, Singapore

Transforming service in Singapore's hospitality industry through technology

By David Topolewski

As you enter into the CBD from Changi Airport, most visitors, myself included, are amazed at the sheer number of quality hotels that dot Singapore's skyline. From the fabled opulence of The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore with its 4,200-piece contemporary art collection, to the smaller but no less luxury boutique properties such as Sofitel So in Telok Ayer, with one of the best rooftop bars in the city.

This is in many ways a reflection of Singapore's economic success, yet as many a business traveller will attest, while Singapore is a world-beater in many things, providing world-class customer service is not one of them. In fact, the City-State's Prime Minister himself, Lee Hsien Loong, has admitted that "Ask any tourist or even a Singaporean which country has good service, (and) I don't think Singapore comes immediately to mind."

An embrace of globalisation has helped lift Singapore from a sleepy fishing village into a global financial hub. Its citizens enjoy one of the highest GDPs in the world and its efficient public transport system and supportive public housing ensure even the poorer segments of society are able to live and travel freely. However, Singapore is also exposed to the downsides of being so open to the global economy, the most obvious of which is the need for its citizens to compete with workers from around the world.

This has in turn lead to a backlash, prompting the government to impose restrictions on the hiring of foreign workers – especially those in the highly visible service sector. This then increases manpower costs, as companies have a smaller pool of workers to choose from.

Hotels in Singapore are caught in a sticky situation. Either they spend more on hiring the right employees – a tough ask in an economy where working in hotels is not a priority amongst young graduates, especially with the shiny towers of Marina Bay Financial Centre luring them in – or they cut back on staff and accept lower guest satisfaction for the sake of increased revenue.

Unfortunately, investor and shareholder pressure means that many hotels choose to cut back on hiring the right numbers of service staff. This conundrum is typical of developed economies, but rather than simply accept higher costs and poorer service as a fact, hotels should look to technology to improve service levels sustainably, and affordably.

The good news is that the new generation of business (and leisure) traveller is now more used to, and accepting of, technology. The majority of Millennials now value speed and convenience over personal contact, they judge the quality of a hotel as much by the time it takes to enter the lobby and be in their room, than by the friendliness of the service staff.

Top hotels are now installing self-service check-ins and allowing guests to check out and pay via their mobile phones. At Hotel Jen Orchardgateway Singapore – to redefine the hotel experience for today's new generation of travellers – they have installed an interactive touchscreen TV at the lobby, called the Monscierge that provides all the information you will need to know about the hotel and the activities around.

You can even send a personalised postcard via the Monsceirge, which is loaded with 20 different international languages. All these initiatives free up service staff to concentrate on the key needs of the guest.

The most significant impact technology can have on service levels, though, occurs out of sight from the guest. Mobile learning has the power to transform the way employees are trained, improving the quality of guest service at a fraction of the cost of traditional training programs.

It is hard to walk down a street in Singapore without noticing someone on his or her smartphone. Singapore enjoys one of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the world (87% penetration rate, equal to Hong Kong). The majority of hospitality employees are young, and are more used to reading and learning from a screen than from a book.

Mobile learning is thus much more efficient at training large numbers of employees than traditional classroom methods – employees can learn on the MRT to and from work, during a lunch break, or before bed.

Pedagogical advancements in mobile learning has meant that mobile learning solutions can now teach employees new languages (Mandarin is becoming increasingly important to Singapore's hoteliers thanks to the rise in the Chinese traveller), teach them to upsell and teach them vocational skills such as how to serve a guest correctly, how to pour wine, etc.

Mobile learning has been proven to provide better results than traditional learning techniques, at significantly lower costs. The result is employees who are more confident and capable, better service at lower cost, and higher guest retention – and a better bottom line for the hotel.

While robot butlers and self-service check-in will play a role, there is no replacing competent customer service. Rather than be resigned to providing poorer guest service, hoteliers in high-cost, developed nations such as Singapore should wake up to the power of mobile and apply it to this new era of hospitality.

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