Goodbye, Front Desk

It’s becoming clear that one consequence of the mobile revolution is that marketers have come to realize that good marketing can mean less human interaction in some cases. And it is typically those situations where human interaction is perceived as a negative in developing product or brand loyalty.

Take the hotel check-in. Especially if you’re part of a group, it means a long line, the ritual turning over of a credit card and stamping out of keys. Now many hotel operators are working to eliminate that front desk experience (while always leaving the option for some human interaction if the customer wants it.) Upscale – and hip – hotels like Miami’s Faena and 11 Howard in New York’s Soho neighborhood have given up front desks altogether and allow guests to check in the way they want to – via tablet when they are picked up at the airport, on their phones on the way to the property or via self-service when they arrive. 

“As a community hub that reaches out across all barriers in one of the world’s most open neighborhoods, we wanted to make the guest experience at our hotel completely open and completely mobile,” said Anis Khoury, general manager of 11 Howard. “Our mission is to serve guests wherever they would like to interact with us, in ways that give them complete freedom of choice – whether they are checking in via tablet prior to arriving at the property, or extending their stay from the comfort of their room without even picking up the phone.

Leading the way toward the new front desk-less world are companies like StayNTouch, which was founded by Jos Schaap, a veteran of MICROS Systems, an Oracle division that is a leading developer of technology for the hospitality industry. Schaap says he realized the hotel industry was ready for disruption during a bike trip in Wyoming with his son. He noticed a waiter was using a tablet to take down their order. The order was not only collected on the tablet but also communicated to the kitchen at the same time.

He began to think about how mobile devices could be used to change the hotel experience – from checking in guests, managing back-of-the-house functions and paying the bill. Schaap sees it as similar to an Apple store where associates wander around the space to help customers rather than standing behind a desk. 

Schaap believes that the way hotels interact with guests should not be driven by what has traditionally made the most sense but by delivering personalized — if technological — service that meets and anticipates customer needs. That is hospitality. In fact, StayNTouch has created a suite of Cloud-based applications to connect guests with what Schaap sees as an antiquated property management system standard still clung to by what is an often-conservative lodging industry. The apps allow for: PMS-integrated mobile check-in and check-out; bill review; personal preferences; and a mobile/tablet software that enables staff to service guests anytime, anywhere.

It turns out I had personal experience with StayNTouch when I recently checked into the Yotel in New York and was asked by a check-in screen if I would pay $20 extra to check in early. I paid. Schaap says that people are more likely to agree to an upgrade when asked by a computer than by a human, who would only be seen as annoying in asking for additional fees. 

In the end, marketing is going mobile. That may not always mean dealing with actual humans but it would mean dealing with human behavior. And that means something that never changes: understanding what your customer wants — and delivering it.

3 comments about "Goodbye, Front Desk".
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  1. Pamela Danziger from Unity Marketing, May 16, 2016 at 11:19 a.m.

    Erica Jong in Fear of Flying (1973) coined the term "Zipless F*ck" which is exactly what I think of when I see hotels going mobile and forcing guests to DIY with electronic check in.  Hey, it's called the 'hospitality industry' and no computer terminal can deliver hospitality.  Just look at what has happened to the airlines -- another look back to 1973 when air travel was a luxurious experiences -- which now force us to check in for our flights before we even leave for the airport. We desparately need more people interaction and personalization in all aspects of our lives.  It would make the world an eminently better place.   

  2. Jos Schaap from StayNtouch, May 16, 2016 at 5:18 p.m.

    Hi Pamela, Thanks for our comment! I get your point. The idea of this story is that Hotels should be thinking to allow a choice of service, while you might like the experience of a front desk at checkin, others don't. By no means are we suggesting to remove the function of a front desk, but we do think that the physical disconnect that exists between guest and hotel staff, can be removed by having staff members using tablets to assist you with a check in or out, while others may take advantage of doing mobile check in, as they see that as their preferred way of interacting with the hotel. It's about maintaining connections with a guest and providing guest services without a physical front desk. 

  3. Melike Karaman from Protel, May 17, 2016 at 1:25 p.m.
    what might stop any hotel owner to employ one of these well equipped presantabl lady robots in the reception desk in the future when they become cheap enough :) 

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