The Guest Experience Stalemate

Hospitality companies are continually evolving to rely on automated processes and technology to enhance the guest experience.  Online reservations have been in place for several years now, but more and more hotels have automatic check-in kiosks.  The in-room TV is now a place for guests to order room service, request housekeeping supplies, book excursions and shows, etc.  Wake-up calls are automated.  Welcome notes are mail merged and emailed instead of hand written and hand delivered.  Will we ever reach a point where the guest experience is completely devoid of human staff contact anymore?

This Harvard Business School article draws an interesting parallel in describing how a chess supercomputer initially surpassed the best human players through superior calculations and never overlooking any possibilities of moves.  But the takeaway of the article is that when average humans played a game with the help of a typical laptop, they always beat the strongest chess opponents, virtual or human.

Through a well-defined set of standards and processes, the average human players were able to ‘coach’ their regular laptops into making calculations that were relevant; this beat the brute force approach of the supercomputer trying every possible combination, and, even more surprisingly, the strongest human chess world champions.  The article shows that human intuition and creativity, with the help of basic technology, was far superior to a machine designed to kill all human opponents or the best grandmasters of chess.

We do look forward to the day when machines can allow guests to skip the check-in process entirely and grant access to the guestroom through biometrics.  However, the human element needs to be present to fully leverage the technology.  When guests encounter issues with their stay, they need the human touch to provide service recovery, warmth, and care.  No technology can effectively replace humans, but the combination of a typical human, an okay machine, and a strong set of standards and processes can be deadly, leading the innovation of the guest experience into the next big thing in hospitality.

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