Thoughts from Future Hotel Leaders at Cornell University
Earlier this year, I had the immense privilege of visiting Ithaca, NY, to be a guest lecturer at the prestigious Cornell School of Hotel Administration. I was invited by Dr. Rohit Verma, a professor and the Dean for External Relations at Cornell College of Business. He is also the Executive Director of the Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures. My objective was to speak to his class of future hospitality leaders about the impact of mobile technology on service quality.
The Cornell Experience
The Cornell University campus, even in the dead of winter, is a simply beautiful place. With so many great cafés and shops, Ithaca is such a charming city. The campus itself is home to the Statler Hotel, which is a teaching hotel operated by the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. If you travel frequently, you start to notice the little things that make or break a good hotel stay.
Needless to say, the Statler Hotel is one of the best hotels I have ever stayed at. The smallest of details — from accessible bedside iPhone chargers and plugs to the guest check-in process — are meticulously planned and executed. If you are a hotelier and would like to visit a property to see how things should be done, it is worth a trip to the Statler Hotel for the latest and greatest in hotel technology and guest service.
On campus, my day was hectic. I was greeted by Rohit shortly upon arrival, had a lovely lunch in the hotel’s teaching restaurant, and was escorted to my first-ever opportunity to teach a class. Though I had never taught or facilitated a formal class before, let alone at an Ivy-league university, the class and teaching staff were welcoming and made me feel at home.
About the Class
I was invited to facilitate the Quality Systems and Processes class. The students were a mix of young men and women, mostly Millennials. This Gen Xer had his work cut out for him! I kicked it off with some mini SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) brainstorming. I divided the class into four groups, and, holding my mobile phone in my hand, asked them to discuss in their groups the following two questions:
- What opportunities exist for mobile devices to improve overall service quality?
- What are the potential drawbacks of such devices when it comes to the delivery of quality service?
As I walked around the room, the discussion was energizing. The room was occupied by a generation that lived on their mobile devices, but their education in service quality clearly had an impact on how they viewed the subject at hand. When adequate time had passed, each team elected a member to come up and present their findings. Here are the results:
How Mobile Devices Can Improve Overall Service Quality
Using mobile technology to collect information from guests was a major opportunity in the eyes of the students. The class felt that mobile messaging offered the ability to analyze guest requests and conversations over a period of time — a great tool for identifying trends to improve overall service.
Personalizing the Experience
The ability to identify the individual needs of a guest and anticipate them in the future was seen as a great opportunity. As an example, one student cited her ability to communicate with a hotel she stays at frequently about their yoga classes. That the hotel now knows this information about her, she said, means there is an opportunity to personalize future experiences around yoga to build a more meaningful connection. This was seen as something that helped tailor the relationship between the brand and the guest, driving loyalty.
Profiling and Guest Preferences
Mobile messaging enables hotels to develop a profile of each guest in order to anticipate their needs. Referring back to the yoga scenario, the class felt that knowing this information allows the hotel to proactively provide a service for the guest upon their return — such as placing a yoga mat in the room for the guest’s use during their stay.
Business Travel Convenience
The class felt that mobile technology can make life more convenient for business travelers in particular. In their view, mobile technology can make a multitude of items easier for this subset of travelers — including the receipt of hotel invoices and easy routing of guest folios to expense applications. The class saw the convenience of messaging and other mobile applications as a significant opportunity for the industry to encourage repeat visits among business travelers.
Ease of Access and Instant Gratification Leads to More Revenue
Mobile is a great way for hotels to target Millennials, according to the class. They agreed that the ability to quickly request an item from a mobile device and have it added to their bill is a major opportunity hoteliers should embrace. Not only does it equate to a higher degree of guest satisfaction, it is also a way for hotels to generate more revenue. The class felt that the option to easily purchase an item or service using their mobile device would lead to more on-site requests and purchases.
