The days where staff taking food, drink, meals, and newspapers to the hotel rooms could be considered part of the past. The days when the service delivery is slow and inconsistent could be also a history. Thanks to the new robotic technology.
The fast pace of technologies these days have offered service organisations many opportunities of high-tech interactive approaches, adding to or substituting the traditional role of human when serving clients. Using robots has gradually become a practice among different service sectors such as home cleaning, farming, nursery, medicine, and hospitality.
While the traditional front-desk approach of interaction is still the norm in the hotel industry globally, we start to witness some examples of hotels in Japan and other countries that have already initiated the idea of using interactive robots to serve their customers. Robots in hotels are used to provide guests with information, check-in and check-out services, reception services, storage services, room services, and tour services. Robots in hotels are also capable of interacting with customers and responding to their queries, thanks to artificial intelligence and voice recognition technologies. Robots can walk alongside guests, guiding them to the hotel’s different facilities, and updating them with information about the city and the hotel. They can also wonder around autonomously through the hotel’s different locations and facilities. Clearly, we are in an era where the use of robots to deliver services with no or little human touch become an increasing reality in the hospitality industry.
Despite the numerous possibilities of using robots in the service delivery process, it might also create a potentiality for disruption. While this technology is growing, it seems essential for marketing researchers to understand how customers would interact with robots. Will customers be reluctant to accept robotic technologies? Will customer satisfaction level decrease due to the lack of personal touch?
The shortcoming of eliminating or reducing the human touch when serving customers using robots in the hotels would raise the feeling of disconnectivity among customers especially when a high stressing issue arise. If the use of robots becomes popular on a large scale, customers’ loyalty to a hotel could be harmed. Robots might contribute very well to standardise services, reduce mistakes, and achieve a high level of service delivery consistency, but do they guarantee a high level of brand equity?
The answer depends on the image the hotel seeks. If the hotel is keen to be perceived as being innovative and technologically ahead from others, then the use of full-scale robots could be a good tactic in attracting customers. On the other hand, if the hotel wishes to be known with excellent human touch and care, then robots should be given less priority.
So the question remains open: Shall the hotels rush in adopting the robotic technology in their operation. The answer should be determined by current and future customers as well as the market trends.
Mohammad A Al-Hawari is an Associate Professor of Marketing at the College of Business Administration, University of Sharjah, United Arab of Emirates, while Faridahwati Mohd Shamsudin is an Associate Professor of Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour at the OYAGSB.