Automating or Answering — Which is Right for Your Hotel?
Technology is constantly moving forward, and it’s obvious in the hotel world. Smart sensors on water pipes and heaters can predict maintenance before it’s needed, connected hotel booking systems can help guests check in and out faster, and smart room service can let guests order food right from their smartphones.
But one of the biggest leaps forward in hotel technology has been the rise of VoIP (voice over internet protocol) phone systems. Instead of using analog copper wires, VoIP phones are connected to each other through the internet, so you can change lines, move phones, and add new connectivity features on the fly.
One of the biggest features that a VoIP phone system affords you is automation — with digital phone trees, you can direct guests with simple questions to recorded messages or off-site, third-party messaging services.
On the other hand, customers are becoming disenchanted with automation — years of calling into unhelpful robotic answering services have jaded them against computerized customer service. There’s an undeniable advantage to a helpful human touch. It’s just a matter of how you use it.
Advantages of Automation
Automation and human interaction don’t have to be at odds. In the 1970s, ATMs were invented. They could carry out a lot of the functions that tellers had been fulfilling, and tellers were concerned that it would mean huge layoffs for them. Instead, the opposite happened. With ATMs handling the repetitive task of withdrawals, tellers could handle more complex interactions. Banks opened more branches. The number of teller jobs actually increased.
In hotels, the same thing can happen. Automating the most tedious, recurring tasks frees up your staff to handle the more important human interactions that you hired them to do.
Lots of hotels have started offering self-service kiosks in their lobbies, for example. Rather than working with the front desk staff, guests can check in, check out, search for local information, print keys, and so on without any interaction with your staff at all.
Most check-ins are completely routine, and guests will appreciate the convenience of checking in without waiting in line or being interrupted by ringing phones. In the meantime, your staff are free to handle more difficult tasks or guests that need special attention.
The same goes for phone conversations. Lots of guests call in with easy needs — they want to know if there’s availability on certain dates, or when the restaurant opens for dinner. You can set up an automated system to answer those simple questions and save your staff a lot of time.
Downsides of Automation
The biggest downside of call automation is what we mentioned earlier — customer like a human touch, even if they don’t strictly need it. Talking to a real person makes a customer feel important, valued, and helps to build a relationship of trust between the customer and the company. Customers have come to expect more personal customer service, and they might be disappointed when they don’t get it.
In addition to losing trust, you might be losing business. There’s a lot of competition in the hotel industry, and unless your hotel is very special, there’s a real risk that customers will switch loyalty to a competitor without much notice. If they call your hotel and become frustrated by your automated phone tree system, they’ll hang up and call someone else.
Striking a Balance
Automation can offer a lot of advantages, but it’s not a replacement for real, human interaction. Automation is a great solution for handling increased call volume, repetitive tasks, and basic questions.
It’s worth taking stock of your existing phone usage for a while before you decide to add a lot of automation. Keep track of why people call in to your front desk, and try to establish a sense of how many of those calls can be handled by an automated system. If the percentage is high, then automation is a great option!
If you can implement automation in an intelligent, helpful way, it can work wonders for your customers, your front desk staff, and your bottom line. Just remember: automation is a supplement to your staff, not a replacement.