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How Automation Can Improve the Guest Experience

How Automation Can Improve the Guest Experience

As part of Solutions Review’s Contributed Content Series—a collection of contributed columns written by industry experts in maturing software categories—Richard Castle, the COO and co-founder of Cloudbeds, explains how automation can help hotels improve the guest experience they offer.

Many people will quickly tell you that the more we automate hospitality, the better the guest experience will get. Respectfully, I disagree. There’s no blanket approach to how automation should be used. Imagine walking into the Oberoi Hotel in India, a five-star luxury hotel where the guests expect exceptionally personal and human service. Now imagine those same guests using a kiosk to check themselves in, retrieve their room key, and navigate to their room. Automating that hotel or one like it, one where people are coming in from all over the world and expect a high-touch, human experience, would be the worst idea.  

Take that same automated check-in experience at a CitizenM, where savvy business and solo/couple travelers stay that doesn’t break the bank, which is exactly what travelers want and expect. The fewer lines and people they wait to talk to, the better. They want to shower, grab a drink and enjoy their evening. These guests expect the automation of their stay to be just like the automation of their airlines—fast and easy.  

Automation should help hotels provide a better version of the experience that a guest already expects. That’s what makes automation smart—not if it’s being used but how it’s being used. To understand if a host or hotelier is leveraging technology effectively, they should ask themselves 1) What am I automating for? 2) Should I be automating (this aspect of my operation)?   

With those reflections in mind, let’s examine how automation best matches guest expectations with the guest experience.

For Guests Who Expect a High-Touch Experience

A five-star luxury resort benefits from automation. However, it’s more likely to improve the guest experience when implemented precisely to meet their expectations. Automations like check-in kiosks and digital concierges might make it feel impersonal. It might make a guest feel like they’re overpaying. These luxury lodging businesses should use technology to improve the contact points between humans.

This might mean leveraging technology so that within seconds of walking onto a property, someone from the hotel approaches a guest and greets them by name. They knew their flight and arrival time and used accurate data collection to know precisely who the guest was as soon as they entered the lobby. Technology prompted the staff that five people were arriving. When they walk up to the guest, they already have the room assigned, which they personally escort them to.

As they take them up the elevator, they use a tablet to check them in and discuss amenities, attractions, and critical stay details. It’s the easiest experience. So incredible that the guest didn’t realize they, too, had a virtual front desk check-in experience. Technology fed vital information to the staff that helped them provide a very hands-on experience for the guest who expected it. Thanks to technology automating information, back office innovation made the guest experience seem magical.  

For Guests Who Expect a Highly-Automated Experience

The front desk is an obvious place where we see automation used to rapidly accelerate the experience of a traveler who doesn’t want to stand in long lines or wait for long periods while the staff completes manual data entry. Automation that captures data across various points of the guest journey will ultimately allow highly-automated properties to give a personal touch.  

Imagine a property that has automated most of its front office but has leveraged technology to communicate with a guest enough to know key details about them. They can then delight customers with messages on their phone of local recommendations each morning of their stay, which guests can book through the hotel. This heightens the guest’s trip experience and maximizes revenue for the property, ultimately boosting the hotel’s reviews and business. For example, The Pad, a hotel in Silverthorne, Colorado, is using an automated pre-arrival guest registration form to streamline the check-in process, which has translated to a 95 percent guest rating with 1,000+ reviews.  

The caveat to guest messaging, however, is that if a property is trying to attempt this level of automation with a clientele that’s not comfortable with the messaging software on their phone or if they’re using tools that their guests don’t already have, this automation can quickly move from seamless automation to frustrating friction. 

The key to making automation work, whether front end or back end, is utilizing a technology platform built to allow for it. Otherwise, property owners, managers, and hosts create more work for themselves. It’s not automation if the staff has to manually copy and paste data from one system to another. Not sure if a tech stack is optimal for automation? Look for these signs that your tech stack is optimal for automation:  

  • The PMS has robust functionality and is natively integrated with other key platforms like the CRS, channel manager, booking engine, and payment processor. This means that the bulk of primary data (i.e., reservations, inventory, guest profile data, payment data) lives in one system and isn’t siloed. 
  • It contains a robust marketplace or integrations ecosystem. Systems that already integrate with preferred tools make it even easier to adopt new technologies and workflows and automate the guest experience. 
  • The PMS is built with an open API, which allows for creating customized workflows and integrations between different systems. 

No matter which way a property’s front office bends—to the high-touch or the highly automated—technology is a competitive edge. Regardless of what the guest expects, invest in automation. Without it, hoteliers will fall behind the curve of other hoteliers already doing it.

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