Hospitality 2.0: a hybrid of automated customer service and human contact?
Hospitality in its essence
The world seems to continue to reconfigure itself under the irreversible pandemic effect. 2020 was a critical turning point for all business sectors, especially for hospitality. Being a polysemous term, one should not only think of the disastrous effects on the industry. Yet, one should also consider the deeper meaning of the term ‘hospitality’. Hospitality symbolizes the simple and genuine relationship between the host and the guest, the ability to make someone feel welcome, to create a bond. It is essentially the main support for creating dialogue, trust, and long-term relationships with your customers regardless of the product/service you’re selling.
What do we see?
However, 2020 was about everything but creating bonds. Social distancing became the new norm and technology and automation were rapidly introduced to reduce inter-human touchpoints. As a result, hospitality as we all had been knowing it has been threatened. E-commerce and delivery services have started playing strong and driving sales greatly. Digital innovations have stepped more and more bravely into the spotlight and concepts such as ‘ghost kitchen’ and ‘grab & go’ stay at the core of new hospitality business models.
Will hospitality survive the transition to the online environment? Could we say that we are witnessing the development of a new hospitality ‘species’? Hospitality 2.0: a hybrid of automated customer service and human contact?
Certainly, the industry will not be the same. Hospitality as a practical philosophy (Jan Gunnarson’s ‘hostmanship’ theory) will adapt to the new world setting. It is a widely held axiom, that the rarer something becomes the more people place value on it. Thus, service providers who manage to successfully embed traditional hospitality in their customer relationship management will undoubtedly differentiate themselves in the market.
For example, online retail data shows that, in the first quarter of 2021, the expenditure of Dutch consumers in EU webshops increased by 63% compared to the same period last year. That is of course a considerably sized marketplace, however, the Dutch also occupy the first position in the EU when it comes to online returns (13%). In this sense, a customer service specialist listening and reacting empathically would significantly influence the result of the return process. As an outcome, the business will enjoy recurrent activity, increased levels of customer satisfaction and even customer loyalty.
In addition, looking at the popularity of experience retail, the ‘buy-online & pick-up in store’ services or VR shopping are both hospitality-dependent models. As a consequence, customers expect real assistance and care. Amazon Explore’s one-on-one VR retail allows Americans to virtually visit boutiques as far as Tokyo. This does not only require an attendant who has top skills in welcoming and treating people but is knowledgeable about cross-cultural communication and etiquette.
Beyond the private sector
Apart from the private sector, the art of welcoming is slowly becoming a valuable asset incorporated in public infrastructure. Governments and their customer relationship management have not enjoyed the best reputation over time. With the increase of globalization and work mobility, this factor is of major importance for ex-pats. And the reason is really clear. Cities that manage to integrate newcomers into their community by providing careful guidance and support will overshadow other less hospitable ones. Therefore, the new reference governments should consider is how hospitable the nature of their services is. Carefully designed on-boarding frameworks and accommodation support will instantly make certain cities/countries more attractive.
We believe that authenticity wins
It is irrefutable that society has been deeply wounded during this world crisis. As we emerge, the hospitality of empathy and compassion will be one of its most precious cures. From a business point of view, it will be the source to create profitable and viable customer relationships. As hospitality scholars call them, the ‘moments of truth’ are the guest-host contacts where the magic happens. Take care of them, make them authentic and you will thrive!
Kajola is dedicated to creating solutions for international hospitality and food start-ups. We’re devoted to making the hospitality and food scenes richer, more diverse and more rewarding for food lovers and experience seekers everywhere.