How digital technology can enhance the hotel experience

David Russell, sales director at hospitality payments specialist Secure Retail, shares his insights for creating impressive encounters through digital technology.

Reputation matters to every business, nowhere more so than the hotel industry. Customer opinions have the ability to make or break even the best established chains – especially now those views can be easily shared on forums and through social media – making impressive guest experiences critical to long-term success.

Today’s leading hoteliers are using technology to push the boundaries on customer service, redefining the way they engage with guests to create convenient, tailored encounters.

For example, tablets are taking staff out from behind the reception desk or fixed payment points to provide customer service wherever the customer desires. This can be as simple as sitting down in a comfortable chair to check guests in, or integrating mobile devices with payments to create ‘pay at table’ options when patrons order a meal or drink.

Some are even installing self-service tablets as a concierge service within bedroom suites, enabling guests to order room service or contact housekeeping at the touch of a screen.

It’s not just hotel-supplied devices that are transforming the customer experience, either. Many leading-edge companies are tapping into patrons’ own devices – specifically their smartphones – to improve processes.

As an example, potentially smartphones can replace traditional security systems to enable keyless entry. This requires guests to download an app, which will send a push notification through to their mobile device ahead of their stay, confirming their check-in. Then, once they arrive, they will receive a further notification that their room is ready, and then they can hold the smartphone with the app open to the relevant door to unlock it.

Hoteliers can extend this mobile-centric experience throughout the guest’s stay, by introducing mobile payments at on-site bars and restaurants, which use the same Bluetooth or near field communication (NFC) technology as keyless entry to process transactions by tapping/holding devices over a payment terminal.

There’s even potential to link mobile capabilities with an application, to add items to a tab rather than paying immediately. Customers can then review their purchases at the end of their stay, and settle the bill on their smartphones as they ‘virtually’ check out.
It will be some time before technology completely replaces face-to-face customer service, but a well thought out strategy can empower hoteliers to start incorporating digital capabilities into today’s experiences.

Hotels wanting to start merging these two worlds are well advised to take a step-by-step approach to implementation; try to do everything at once and business infrastructures can become overwhelmed.

The best place to start is by choosing one solution and seamlessly integrating it within existing customer service channels. Tablets are a great first step as most personnel are familiar with the device, so can easily be trained in functionality – and customers are au fait with tablets too, which supports adoption levels.

Once these have been successfully deployed and have received positive customer feedback, hoteliers can then start to test the boundaries with emerging technologies, which create a real experience differentiator from rival venues.

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