Hoteliers are frequently exposed to marketers promoting the use of technology in hospitality – and the message usually focuses on the operational advantages of implementing the latest software or gadgetry – how it makes running the business a breeze, boosts profits, and frees up staff to concentrate on serving guests. Some hoteliers embrace the idea, while others are less confident, but it shouldn’t really matter what the hotelier thinks. It’s what the guests think that counts.
Before you go ahead and replace all your staff with technology, it might therefore be wise to first consider the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology, or UTAUT. It stands to reason that if you want to implement technological solutions but your guests don’t want to use them you’ll have a problem, so UTAUT aims to explain user intentions and usage behavior in advance, using four key constructs:
1) Performance Expectancy
2) Effort Expectancy
3) Social Influence
4) Facilitating Conditions
Performance Expectancy is a question of whether the technology is useful – does it perform a role the customer needs. One example would be the chatbot, which allows people to avoid other channels of communication such as actually talking to a member of staff. It might help if there are foreign languages involved, or if the guest is painfully shy, but for most people there is simply no need for chatbots. To date, the experience has hardly been seamless, and until artificial intelligence advances some distance from where it is right now, the technology probably doesn’t pass the usefulness test in the hospitality context, especially when guests are accustomed to the quality of services provided by professional humans.
Effort Expectancy is a measure of how much effort the guest must exert in order to use the technology. This will, of course, depend on the extent to which the guest is adept at using technology in general, and also on the design of the technology and the number of steps involved in downloading apps, logging in, setting up an account, and so forth. Regular customers may find it worthwhile, but for the casual customer, the more demanding types of technology will simply be ignored.
Social Influence is all about other people, whether they are using the latest technology, and whether they’ll be impressed if your guests give it a try. Unique new experiences confer social status, so exciting and novel ideas like virtual reality might inspire guests to step out of their comfort zone to experience something their friends haven’t yet tried, but unlocking doors with your phone is old hat.
Perhaps the most important of the four constructs, however, is Facilitating Conditions, since these can have the most direct impact on user behavior. Gender, age, and experience are the three main factors which can predict just how well a guest will handle the latest innovations.
Research has shown that the older guests become, the less likely they are to enjoy processing new or complex information – so following tech instructions becomes a chore for both the older customer and the staff who are obliged to rush to their assistance. Furthermore, it seems to be men who will persevere longer in attempting to overcome the obstacles to using technology, while women evidently have better things to do with their time. Since both women and older people are frequent users of hotels, their typical behavior patterns must be taken into consideration if a seamless experience is to be created.
Bearing the lessons of UTAUT in mind, and before adopting any new kind of technology, it would therefore be sensible for hoteliers to consider the following quick checklist to address the main concerns:
1) Relative Advantage: will the new technology be significantly better than what you’re currently doing?
2) Compatibility: will the new technology work well with the technology you already have? It’s inefficient and inconvenient if it doesn’t.
3) Complexity: You might understand the new system, but will it just confuse your staff and guests? It’s better not to complicate things.
4) Trialability: if you’re not sure about the first three points, it helps if you can try it out to find out – otherwise you’ll discover the drawbacks when it’s too late.
5) Observability: is it possible to watch others using the technology, and thereby learn from them?
6) Authority: do you have to implement this solution by law, or is it just something everyone else is doing?
7) Communication Channels: can people easily get information about this technology online or through other sources?
8) Social Factors: do people know about this technology? Have they heard about it from friends? Do they fear missing out if it’s not made available to them? Social connections can quickly help good technology to spread.
9) Change Agents: will those people who usually like to promote technology take a favorable view why you implement this? Do they think it’s worthwhile? If the experts and keen users don’t like it, chances are your guests and staff won’t either.
In summary, technology is great, but no matter how keen you might be to take the plunge, don’t forget that not everyone will be quite so eager – and they’re often the ones whose support you need if you want to succeed.