In a contactless world, the vast majority of interactions with customers and employees must take place virtually. With rare exception, operating digitally is the only way to stay in business through mandated shutdowns and restricted activity. It’s go digital or go home.
A reality check
The pandemic has been a reality check for businesses reluctant to embrace digital transformation; they now find themselves woefully unprepared. On top of the stress of potentially health-compromised employees, a sudden and dramatic drop in demand and total economic uncertainty, these digital laggards are now scrambling to migrate their operations and workforce to a virtual environment. While fast and furious is the name of the game when it comes to digital innovation, fast and frantic can lead to mistakes.
As organizations recover, it is essential to keep an eye on the future to consider which changes wrought by the crisis will constitute the “next normal.” Technology leaders who are able to get ahead of these shifts will help their organizations thrive beyond the near and intermediate terms.
Three longer-term priority areas represent a good start:
• Reimagine customer experience by focusing on human-centered design
• Bridge the physical and digital worlds to deliver new value
• Establish trust as a key business value
There are countless examples of new ways of working that have been enabled as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.
Here are some examples related to the hospitality sector.
In the service delivery process, service robots assist frontline staff in a sequence of service encounters. For instance, robot concierges assist employees with guest greetings upon arrival, transporting luggage, guiding guests and delivering room service. Empowered by pre-programed AI and machine learning systems, service robots can effectively respond and interact with guests, even in multiple languages.
While robots make significant contributions to operational efficiency, they also raise concerns. Service robots are still novel in hospitality. Their ability to cope with unexpected, dynamic conditions still has to be fully explored. If guests do not follow the pre-set route, service robots may fail to respond, which can lead to a service failure.
Over the past few years, the hospitality industry has witnessed the rise in virtual reality (VR). Considering the intangible features of the hospitality experience, VR can make a huge difference in a customer’s booking experience. Through the digitally accommodated environment, customers can have a much clearer sense of what to expect. One example of a VR application is the virtual tour video, which offers guests a realistic look inside a property. By simply clicking the mouse or wearing a headset, guests can experience a digital walkthrough, with a 360-degree view, and even see the layout of the rooms in a hotel. This not only offers customers a chance to experience the property prior to booking, it also allows the hospitality business to benefit from the “try before you buy” marketing strategy.
Unlike VR, which puts customers in a completely virtual environment, augmented reality (AR) is about enhancing the physical environment and the experience of exploring one’s surroundings in real time. The technology operates by overlaying digital components into a live picture of reality, which can be easily accessed through a smartphone.
Internet of things (IoT)
In the hospitality industry, IoT provides integrated services, such as automated door locks, light switches, electric blinds and voice-assistant devices, which are connected on a network. These allow customers to control or monitor their devices from a central server, such as a mobile phone or a tablet.
Hospitality industry players have already begun using IoT to improve their businesses and shape customer experience through operation efficiency and personalization. For example, customers can use their mobile phones to complete self check-in and check-out. Hilton already offers the option of digital check-in via mobile devices, whereby customers can use electronic key cards or mobile room keys embedded in mobile phones to open their room.
Security is a fundamental issue in the digital transformation of all industries, including hospitality. Since digital technologies, such as AI and IoT, are highly connected, they are prone to hacking. Also, the broad connection of various devices brings vulnerability to digital networks. For example, problems in a simple connected device may cause damage to other connected devices and even the entire network. Thus, hospitality managers must prepare for the security implications of digital transformation, which can be accomplished by adopting high security technologies to reduce software vulnerabilities, building resources to mitigate risk of cyber-attacks and training employees on cyber-attack prevention.
Digital content streaming, entertainment and the gaming sectors are well positioned to unlock the opportunities offered by technology. The need for these sectors to stay relevant is key, with over 50 percent of global media and entertainment executives saying they can no longer rely on traditional business models. Virtual reality will become more commonplace as the price of data becomes more affordable and infrastructure is adapted to enhance experiences.
DR. JASSIM HAJI
Global Artificial Intelligence Group