The Hawaii hospitality industry continues to evolve through an unprecedented transformation over the past three years. In this fascinating evolution, new innovating technology is replacing people. How will this work in terms of customer satisfaction?
Why customer service in Hawaii travel is dead.
Following Covid, we saw that hotels, airlines, and other parts of the industry could not replace workers who had quit or been laid off, even when the business wanted to. The staffing shortages are severe and unending. Not only that, but the cost of retaining hospitality workers has continued to rise steeply. With an industry unable and probably unwilling to provide traditional customer service as we once knew it, something had to give.
Outrigger, a once traditional Hawaii hotel brand started in 1947, is heading in a new direction that uses technology to replace face-to-face interactions. The company was founded by architect Roy Kelley, who worked on many of Honolulu’s iconic buildings, including the old Halekulani Hotel and the former Waikiki Theater. In the 1960s, Kelley bought the old Outrigger Canoe Club Queen Emma’s estate and built the famed Outrigger Waikiki. Then came Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, and, fifteen Hawaii properties later, the rest is history.
Oracle said that 73% of us are likelier to pick hotels with self-service technology.
At the same time, they reported that 38 percent still wanting an entirely self-service model. Outrigger is an early adopter of new technologies coming to the rescue of an industry lacking customer service. The company is implementing technology to provide immediate customer service contact points via guests’ smartphones. That includes making changes to reservations, checking the status of reservations, obtaining a room refresh, getting fresh towels, or requesting a late check-out, among other things.
The Outrigger team will be able to connect with guests in real-time. That’s true no matter the method guests prefer, from texting, web chat, web apps, Facebook, and WhatsApp. A side benefit is that it doesn’t matter what language a guest chooses since translation is a natural part of the new digital communication.
Another benefit is that guests’ data can easily be gathered and analyzed. How many guests requested a late check-out or additional towels, and at what point in their stay did those requests occur? That helps hotels plan in advance for what guests are likely to want.
Other helpful features include weather updates, notifications of changes to restaurant hours or other amenities, and all other guest updates. Outrigger said, “We understand that first-class technology with a human touch plays a critical role.”
Question: would you rather get a foreign call center or speak with a chatbot?
For us, it’s a toss-up. One large vacation rental management company we know moved all their customer service and reservation agents to a Philippine call center. We’ve spoken with them, and it wasn’t great. You also know of our recent experiences with the Hawaiian Airlines call center in the Philippines, and it simply wasn’t good either. Read $700 Fare Change On “No-Change-Fee” $100 Hawaii Airfare.
There’s no doubt that customer service in Hawaii travel isn’t what it used to be. Following the great resignation, the entire industry is just trying to keep its head above water.
Technology solutions replace time-proven customer service.
Hawaii hotel company Outrigger, with 15 locations in four islands, is taking the lead in this area and has decided that the way to solve the lack of customer service dilemma is primarily to replace it. Their goal is to improve guest communications, improve efficiency, and provide a new high-quality guest experience.
Outrigger said, “The marriage of technology and travel has become paramount. Our growth and development strategy incorporates technology for both our guests and hosts as well as front- and back-end operations. This provides an ease in interaction while enhancing the guest experience.”
Our take: There’s no one to call. Customer service is dead, but we’ve still got you covered 24/7. Your editors have experienced high-quality hands-off hotels before and, honestly, the experience wasn’t bad. But how will it work here in Hawaii?
How does the human touch remain with an all-technology solution?
Can an industry founded on high-touch customer service succeed in a new all-technology paradigm? We’d say, as long-term technologists, that it won’t be easy, and there are bumps in the road ahead.
Our suggestions on technology customer service:
1. Use video communication as frequently as guests desire. When some anonymous chatbot can’t meet the guest’s expectations, Hawaii travel companies should make it fast and easy to go face to face with guests online.
2. Mu;ti-channel, easy-to-use customer service wherever guests want. Companies must be where guests are, no matter the technology they prefer. Some travel companies and Hawaii-centric airlines do great on Facebook direct messaging and Twitter, for example. But what about guests who don’t use those? Does your hotel have a FAQ section online? What about forums or a knowledge base? These are great adjuncts.
3. Email is waning; real-time is gaining. Guests don’t want to send an email without any idea when it will be responded to. They want to know that they are immediately being taken care of.
4. Don’t go too far, too fast. Chatbots can occasionally be helpful, but they are often frustrating. Make it frictionless to get from the help that doesn’t work for a guest to help that does. A balanced approach is indicated.
5. We like check-in kiosks and digital locks for hotels and vacation rentals. It’s great to check in at our convenience, unattended. But when it doesn’t go as expected, we want to have help nearby.