x432

But how much automation is too much? Can an excessive reliance on technology de-personalize your customer relationships? And how can service businesses automate processes while retaining the human touch?

These are not straightforward questions, and every company will have to discover the right balance for its own market. But there is one universal principle that all service organizations should bear in mind:

Automation should add meaning to the customer experience, not just make it cheaper for organizations (although, that's a worthy goal too!).

The fact is, automated processes can be leveraged to enrich customer interactions as well as your bottom line, and you shouldn’t settle for just one. But in order to do so, it’s important to consider what kind of experience your customers are looking for.

Here are three common elements of desirable customer experiences, and how automation can help you enhance them.

Autonomy

Today’s customers value self-service options that give them more control over their own experience. This desire for greater autonomy is particularly widespread among millennials, who are expected to account for 75% of all hotel guests by 2020.

Hotel industry leaders are actively seeking out solutions that can offer that degree of autonomy. A prime example is self-serve kiosk technology in all kinds of contexts including in hotel cafes and in pantry services. Kiosks can provide access to menu items at the guest’s literal fingertips. Cloud-based kiosk solutions present a sophisticated way to present an array of options in a non-linear format. This allows guests to explore, backtrack, and reconsider their choices as they see fit and at their own pace.

Vivonet Kiosk screen french onion soup - original-804981-edited

At no point is the guest shoehorned into a narrow, preset path, nor are they ever pressured in any direction by a human employee. They are in control.

If implemented effectively, the self-serve options that kiosk technology represents can set the customer free. Instead of feeling like a cog in a giant machine as many critics of service automation fear, the guest will own the process and be able to actively effect the outcomes that best serve what they want.

Personalization

Modern data-driven systems allow service organizations to develop a deep understanding of their customers. Instead of offering a one-size-fits-all experience, companies can tailor offerings that fit the specific needs of each individual guest.

This is a particularly enticing opportunity for hotels that have not fully integrated their back-end systems. A cloud-based platform that integrates POS with the API of a loyalty program as well as with the PMS will allow hotels to analyze another layer of data about a guest’s preferences and design a customized experience around them.

For instance, if a returning guest enjoys a specific dish or cuisine, the hotel’s integrated loyalty software can automatically send a discount for an appetizer at the hotel restaurant, or enable the guest to decide their own rewards via POS-integrated loyalty program points based on real past purchases they've made.

hotel guest mobile hotel pool Adobe-640x337

Personalization becomes even more effective when it is complemented by human service. The hotel app or SMS solution may indicate that the guest's current location is at the hotel pool. A server from the restaurant or poolside bar can be empowered to offer an early reservation at the restaurant that night, a complementary drink, or even to take meal orders in advance.

Far from de-humanizing the experience, automation can allow hotels and restaurants to deliver even more personal service than would be possible through human efforts alone.

Efficiency

If there’s one thing technology excels at, it’s addressing the more mundane, stressful, or intrusive tasks that distract staff from more constructive activities. Automated systems can improve customer convenience by streamlining the tedious parts of creating the best guest experience without staff even being directly involved.

This is the reason why many hotels are implementing automated kiosks in the hotel pantry that are integrated with hotel PMS. During the off-hours, guests can get snacks and toiletries from the hotel pantry easily, by themselves. The kiosk allows them to choose items, scan them, pay for them, and even charge the items directly to their rooms. Since there's no need for them to seek out hotel personnel to get involved, those staff members can focus on other things that are more meaningful to the business.

Hotel pantry kiosk-640x405

Quick service restaurants have also adopted similar automated technology to streamline the ordering process and allow staff to focus on in-store sales. Groucho’s Deli, a 28-unit delicatessen, was struggling to balance highly customized, in-store sandwich orders with catering requests over the phone. After implementing a digital ordering system, they were able to greatly reduce in-store queue times, and even support after-hours ordering for catering customers.

Efficient processes like the above as enabled by automated solutions can be used to enhance the customer experience, and allow staff to do more meaningful and less stressful work at the very same time.

Beyond human vs. machine

Automation and the efforts of staff don’t have to be at odds with each other. In many cases, they can work in tandem to offer an even higher level of service than was previously possible. The key is to understand that automation solutions is not just a tool for cutting costs. It can also be used to add value to the customer experience and to the work of staff, too.

As mentioned a number of times above, kiosk technology is a high-profile example of automated solutions to do just that. How do kiosks enhance the guest experience and the work of hotel staff, especially after-hours? We'd love to have a discussion about it with you.

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