Ever since the travel bans have lifted the restaurant and hotel businesses have been trying to strike a balance between maintaining dining restrictions and sanitation expectations, while serving the same quality with reduced manpower. The hospitality industry has taken one of the hardest hits from the pandemic - forcing many businesses to adapt or fall behind the competition (or even go under altogether).

To boost agility and maintain continuity amid ongoing disruption, hospitality companies can turn to emerging technologies like automation and artificial intelligence, which can provide critical support in the face of stunted business and limited workforces and prepare them for a new normal.

However, with the ability to streamline workflows, increase efficiencies and improve the ways in which agents service guests, automation technologies are not only a solution for addressing pressing challenges resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak but also optimizing customer-facing operations in the long-term. Together, these capabilities work to free up hospitality workers to focus on the more personable activities that attract guests and drive the industry forward.

Here’s how automation can help get the hospitality industry back up and running in 2021 and beyond.

Promoting health and safety

It’s imperative the hospitality industry be capable of demonstrating its commitment to guests’ health and safety - a responsibility that automation can help them tackle. Software robots (the automation technology) can keep staff and guests safe by managing health screening data across locations.

Before guests arrive on the property, software robots can send out an online health survey to check whether guests have any symptoms of the virus and automate alerts or entries in the appropriate systems based on the responses. Alternatively, robots can be configured to regularly reach out to employees for their own health status. That information is then delivered to employers to monitor employee health.

Automation software can also be more involved in operations to ensure adequate supplies of PPE for staff and guests. To execute this, a robot may work with sensors and AI to record stock levels. A robot then captures, assembles and tracks the data for reporting and can automatically reorder when stockpiles are low.

It can also send a notification triggering a shipment order. With these robots in place, hospitality businesses can more conveniently meet new health and safety requirements without overburdening their employees so that they can instead remain focused on guest satisfaction.

Fostering a more manageable customer experience

As case counts swell and vaccine timelines remain uncertain for many, so too are post-pandemic travel plans, meaning guests are bound to amend their bookings in line with fluctuating travel restrictions. As a result, contact centers can expect to experience high fluctuations in the volume of guest inquiries, which can lead to long wait times for callers or low occupancy rates for the contact center.

Especially with many agents working remotely to stunt the spread of the virus, increases in workload may feel unbearable during this period, resulting in employee burnout at a time when business success is dependent on every employee working as efficiently as possible.

Automation gives contact center employees the tools to support increased demands outside of the traditional office setting. As a first point of contact, companies can deploy automation software to field guest inquiries across their channels (e.g., phone, email, online chat, etc.). These robots can either handle a task end-to-end depending on its complexity (e.g., producing a reservation invoice) or elevate it to an agent.

In instances when the engagement is elevated, the robot can then share the data it has collected with the agent so that they don’t have to spend time sourcing it or asking the guest themselves.

Similarly, robots can provide agents with next-best actions to support upselling and cross-selling opportunities (e.g., room updates, car rentals) so that they can boost the value of transactions already underway. Assisted by automation, agents can achieve guests’ goals and conclude the inquiry sooner, creating a more efficient and pleasant customer experience while enabling the agent to service more guests during their shifts.

Alternatively, robots can help companies manage inbounds upfront by capturing and presenting metrics such as the numbers of calls in the queue, which can help operators manage workloads by monitoring how many guests the agents are interfacing with. Then, automation can work to reduce the average call time by processing the manual aspects of the interaction, such as monitoring the call and taking notes, so the agent doesn’t need to spend minutes afterwards recapping what was discussed.

Supporting productivity under pressure

Beyond alleviating customer service wait times and backlogs, automation can drive efficiencies in back-office tasks to streamline cumbersome processes - an essential level of support as businesses combat internal pressures such as staff shortages.

To relieve busy employees of excess paperwork and unlock the engaging potential that makes them so valuable within the industry, hotels can automate tedious form processing, such as the way folios are generated. For example, instead of having hotel employees source guests’ details either from records on file or through communications, the guest can request a copy of their folio via a chatbot and automation software can capture this information and plug it into a designated format to share with the guest.

Because they allow for increased efficiency within the industry - benefitting guests and staff alike - automation technologies can drive value long after the pandemic subsides.

While many businesses may be accelerating their adoption of automation to offset the pressures of COVID-19, dynamic programs can be configured to address new demands as they emerge, so that companies can adapt quickly and position themselves for success no matter the circumstances.

(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in Phocuswire. The original article can be found at https://www.phocuswire.com/how-automation-can-facilitate-hospitality-recovery)