As the dust settles on the turbulence of the last two years, the hospitality industry finds itself in a time of evolution, risk, and enormous opportunity. In this new environment, customer experience (CX), or guest experience, is emerging as a singular area of importance and potential. Providing a spectacular, comprehensive guest experience – from a guest’s first interaction with a brand throughout the entire relationship – has become crucial.
A recent McKinsey article notes that those companies “that prioritize CX can gain loyalty, build resilience, and future-proof their business … companies that prioritize CX during a downturn stand to outperform their competition for years to come.”
For both restaurant and hotel customers, quality of service (as reflected in positive online reviews) remains a higher priority than technology features, reinforcing that the “human touch” is still at the heart of our industry, according to HT's 2021 Customer Engagement Technology Study.
Indeed, wise investment in CX is key for hospitality brands to survive and flourish in the post-pandemic era. And while product innovation, marketing, and loyalty programs are all in the mix of how a brand differentiates itself, nothing comes close in its impact than guest experience.
Consistency and operational excellence are critical for delivering a high-quality guest experience, and fortunately, brands today have access to more tools and smarter strategies to help them achieve it. So how do you ensure the right employees are doing the right thing, at the right time of the day? You do it through technology: nearly every task that gets done inside of a hotel or restaurant, from opening to closing, can be digitized, with employees playing an important role in the process.
Six Ways to Digitize CX
With that in mind, here are six ways hospitality businesses can digitize and optimize their guest experience:
1. Provide guest experiences that build brand loyalty and delight: deliver excellence with automation and assessments.
If you rely on pen and paper or cobbled-together spreadsheets for daily operations, consider digitizing procedure management and your internal routines. User-friendly apps can automate quality assessments and daily checklists to ensure the right people are doing the right thing in a consistent way. This empowers employees in front desk, food and beverage, and housekeeping roles to consistently create great guest experiences, and it can ensure proper training of staff, optimal efficiency in common areas, food quality and safety, clean and comfortable guest rooms, and more.
2. Build brand-wide excellence and efficiency: brand standards, policy management, quality assessment, and process automation.
Integrated policy management systems combined with regular audits and assessments–all monitored through convenient dashboards–allow your operations and human resources staff to define brand standards and observe location performances across the organization. This establishes a prescriptive rather than punitive approach: data can be viewed through a lens of corrective action and continuous improvement, and headquarters can determine if updated policies and standard operating procedures are necessary, if more training is needed, etc.
3. Deliver consistent, exceptional restaurant and in-room dining: digitize tools for quality, efficiency, and food safety.
Automation can have a significant impact on food safety programs. Digital checklists that align with brand and regulatory standards and daily routines can help keep restaurant or hotel food prep, service, and storage on track. Equipment like temperature sensors and IoT devices can be continuously monitored to guarantee food safety and service consistency. Opening (and closing) checklists can also be helpful – for example, a food service team leader may use a digital checklist to open the restaurant in the morning, ensuring that the line is up and running and ready for the breakfast rush, with later checks for food storage and handling, equipment cleaning, and maintenance, etc.
4. Streamline building and equipment maintenance, safety, and compliance with automated workflows: Uphold regulatory standards using automated workflows and policy management.
Your hotel and restaurant’s infrastructure and safety features – from water heating and sewage treatment to pool signage and fire extinguishers – are no place to take chances. Automated task delegation and digital checklists can help ensure guest safety when applied toward maintaining critical equipment according to specifications and verifying that all equipment meets full safety and regulatory compliance.
5. Maintain visibility, and control for rapid and confident decision-making: manage real-time dashboards, operational playbooks, performance reports
A hospitality brand’s quality field operations teams can connect more easily with franchisees, consultants, and auditors by streamlining and digitizing collaboration processes. Apps are able to provide dashboard visibility and give users the ability to respond quickly, throughout multiple locations and regions. Real estate development and construction teams can also leverage digital inspections and checklists to ensure new location openings are systematic and predictable.
6. Continue to innovate based on your organization’s needs.
Digital self-service tools allow for creativity and improvisation when needed. Our organization found that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, our restaurant, hotel, and grocery store clients shifted their operations and used technology in new ways – whether leveraging digital tools to conduct pre-shift employee wellness checks, moving to curbside pickup, or training and communicating new operating procedures and communicating that across locations. Many businesses also utilize digital technology for unexpected things like construction punch lists for new locations. Digitizing can give your brand the agility and ability to pivot quickly when needed, and push boundaries to use technology in new ways that serve your brand.
The potential of going digital with operations can seem overwhelming. But you don’t have to run, you can walk first: start by breaking down some programs you might like to digitize into sections, questions and activities. Schedule and deconstruct a day into parts and focus on the people and activities in those environments. It will take some time and learning, but it’s an investment that will quickly prove its worth.
The most important takeaway is this: committing to operational excellence – in service of a superior guest experience – will be incredibly impactful for your brand today, and well into the future.