Many luxury hotel brands pride themselves on their responsiveness and attentiveness to their guests – it’s one of the hallmarks of what distinguishes them from other hotels. “High touch” has become synonymous with private concierges, VIP lounges, personal butler service, 24/7 room service, and a host of other exclusive features designed to attract the discerning traveler.
One luxury hotel representative described their high touch this way: “High touch is a corporate mantra. It means that each associate is empowered to work on behalf of the guests. Comprehensive guest profiles are kept that include information such as preferred pillow types, what they like in their mini bar, and other information to make the guests comfortable – associates are in-tune with guests even before they ask for what they need.”
But does high touch have to conflict with high tech? Not at all. In fact, in today’s world, luxury also implies high tech, which can manifest in several ways. More and more modern luxury hotels now come equipped with wireless broadband connectivity throughout the property such as wide-panel smart TVs, keyless entry, and even voice-enabled digital assistants. The reason? Because luxury travelers have come to expect that their hotels will at least maintain the standards these guests have in their own homes.
High Tech and High Touch Can Coexist
So how do luxury hotels provide a high-tech experience above and beyond what guests already have at home and still deliver upon the high touch expectation? The answer is both simple and surprising: it lies in artificial intelligence (AI) that communicates in the lingua franca and with the energy and etiquette of a hospitality-focused human being.
The term “AI” shouldn’t fill the luxury hotelier with dread. AI in this context doesn’t refer to drones or tacky robots. AI is merely a computer program that can learn for itself over time. AI’s built-in learn-and-response feedback loop allows the program to improve and refine its responses over time, with the same intention of the human-curated guest profile containing pillow type preferences, for example. Only AI is much more powerful and can collect, manage and process far more data in a fraction of the time. In hospitality, imagine a kind of AI that acts like the private concierge, the 24/7 room service, and the personal butler all rolled into one. It’s a smartconcierge, and it can act, communicate, and perform many of the same high touch guest services luxury hotels already deliver, just in an imperceptibly automated fashion, and faster than expected.
Guest Experience Matters Most
Every day, millions of simple guest interactions get handled. That these requests and issues get handled satisfactorily gets to the core of what makes a positive guest experience. Who does the handling isn’t necessarily as important – no one complains when the bellhop brings extra towels up to the room instead of a member of the housekeeping staff. In hotels, guests realize that to some extent, roles are fluid as the hotel strives first and foremost to serve its guests.
The role of the smartconcierge fits this model perfectly. Its role is to act as the front line for simple guest requests and either handle them completely or process them onto their human guest services counterpart. When the smartconcierge handles the guest request, it’s a seamless experience – oftentimes guests merely think they’re messaging with a member of the hotel’s guest services team. When the smartconcierge elevates the guest request to a human counterpart, the entire guest conversation also gets passed along, furthering the seamless, satisfactory guest experience. In fact, a recent Capgemini Research Institute report found that 55% of consumers prefer interactions enabled by a mix of AI and humans, with 63% citing the top benefit of AI being “greater control over my interactions.”
In its Shaping the Future of Hospitality – Outlook 2030 report, L’Ecole Hôtelière Lausanne describes the need to make high tech work with high touch by facilitating an emotional connection. Communication fosters an emotional connection and satisfactory experiences (or unsatisfactory ones, for that matter) also evoke emotions. The role of the AI-powered smartconcierge is to provide highly satisfactory guest experiences that feel like natural language text messaging conversations. The guest communicates an issue like, “The wifi is slow, ” and the smartconcierge responds just like its human counterpart would: “I’m sorry to hear that. I’ll let our technical team know. Meanwhile, try this network: VIP Guest. The password is strongsignal.”
High Tech, High Touch Competitive Advantages
When a hotel uses a smartconcierge as its frontline, it empowers itself with the competitive advantage of speed and capacity. A smartconcierge responds instantly – in seconds rather than minutes – requiring no phoning or walking down to the front desk, no waiting on hold or in a line. Guests can connect and engage the smartconcierge for what they want, when they want, using their preferred channels.
And thanks to its technology, the smartconcierge can also handle hundreds of simultaneous requests in a way that a single human being can’t possibly do. This capacity to handle simple, repetitive requests actually takes a huge burden off the hotel staff who can then be available to tackle more nuanced, high-value interactions. This kind of pay-off not only benefits the guests but the employees as well: research conducted by Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration has shown that hotels using smartconcierges have better-engaged employees by as much as eight percent per year.
The bottom line is this: Brands that take calculated chances with smartconcierges to create better experience and value for their guests are going to be further ahead than their competitors that don’t.