The digital revolution forever changed almost every aspect of our world — perhaps none more so than customer service. No longer do customers have to go to a bricks-and-mortar store to buy or return a product. Nor do they have to pick up the phone and sit on hold just to speak to a customer service representative about an issue they may be having. They now also have channels such as website live chat and texting at their fingertips. Many brands are adopting omni-channel strategies to connect with their customers, giving them the choice to interact in the way that is most convenient for them.
And with good reason. According to Digital Commerce 360 organizations with a strong omni-channel policy retain 89 percent of their customers, while companies that don’t have a similar policy retain only 33 percent of their customers. Additionally, Forbes Magazine reports that more than half of consumers have switched brands due to a poor customer service experience. This is why it’s so important for brands to have a robust customer experience that is consistent across every channel.
The role of face-to-face human interaction in this equation cannot be ignored — particularly in hospitality. Warm, genuine service is the cornerstone of a great customer experience, and very often, face-to-face interaction with a representative of the brand is the best way to get it, especially when the situation is too complicated to handle via digital channels. With that said, let’s talk more in depth about face-to-face interaction and just how essential it is to an exceptional customer experience.
The Human Touch
According to Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, human beings derive meaning from more than just the words they speak to each other. He developed the 7% to 38% to 55% Rule, which states that 55 percent of the meaning of our words are communicated via body language, while another 38 percent is communicated through tone. That’s why in-person interaction in a customer service setting is still so important, especially when it comes to complicated issues that cannot be easily resolved.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind:
- Although the desire to interact with a customer experience representative face-to-face has declined by six percent since 2012, for the resolution of problems or other complex issues, American Express has reported that 24 percent of consumers still prefer in-person communication with someone who can help them.
- On top of that, CIO.com reported 65 percent of consumers believe that face-to-face interaction is the best way to get a tailored experience.
- According to Genesys, when polled, 40 percent of consumers said better human service is the improvement they want most from the customer service experience. The next highest, at 20 percent, was for more channels.
A sizeable percentage of consumers still seek immediate contact with front-line staff, even if they prefer to use self-service or digital options first. Some hotels have made efforts to reduce their reception desk staff, if not eliminate them entirely. Those hotels may find, as time goes on, that they have made a mistake.
Face-to-Face Interaction in Hospitality
Perhaps more so than in retail, hospitality requires a superior degree of customer service. After all, that is the purpose of hospitality itself — to give guests not just a place to stay, but also an experience they won’t forget. Particularly at four- and five-star properties, guests wants to be pampered and looked after. Personalization and anticipatory service are paramount.
Like brands in many other industries, hotels seeking to meet guests on their terms have introduced some omni-channel elements to their properties. These include everything from online booking to guestroom tablets to check-in kiosks. Although some of these features are already widely accepted as the norm — hotels that do not have an online booking engine, for example, are a bit behind the times — there is still a ways to go for others.
As Deloitte noted in their 2017 Travel and Hospitality Industry Outlook: “Over the past few years, millions of dollars have been spent upgrading properties with tablet kiosks, assuming hotel guests would prefer a digital check-in experience. After all, digital kiosks have been a huge hit for airlines. However, in many hotels, newly installed kiosks went largely unused. Hoteliers failed to consider that guests might still value the opportunity to interact with staff to talk through the details of their stay—and possibly bargain for a suite upgrade.”
On the other hand, an IBM survey states that 43 percent of consumers would choose one purveyor of services over another if it provided self-service kiosks to help reduce wait times.
With these conflicting statistics, it’s clear that self-service kiosks and other digital channels must work together with face-to-face interaction to create a holistic experience for guests. Each guest will want something different from the customer experience. It’s up to hotels to give them what they want.