Drawbacks of Mobile Regarding Service Quality
Potential to Create a Less Personalized Guest Experience
The class felt that mobile devices could result in fewer face-to-face experiences with hotel staff — a real problem for the traditional service model. They felt that having every guest ask for things anonymously could be too sterile, especially in a high-touch environment such as a luxury property.
To overcome this, the class agreed that technology should not replace the traditional service model, but instead serve as the launch pad for a conversation between the guest and the service professional. One student noted that, while it may be easy to order a bottle of wine with a phone, the real difference is the ability for the hotel’s sommelier to share some notes and attributes of various wines with the guest. In this way, mobile technology can be used to not just fulfill the request, but also open the door to further conversation.
Keeping Up with Guest Demands via Mobile Devices
The class noted that the amount of inbound enquiries from guests using their mobile devices could be taxing, especially in bigger hotels with a larger volume of guests making many requests during their stay.
To overcome this, they felt that mobile technology must automate certain requests and that strong processes need to be in place in the back end to ensure swift response times to guests requests. Technology, however, shouldn’t replace the human element of the guest experience when it involves fulfilling special or unique requests.
Over-Automating the Guest Experience
New technology designed to auto-respond to a guest’s requests was a major concern for the class. They felt that the ability for technology to automatically respond to a guest’s requests without human intervention using mobile messaging or related technology carries many risks. They also noted that unreliable, mistake-prone technology has the potential to cause immense damage to the hotel brand.
To overcome this, they felt that auto-response technology designed to replace hotel staff needs to be further perfected. Furthermore, any mobile technology that doesn’t enable escalations to ensure that a guest’s request is fulfilled in a timely manner could be problematic. After all, technology is only useful if it makes the experience better for the guest.
Multi-Channel Communication and Coordination
This concern focused on how a hotel would manage guest requests coming from multiple sources — for example, when a guest asks for something by speaking to a staff member at the front desk, then sends a text message in the elevator requesting something else. The students felt it is important to have a complete and continuous view of the guest during their stay and, moreover, that all team members can be connected and see these requests. A solution without such a feature runs the risk of losing track of guest requests.
The class agreed that having a centralized place where all requests can be seen by multiple staff members is essential to any mobile-based service tool. They also suggested that mobile technology must allow hotel staff to create new conversations with guests each time they request something in person, for the purposes of keeping staff on the same page regardless of the method the guest used to make the request.
Rants and Responses
The biggest challenge, according to the class, is managing upset guests who bypass direct engagement with the hotel and turn instead to social media. The students noted that two very different conversations exist when a guest is genuinely upset versus when they have a minor issue. The first tends to be anger-driven, and more often than not, the guest just wants to be heard; the second, meanwhile, is about receiving something or being compensated for an inconvenience. Both scenarios, however, have been amplified in recent years with the popularity of social media.
The students believed that the main difference between managing a guest on site versus online is the audience the guest chooses to address. When a guest has an issue and wants to be heard, they are more abusive toward the brand on social than they are when communicating directly with the hotel. They believed the main reason for this is that on social, there is an expectation that anger will attract the hotel’s attention. But when guests call or speak to a manager on site, their behavior is much more subdued — even pleasant — as they want something from the encounter and feel courtesy will benefit them.
Overall, the class felt that mobile technology has an equally positive and negative impact on service quality. Now that virtually everyone has access to an audience on social media with their phones, voicing a concern publicly is much easier today than it was 10 years ago. However, mobile devices also offer the ability for a hotel to communicate directly with guests in real time, potentially resolving guest issues before they are aired on social media. The students believed that because hotels have embraced social, they also need to embrace mobile guest engagement and the ability for a guest to voice their concerns directly to the hotel with the same degree of ease. When hotels fail to do this, they miss out on the opportunity to listen to their guests and have a dialogue with them to resolve issues — an important element in delivering a quality experience.
Learn more about the results of our collaboration with Cornell! Download our white paper, Mobile Technology and Impact on Service Quality in the Hospitality Industry.
About the Author
James Geneau is the Director of Marketing for Benbria.