Finding the Right Balance: Technology vs. Human Touch
By Pamela Barnhill President & COO, IHT, IBC and IVH Hotels | April 19, 2015
Should a hotel or a company servicing hotels stress automation as much as or more than the human touch? Finding the right mix is ever more important when it comes to the changing dynamics of purchasing power. While technology is evolving at a pace that couldn't have been foreseen, we continue to push not only ourselves but also those around us to do more with less. As hotel owners, this translates to increasing guest satisfaction with the same number of associates, or fewer, as the cost of customer acquisition has increased over the last couple of decades. This provides new opportunities for hotel service providers to offer services that in the past have been unattainable or too expensive.
Making a hotel reservation has largely changed, affecting both hotel and guest. The days you would call a hotel to make a reservation are gone nearly as long as the rotary phone, and not many regret that passing. With all kinds of technology at one's fingertips, it makes a lot of sense to do without human contact. Online's ever more the way for both guest and hotel to get to where you need – faster and without spelling and billing errors.
Still, the human touch is welcome, particularly once the guest arrives at the property. That touch also is welcome if and when automation doesn't quite deliver (many sites don't readily accept coupons or special requests) or you have a question that can't be answered via online/mobile/app. For companies servicing hotels negotiating product offerings and closing the sales contract deal isn't something you can do at the push of a button or the swipe of a card.
At the same time, for consumers, automation makes a lot of sense. Much of today's leisure travel is booked during off hours. For business travel (and leisure) booked during regular hours, the need for multitasking often provides a welcome reprieve, allowing consumers to easily and quickly make the reservation and move on. Likewise, for companies servicing hotels, automation makes business sense. Take service contracts.
Historically, selling these contracts forced companies to rely on a team to sell and market their services, "taking care" of prospects with lengthy meetings and lunches. That could lead to a kind of laziness, as those salespeople banked on low-hanging fruit because it was easier and cheaper. Most of the time, they didn't go to the hotelier directly, but instead went to management companies or brands to have the most impact. They don't have to do that anymore. The combination of automation and human touch enables cost-effective, efficient and targeted outreach to all sort of hoteliers, not just the historical low-hanging ones. Now, small companies and one-off hoteliers have a chance to benefit from the same service typically provided to their larger colleagues.
Not that long ago, lengthy contracts required in-person explanations and in-person negotiations, meaning more time and money spent. Today's companies and consumers are accustomed to how contracts have become matters of "terms and conditions" on a website or email requesting an opt-out or click box functionality. This change, which has become culturally acceptable, is critical. Salespeople and marketers are no longer required to go through the contract verbatim but instead can focus on the value of working together and finalizing how to "go live" and follow-up service levels. The sales and marketing process has gotten easier and faster, as well as more efficient and profitable.
Striking the right balance between automation and hands-on, interpersonal interaction is the trick, and avoiding stress is key as people desire and require various levels of automation and personal touch. The skillful sales and marketing person of today knows how to read people, navigate their preferences and quickly adapt, using the mutually agreed-upon mode of communication to close the deal and keep clients happy. For some, that means lunch, coffee and phone calls. For others, the ticket is email, text or a short bursts via Twitter.