Hospitality technology: How it can improve a customer's experience before arrival

Employing the latest technology could help you improve the service your business gives customers even before they set foot through the door

Technology can sometimes feel at odds with the hospitality industry’s core values. After all, diners and guests will rate their experience in a restaurant, hotel or pub on skills and services that ultimately only human beings can deliver, such as the warmth and speed of service they have received or the quality of the food they have consumed, not by whether a business has devised its own app or has switched to cloud computing.

However, as BigHospitality finds in our latest feature, adopting the latest technology does have a vital role to play when it comes to improving the customer journey and can impact a diner or guest’s choice as well as determine whether they will return to your business again.

In the first of this three-part focus on technology in hospitality, we look at how implementing certain types of technology can help operators improve the customer experience even before the guest has stepped through the door. 

Assurance

One of the benefits of investing in the latest technological advancements around booking systems or applications is that it can bring assurance to the guest because it gives the hospitality operator the chance to provide them with a guarantee of booking and/or details about what they can expect from their visit or stay.

In today’s fast-paced world the details discussed in a phone call made to a restaurant or hotel can swiftly be forgotten, but having confirmation of a booking in an email or via a smartphone app gives the guest a virtual paper trail and, if the communication they receive includes details such as check-in time, restaurant opening hours and information about extra services available, it not only takes the pressure off front-of-house staff to deal with queries but is also a good marketing tool for the business.

This is one reason why former hotelier Tim Butterworth launched VirtualHotel by Cardola, a new solution for hotels. The service allows hoteliers to create a multi-functional app for their property which guests can download before, during or after the reservations process. The app makes it possible for guests to access a whole host of information relative to their stay, like where the nearest restaurants are in the area as well as make bookings for in-house services such as spa treatments. 

Butterworth believes the app, which integrates into existing hotel management systems, has benefits for both guests and staff.

He says: “Guests can get confirmation that everything has been arranged. They know when they can check in and can book a restaurant if they want. It gives the guest control, but it also frees up staff from taking requests or orders over the phone so they spend less time being the order-taker and more time delivering great service.” 

The idea of using technology to better inform customers before their arrival can be spread to restaurants and pubs too, as David Miller, head of UK Marketing at online reservations and marketing company Livebookings confirms.

"Customers have more choice when they book online. They can see that the restaurant offers a la carte or has a special offer when they book, whereas if they make a reservation over the phone they might not be told about all the options available to them." 

Advance orders

Giving the customer peace of mind about advance bookings was central to the creation of TellTheChef, an online tool that manages the collection of food and drink pre-orders.

Created by a restaurateur for restaurateurs three years ago, it allows group or party bookings to order food in advance of their visit online, removing the need for paper ordering.  

Once a booking is made, the customer is sent an email invitation to set up their guest list and place their meal orders online.  These choices are then sent directly to the kitchen where chefs can see the type and quantity of dishes needed for the day of booking.

While the system,which charges restaurants 10p for every meal ordered, helps chefs better plan for the event, it also allows the restaurant to print out menus, name cards and order sheets for guests to see, which ensures there are no quibbles on the day and allows the party organiser to relax and enjoy the event rather than worry about who ordered what.

So far 150,000 orders have been made through Tell the Chef with the businesses, who include Malmaison and Company of Cooks, using it saying it can remove the headache associated with dealing with large parties, particularly during the busy festive season.

"Having spent hours trying to collect pre-orders, TellTheChef came as a welcome relief. I would recommend it to any business that has an advance food order process for parties,” says Michelle Frankgate of Guildford pub The Albany.

Changing habits

If you are unconvinced that customers are using the internet as the first contact with your business, take a look at these statistics from Livebookings. The online reservations and marketing specialist seated more than 15 million diners last year, four million more than the previous year and with the emergence of smartphones and tablet devices it warns that businesses who don't adapt their systems to the latest trends could suffer. 

"The big thing for us is the shift from people searching on laptops to mobile," says Miller. "In 2011 13 per cent of bookings were from smartphones, but earlier this year that figure had shot up to 34 per cent.

"So to better cater for the shift, we have provided a new facility that changes itself depending on the device the consumers use, so it will change its format depending on whether you are looking at it on a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone and fill the space accordingly."  

Paying attention to where people are going online is also key to being able to provide a better service. Guestline, the hotel management and distribution system offers a Facebook booking module as well as an online booking module for a hotel's own website. 

Richard Webb, owner of The Grand hotel in Lytham St. Anne’s, Lancashire, says he saw online bookings rise 70 per cent after adopting Guestline's online booking module which allows guests to book in real time via the website or its Facebook page

“I wanted a way of capturing the online demand without being compared with competitor hotels or having to pay any OTA commission fees," he says. He agrees it also makes life simpler for the guest. 

"With visible shoulder rates, the customer has the full picture of what’s available right in front of them. From there it’s an undemanding, one page booking form – an altogether more user-friendly approach, and guaranteeing we convert looks to books."

Facing the future

As we've seen, technology is constantly evolving, as are consumer habits, so as Rupert Gutteridge, group sales and marketing director at Guestline warns, your business will need to evolve too if it wants to keep its competitive edge, 

He says: “Advancements in hotel management technology have greatly affected all stages of a customer life cycle from booking accommodation to checking out. Hoteliers need to consider these rapid changes in consumer behaviour and make a decision, not only on whether to simply use technology to manage this life cycle, but rather on how to utilise the management tools at their disposal to impact and influence the life cycle instead. 

“No one knows what the future will bring, but it is safe to say if technology continues to advance at such a rapid rate, we will soon be seeing a myriad of new platforms for managing customers. When this happens, hoteliers must embrace the new technology – investing in technology now means a hotel can dramatically increase revenue in the long-term, ensuring sustainable success.” 

Find out tomorrow how technology can improve the customer experience during their visit. For all our articles on hospitality technology click here

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