Eric Hallerberg, Vice President EMEA Sales, Oracle Hospitality, talked to us about how technology can make operations more efficient and drive guest loyalty
How has technology evolved during your career?
“When you look across 18 years, it's not only in the hospitality sector, it's what's happening across all industries, and how hospitality embraces that and brings in best practices. I think that what's been really interesting over these past two decades, is that you've got this combination of technology advancements and changes in consumer behaviour.
“It's a major change in how we are share in our lives and open with our information and data, and rapidly evolving technology really highlights this. With new tech and the behaviour changes, it creates some really interesting opportunities for hoteliers and their tech partners to provide great experiences for their guests.”
Do you think hotels understand the guest journey?
“How do you define the journey? Is the journey the actual journey itself? Or is it a much broader spectrum? When I think of what I call the Hospitality Value Chain, I start at the beginning, when the guest is thinking about where they are going to travel, or the corporate traveller who is thinking about where they have to go for a meeting. At this point, I think hotels do understand this. But there is always room for improvement.
“I think it’s important to also look at how travellers interact on a daily basis with other businesses and individuals. What channels do they use? How do they make their buying decisions? What do their actions say about their priorities and how their preferences are formed?
“Guests don't develop their preferences when they walk through the front door. They bring with them their collective experiences and outlook on how they interact and enjoy the world. So I think the more that hotels can learn about their guests when they're outside their properties, the better they can provide that world class service when they're on property.”
Is technology a way to create true loyalty?
“You can use technology to drive loyalty but technology for technology's sake doesn't have any value. It’s how you apply that technology.
“That’s not to say loyalty programmes don’t matter, but it’s really about the guest experience. What did the guest feel during their stay, what is their lasting impression as they walk out to get into the car and go back to the airport, or train station and go back home? Was there one moment that will stick with them and influence when they book their next trip?
“It's also about what kind of staff experience you provide. If the technology is providing a great staff experience, that's going to translate into a great guest experience. And so yes, technology can play a role. But you've got to think about it holistically, because it doesn't matter how great the programme is, or what kind of great incentives you have, or even your brand, it's what did the guest experience during their stay, and what's going to pull them back.”
Where can technology help with service?
“I think about service in three different ways: personalisation, mobile, and artificial intelligence. With personalisation, the better that you know your guests, the better you can provide a great custom-tailored experience. Profile systems and loyalty programmes have been around for years, but there's a great opportunity to enhance all ready exisiting programs by incorporating additional data. You’ve got to look beyond their basic preferences related to the hotel or related to their rooms.
“What kind of booking experience do they like? How are your guests interacting with the hotel when they make a booking? What kind of interaction with staff do they prefer? Do they prefer to check in contactlessly or be greeted at the front desk?”
“And related to that is mobile. Don't ask the guest to come seek out service, take the hospitality to the guest. Put your staff where they can easily interact with guests in the guest’s preferred space, so that check-in doesn’t necessarily have to involve a desk. Maybe I want to go and sit in a comfy chair in the lobby and have a drink and mobile-enabled staff can come over and check me in. Make it easier for your staff to provide that great guest experience in line with the guest’s preferences.”
“We are already seeing Artificial Intelligence used with chatbots, which have shown to provide enhanced service. How does talking to a robot provide enhanced service? Because you're sharing information in a much more efficient way - no one's getting on a chatbot to have long conversations. People are asking whether they can extend their stay or what the new COVID restrictions are inplace at the hotel.
“In addition to these efficient conversations, you're going to see more advanced applications of AI in observing guest behavior. That may sound a little bit big brother, but it's really about collecting information that will influence great service. We are used to sharing information about ourselves, and especially when we know it's going to provide some value back to us. Discovering travelers’ preferences helps the staff to share relevant offerings that enhance the guest experience.
“So outside just the everyday hotel interactions, there is value in knowing how does the guest actually interact? Do they use WhatsApp to order food delivery to my room instead of room service? Do they prefer to go to a retail shop and shop there instead of getting something from a delivery service? These things are important and they’re not specific to a guest staying in a hotel, but they can inform hoteliers about how best to interact with those guests.”
How can technology help with staffing?
“This is a challenge that the sector has been facing for a long time and continues to be an ongoing issue. Hotels have always looked at how they can make their staff more efficient, and it's not about headcount, it's about taking away the tasks that are low value, or don't involve guests interaction, so that staff can spend more time focusing on the guest experience. Even at higher staffing levels, this is important because the real value is that interaction with the guest.
“I think about three ways that technology can address staffing challenges. The first is automation. Any kind of repetitive low-value tasks, you can automate. If you take staff away from doing those tasks you make them more customer facing.
“The second one is revenue optimisation. The better that hotel is in providing added value to guests, the more efficient the interactions become and the more self-sufficient guests become. If a guest walks into a hotel having already purchased add-ons – a room upgrade, maybe - and they know that there will be more such opportunities, the hotel has reduced staff interaction and enhanced the guest experience all while driving more revenue.
“The last area is resource allocation. Big Data can mean a lot of things, but hoteliers have more information than ever before, on operations, on demand for services, on interactions between guests and staff, and by looking at how and where hotels are providing value to their guests, they're going to better understand what skill sets and what staffing levels they need for any kind of occupancy levels they have, or any kind of event. No business in the world is over-resourced right now. But in the hospitality sector, is really squeezed. Hoteliers need to make sure they have the right people working at the right time, while still providing a great guest experience. It’s easier said than done. But it is doable. And I think that using technology and better understanding your guests will really help with that.”
Are technology companies selling correctly into the hospitality sector?
“The key here is to focus not on the technology, but how it enhances the travelers’ experience. No matter where you sit in the Hospitality Value Chain, we all have a common customer – the guest.
“So we should be really focused on how we're making it easier for hoteliers and their teams to provide top guest experience, and staff with the tools and the systems and the ability to provide that. Oracle hospitality focuses on how we can enable staff to provide a great guest experience, because that's really what it's all about.”
To watch the full interview, click here