Can technology enhance customer engagement?

Self-service technologies in the hotel industry

Can a labour intensive industry such as hotels create new value by utilising technology to free employees from routine procedures? Peter Stack, Regional Operations Manager at Jurys Inn Hotel Group, explores whether technology can enhance customer service by freeing up employees from procedural tasks.

While self-service technologies (SST) are not new to many industries such as banks and airlines, it is a recent change for the hospitality industry. Increasingly, hotels are using technology to differentiate their hotel brands from competitors. There are many recent examples such as the launch of Hiltons new Canopy by Hilton brand, a lifestyle brand where customers are able to select a room and check-in prior to arrival, to the emergence of technology focused hotel brands like Citizen M.

M-HotelIn an industry such as hotels, there are technology challenges as customers are each receiving a different service experience. My research indicates that these heterogeneous challenges encountered by hotels may be changing as customers increasingly become intrinsically motivated to engage with SST. This raises the question, is this idea of an individual customer receiving a personalised service now being realised?

This was something I was able to focus on when I wrote my dissertation for the Executive Masters in Hospitality and Tourism Leadership programme offered by Strathclyde Business School.

At Jurys Inn, we are exploring if new value can be created by utilising technology to enable customers to personalise their hotel experience. Are customers prepared to pay a premium if they have the ability to select on-line a preferred room, an earlier check-in or a later check-out, the ability to change items in the room prior to arrival and so on? Technology has the ability to open up many more options and potentially change how the hotel industry engages with its customers.

Many industries utilise SST to reduce labour costs but findings from my research show that hotels should utilise SST to enhance the customer experience by redefining the role of the service employee. A good example of this is an area frequently mentioned in the focus groups and interviews conducted for my dissertation. Many participants highlighted the importance of a friendly welcome when visiting a hotel. This may seem like a basic expectation; however, many of the interviewees claimed receptionists are increasingly more like ‘cashiers’ where the priority is securing payment and getting the paperwork completed. This is a great example of where technology can be used to change the focus and role of the receptionist from a ‘cashier’ type role to a friendly ‘welcome host’.

Unfortunately, one thing my review found is that customer facing technology is currently failing to have an impact on many mid-market hotel organisations and as a result is currently not improving the customer experience. The research suggested a paradigm change is needed to meet a customer’s expectations of a hotel experience and that the hotel industry is struggling to achieve true value from technology investments as it is not strategic enough. There are claims that hotels are investing in technology to keep up with the competition as opposed to becoming market leaders.

What I found is that the industry’s hesitation to give some of the control back to customers is causing customer dissatisfaction. This issue is emphasised as Generation Y increasingly become hotel customers in an era described as ‘an experience economy’. With a few hotel groups now beginning to change how they utilise SST and consequently appearing to be meeting customer expectations, this may stimulate a change in the hotel industry which over time might result in that paradigm shift.

PeterAfter graduating from the Shannon College of Hotel Management, Peter started as a trainee Manager with Forte hotels. After a short time at Jarvis Hotels, Peter joined Jurys Inn and has been with the company for 16 years. His current role is Regional Operations Manager – UK.

He has recently completed the Executive Masters in Hospitality and Tourism Leadership, led by Strathclyde Business School, an innovative leadership programme, in conjunction with Cornell University and Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, Switzerland.


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