The Human Touch in Hospitality Customer Service

Technology is fast becoming integrated into all aspects of our lives. From in-home automation to one-touch retail, we are seeing the life experience be enhanced by tech that takes jobs off our hands, makes processes more efficient and allows the user experience to be as seamless as it has been to date. In retail, technology has been disruptive. It’s taken the shopper out of the store and forced brick-and-mortar retail to rethink how they bring their customers in and how they create a point of difference to ensure that physical centres are still worth visiting. Food and other leisure-based concepts (i.e. cinemas, activity parks) have become a major part of this ‘rethink’ with many retail centres repositioning themselves to include destination-worthy dining precincts for their customers to eat, drink and enjoy at before, during or after their shopping experience.

Four out of 10 people that go shopping say their primary reason is to eat and drink
— Andrew Phipps, head of retail research at property specialist CBRE

But, food and hospitality isn’t technology-proof. It may be less susceptible to the disruption that it has caused retail however, food and beverage businesses need to balance themselves on a fine line to ensure that they are giving their customer the most seamless transaction possible using the technology that people refer to on a daily basis (i.e Apple Pay, online ordering services, review websites) without losing that human factor of hospitality, a major component of a memorable experience. This means providing some integration of technology but not too much that the face-to-face interaction is no longer valid. Technology in food and hospitality should be about enhancing the face-to-face customer service experience, not losing it it all together. 

A daily chat to a barista is often one of the most loved parts of the day - image via  Wandering Office

A daily chat to a barista is often one of the most loved parts of the day - image via Wandering Office

CSIA explained that an office building implemented a piece of technology that time-poor office workers could use to order coffee and have it brought to their desk, omitting the human touch of the transaction completely. The uptake of this technology was relatively low highlighting that office workers enjoyed the 2-minute break that they got when they headed down to chat to their barista and that it wasn’t just about the coffee. This is a simple example of what people value when it comes to their food and beverage experience - it’s not just about the food or drink in their hand but about the social interaction and the service. 

Food and beverage businesses as well as the brick-and-mortar precincts in which these dining hubs reside need to think carefully about how valuable the human factor is for creating a point-of-difference for their businesses whilst also understanding the ways in which technology can enhance it. We’ve already seen technology’s ability to offer a more personalised experience, remove ordering congestion and enable live updates to provide better service outcomes, taking away aspects of the food and beverage experience that the customer typically does not enjoy. Google has even added a plug-in to their search service which allows customers to see live wait times at their favourite restaurants as well as see the best time to visit across the week for those who don’t like to put their name down on a waiting list. 

Google's new service giving customers access to live wait times - image via Fone Arena

However, when a customer would like help with the menu, making a reservation or simply has a few questions to ask, the staff member who stands at the frontline of your business and provides the customer with the human factor is the one who will make the food and hospitality experience memorable. This is because humans, unlike technology, can anticipate customer needs, show empathy and react to body language and tone. A well-trained hospitality staff member will react to the customer’s needs leaving the customer feeling understood and completely looked after. How many times has your waiter or waitress wowed you to the point that it is the memory that remains strongest long after you left the restaurant? This is because emotion enhances our ability to remember and great customer service evokes a positive emotional experience. 

So, if you’re a food and beverage operator or a manager of retail precinct that is unsure about the role technology plays in the success of your business, know this - technology is powerful as a tool that can refine a purchasing experience to make it easier on the customer. But, the fundamental components of a memorable hospitality experience come down to the person that greets you, serves and leaves you feeling positive long after your meal has finished. 


Credits - cover image via impos