In the last two of my digital hospitality blogs I talked about the need for both Recognition and Personalisation, not only are they big trends in the hospitality business but also mega trends globally in most consumer facing industries and in our society as a whole.
Let’s face it most of the digital tools we use these days require registration and personal profiling, forcing us to allow others to track every detail of who we are and how we live. Companies use this data to build a more relevant and meaningful dialogue with us so they can create better brand loyalty, or in other words sell us more stuff. When done well it's welocome, and often helps people make more informed decisions, but done badly it creates cynicism and anger.
One need where digital has really helped, is far less controversial, and something that few can argue whether it’s a good or bad thing for our society. The need is convenience, and in the last half century we have seen incredible advances in our never ending desire to make things easier, faster, less complicated and just plain simple!
I'm pretty sure the older ones amongst us will remember dialing on your 70's home phone, turning the rotary wheel one number at a time. Then as always your finger would slip out of the hole on the last number before you made the full turn and you would have to start all over. Considering the main goal of this task is to make a call and talk to someone, it's not a very convenient way of getting there. Never imagined that one day we would have phones that dial with only one touch or even voice recognition for that matter.
My ultimate convenience tool is without doubt the dishwasher. I don't know about you but I hate washing dishes, it sucks big time and this machine for me still stands head and shoulders above all other 20th century inventions that free up us humans to focus on more interesting things like life. Only wish the stupid thing could stack and empty themselves.
Let's take a look at some examples in the hotel business where things have gone wrong, making things far from convenient for their guests.
You're a business guest and you have a very important meeting on the other side of town. You finish breakfast and go downstairs to check out but the queue is 20 people long. You're an honest chap and would like to tell the front desk you took some stuff from the mini bar and besides you would really like a paper receipt for your expense report. At this point you think SHIT, I'm never staying in this hotel again!
You're a family with two kids on holiday in a foreign country. You turn up at the hotel lobby and the first thing your 15 year old son asks is "what's the WiFi code?" He wants to check his Whats App feed. Your second child is crying because she's hungry and you just made her walk across the city. Mummy is trying to connect her iPhone to the network so she can stream the Cartoon Network to keep daughter happy while Daddy goes through the check-in process. Unfortunately Daddy is trying to find his booking details on his computer from his Gmail and needs to connect to the network first. The hotel front desk woman hands Daddy four paper WiFi vouchers with a tediously long access code containing letters, numbers, upper case and lower case characters. Every device the family has needs its own code. Daddy looks angry, Mummy tries to calm the situation.
You're a city tripper and you are having a crazy weekend in party central Berlin, sharing a double room on a budget with three others. To be honest you and your friends went a little too crazy, and a bit worst for wear, you're finding it rather challenging to locate the toilet in the middle of the night in a strange room. Further more when you find it, you think you're switching on the lights to the bathroom but unfortunately end up switching the main lights for the whole room to the annoyment of your friends who are already awoken by the noise of you searching for the bathroom.
Eventually you make it to the bathroom and decide to stick you head under the shower in an attempt to freshen up. Problem is you can't work out how to turn the shower on and after what seems like a lifetime fiddling with all the possible arrangements of the faucet you see an instruction sticker on the side of the shower explaining how to do it. Thanks for that you think, but can't help wondering why on earth you would need instructions for this basic task in the first place? You give up with the shower idea and stumble back into the main room and remember that you forgot to put your phone on charge for the morning. You spend the next 10 minutes feeling around the walls of the dark room looking for the one solitary mains plug, only to discover your friend beat you to it. GO TO BED shout the other three.
So what can hotels do to solve these convenience problems? Well as a designer you've got to put yourself into these contextual situations and consciously force yourself to create desirable solutions. It's an exercise in mapping all possible scenarios and designing in fixes or fall back strategies if things go wrong.
Take for example the very common need for ordering a taxi from the front desk in the morning, we've all done it right. Not only do you often have to wait in the tedious check-out queue, you also need to ask the front desk staff to do something other than check-out all the frustrated waiting people, slowing everything down and making everyone even more frustrated.
A much better solution in this case is to take the digital self service approach and build a cab ordering service right next to the exit so you press one button on your way out with no hassle. Failing that just use an Uber.
In regards to the age old physical problem of charging and mains plugs, many of the more user centric hotel chains now have super handy devices on the bedside tables that double up as clock, mains unit and USB charger. If all hotels just did this one thing, it would make me stay with them again.
Hilton Worldwide hotels are one of the many hotel chains now leveraging mobile to bring super convenience to their guests. For the frequent business traveler especially, being able to skip the check-in and out queues without ever talking to another person is a very welcome development. Of course this kind of service also alleviates a considerable amount of work from front desk staff allowing them to focus on more valuable face to face interactions.
Scandic hotels in the Nordics listened and responded to the frustration of their guests, who had to type in long codes from paper vouchers given at front desk. The Scandic Easy Wifi allows frequent guests the benefit of clicking one button to reconnect whenever they visit a Scandic hotel. Guests only provide an email or phone number once the first time they sign up to the service. Again this kind of digital initiative not only meets a convenience need from the guest but also saves back of house operations from managing millions of printed paper codes.
It has to be said though that delivering this kind of convenience is usually not at all convenient for the hotel brand. Behind the scenes, hotels often need to make radical changes to their IT infrastructure and the physical hotel environment. They are also dealing with legal and contractual issues that have been set up for many years and are not easily or rapidly changed. Hotel tech systems are usually bought and maintained from 3rd party providers that supply the whole industry and these commercially driven tech companies have never really had the end user needs in mind.
Real convenience for the guest can usually mean time consuming and expensive re-training for hotel staff and adopting new ways of working and ultimately a different more user centric mindset for all its employees.
So as easy as it looks from the outside, this level of digital seamlessness requires hotels to transform the way their organisation is set up and forces them to prioritse development decisions differently. It means balancing the investments differently and putting more money aside for digital service. Being that the hotel business is as old as the hills and built around physical assets, It's true to say that building a desirable digital service layer has come to them rather late in the game and many are feeling the pain from the digital disruption happening all around them.
But in the end, to deliver convenience or not, is no longer a choice, guests expect it more and more, and there are many examples in other industries that are leading the way, There's only one way for the hospitality industry to go and that's toward a more user centric, convenient delivery. It's already underway and it will continue to revolutionise the industry.
Staying at a hotel just got better.