Keeping Hospitality Human: The Importance of a Personal Touch in Hotel Technology Management

Jill Wilder

As renowned author Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This sentiment is at the core of what most hoteliers strive to achieve for guests during their stays, with a keen focus on guest satisfaction remaining an essential element of any successful property’s operations. However, with technology’s growing role in hospitality optimization, the companies providing systems and solutions to hotel organizations may not always share the same mindset. Although artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are continuing to enhance the speed and efficiency of many hotel processes, customer service has often suffered, and personal interactions are increasingly hard to come by. Especially in an industry grounded in hospitality and personalization, this approach seems counterintuitive.

Why Personal Interaction Still Matters

As reported in a recent survey by McKinsey & Company, “Respondents of all ages said that live phone conversations were among their most preferred methods of contacting companies for help and support. That finding held true even among 18- to 28-year-old Gen Z consumers, a cohort that favors text and social messaging for interpersonal communications.”

Many organizations are also finding that customers of varying ages are tiring of digital self service and like the option of getting a customized, quick resolution for a specific problem from someone who understands their industry and their unique challenges – like live support personnel for the hospitality industry. A customer service representative who is familiar with that organization’s challenges and has a history with them is far more likely to solve their problem and solve it quickly as they have a personal knowledge of the company and its previous challenges as well as how they were resolved.

In fact in the U.S., “(Consumers) overwhelmingly prefer to interact with a live person when dealing with customer service reps,” echoed another recent industry poll. The survey reported that 69% of respondents list talking to a live agent by phone as one of their top three preferred forms of communication when trying to reach a company’s customer service department. Additionally, “willingness to help”, “ability to solve my issue”, and “knowledge about the product or service” ranked among the top three most important qualities of customer service agents.

Consider the finance and accounting department; a hotel’s financial management software company will often customize reports at its clients’ request. Should queries arise, it would be impossible for an AI bot to provide a satisfactory response since the standardized reporting structure has been modified. The only way to resolve an issue is to speak to someone familiar with the customization, or even better, has previously navigated the challenges a caller is currently encountering themselves.

Live-agent support provides the much-needed personal connection to customers that AI simply can’t. Although AI can handle multiple tasks quickly, it can’t fully understand human emotions or provide empathetic responses that a human can. In situations where a hotel CFO or accountant needs immediate assistance to facilitate an owner’s request, human interaction is key – and people are willing to pay more for it.

How AI Can Compliment Human Touch

As noted in the McKinsey survey, “These findings don’t point to a future of phone-only customers, however. While customers of all generations prioritize support from a real person, they also want the flexibility to use different channels according to their needs.”

Automation can quickly route phone calls to the right department or person, and it can help summarize a thread so the support team does not have to review multiple phone calls or reports. Simple requests can be solved by AI-powered bots, and they can help reduce call volume – a benefit as many help desks continue to experience staffing shortages. Additionally, an AI bot can gather necessary information upfront and is intuitive enough to forward any advanced calls to a human support representative if the issue has escalated. These are all time-saving benefits of AI when combined with live support.

As noted in “The State of AI in Customer Service,” a report by HubSpot, 79% of customer service professionals recognize that AI/automation tools do play an important role in their overall strategy, and 62% agree that AI/automation tools have the ability to help them understand their customers better. However, “The most significant challenge for those already using AI/automation in their role is that it's harder to maintain a more personalized experience while using AI for customer service.”

Additionally, the report noted, “When asked about their views on how people should use AI/automation in their roles, most say it should be used, but people should avoid becoming overly reliant on it.” While AI offers many advantages, the customer service representatives surveyed agree there are challenges including maintaining a personalized experience (45%), the tools sometimes produce inaccurate information (40%), and they report experiencing difficulty integrating tools with existing data/systems (32%).

The key to successful tech support offered to hotels is giving people the option to choose if they want to speak to a human or not. While AI is useful for handling things quickly and efficiently – it can answer questions 24/7, sort out simple queries, and help manage multiple customers simultaneously – it is not always useful across the board, especially when it comes to financial management system support.

Providing a Balance to Better Serve Hotel Finance Departments

While saving time and money is always top of mind for finance professionals, many say they are best served by live support agents with previous hospitality experience. While AI offers many advantages for solution providers and is playing an important role in software development, ultimately, humans have the ability to build long-term customer connections and meaningful relationships.

As hotel companies continue to invest in AI for its ability to drive operational efficiencies, reduce workloads and improve employee and guest satisfaction, they must be mindful that human touch will always have a place in customer support. There are technology solution providers that have spent more than 50 years providing service to hotels, and those that prioritize live-agent support are thriving. Consider this: when a front desk agent knows a customer’s name and point of origin before their arrival on property, it transforms the guest’s experience. The same can be said of customer support. When a hotelier reaches out for tech support, the agent should immediately recognize who is calling and know everything about the property, ensuring a positive interaction and increased satisfaction.

When searching for a technology partner in 2024, seek out providers who consistently achieve the highest marks for customer service. As ambassadors of hospitality, hotel technologists that emphasize a human-first customer service strategy will be the ones who flourish for years to come.


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