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HOTELS & TOURISM | Contributed Content, Singapore
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Arthur Kiong

Are smart technologies the future employees for customer experience?

BY ARTHUR KIONG

How did you reserve your most recent hotel booking? Did you call the hotel’s front desk, or did you power up an app on your mobile to book your stay? If your answer is the latter, you reside with 52% of Singaporean users who make travel plans through their mobile devices. 

Digital innovations today are changing the way our guests engage with brands, not only in Singapore, but around the world. As technology becomes more embedded in our users’ habits, hotels too are implementing smart innovations in their operations to stay relevant to guests and ahead of competition in the global market. These innovations unlock new opportunities for hoteliers to cater to evolving guests’ preferences. However, as beneficial as these smart innovations are, businesses need to regard them as tools that help our operations, not as an employee.

Supporting Singapore’s hospitality industry as a global player
Today, Singapore is leading digital travel trends on a global scale. In fact, it is expected to be one of the largest digital travel market in the world by 2020.

Smart technology implementations are a key industry-transformation factor in accommodating the growing number of various traveller profiles in Singapore. In 2017, Singapore was the 5th most internationally visited city in the world, ranking 2nd for all of Southeast Asia. With international visitors only expected to grow in the upcoming years, Singapore’s hoteliers must leverage modern digital innovations not only to stay ahead in competition, but also to help everyday operations.

Smart technology is a necessity to enhance customer experience
Artificial intelligence and robotics can take off routinely tasks from employees. For example, programmed 24-hour chatbots can answer any queries about the hotel, whilst robots, or “e-butlers”, have the functionality to deliver room service and perform simple tasks. Other technologies include the integration of a cloud-based solution that facilitates processing of guests’ requests or tracking of daily room assignments. These innovative implementations will bring efficiencies to the workforce, by freeing team members’ time to interact more with guests, address complex issues and timely fulfil guest requests.

Another benefit of artificial intelligence is data analytics. Chatbots, online bookings, social media engagements all provide insights to guests’ preferences. This is an essential element for hoteliers as a growing number of today’s travellers seek personalised stays. Data collected from smart technology allows hoteliers to know whether guests are travelling for business or with a family, checking-in late at night due to a late flight or if they prefer a quiet corner room. These sets of information can be constantly tracked, helping the hotels offer customised services to new or returning guests.

Technology cannot replace empathy
Nevertheless, as helpful as these smart technologies are, they lack two things – emotion and insight. Even though personalisation is a driving factor, customers still prefer a human interaction, everywhere. In fact, 73% of consumers still seek customer service with a human touch.

Take for instance a scenario when a guest is looking for the best local food around. Through artificial intelligence, a robot can gather information from the web and recommend the best reviewed restaurant that is near the hotel. However, if the guest asks the same question to a local concierge, his answer will be different. Through his personal experience, the concierge will be able to recommend a hidden char kway teow hawker stall that cooks with a recipe passed down through generations. The concierge will also continue to recommend that the guest visits the neighbouring stall that sells a specialty lime juice that pairs impeccably with the char kway teow.

This sort of human touch is a skillset irreplaceable by robots. Smart technology functions through digital coding and programming, but they cannot provide the emotional interactions that help create memorable experiences for our guests.

Smart technology is not hospitality
Whilst it is undeniable that the hospitality industry needs smart technology to resolve some of the industry challenges and help us stay relevant to changing guests’ preferences, it needs to work with our processes in order to drive the experience that we want to offer guests. This is why smart technologies are the perfect business tools for hoteliers. Until technology can empathise and impart the human touch, they will always be assistants that work alongside our team members.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Arthur Kiong

Arthur Kiong

Arthur Kiong is the Chief Executive Officer of Far East Hospitality, which is part of Far East Orchard Limited, a listed company under Far East Organization.

Having joined Far East in July 2012, Mr Kiong has provided key leadership in growing the organisation’s hospitality property development and management business through joint-ventures and acquisitions. Over the last 6 years, Far East Hospitality's portfolio grew from 18 properties in Singapore to over 90 properties across Australia, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, New Zealand and Singapore.

Over the last 30 years of his career, Mr Kiong has worked internationally for some of the most prominent brands in the hotel industry including Westin, Hyatt, Mandarin Oriental and The Ritz-Carlton. He brings deep and broad experience across all aspects of the hospitality business from operations to marketing and business development.

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