January 29, 2015

The unexpected effect of technology in the hotel employee-guest exchange


A new Cornell study examines the interaction of high tech and high touch at a hotel front desk and explains how technology can improve guest satisfaction while also maintaining the connection between employees and guests.

Hotels, restaurants, and other hospitality industry operations are experimenting with self-service kiosks, tablet devices, and other technologies intended to augment or replace interactions between guests and front-line employees.

While the combination of technology and people is designed to improve service, research suggests that service technologies can impede development of employee-guest rapport and lead to lower service evaluations.

The studies presented in this report apply social equity theory to determine when (and why) technology can improve guests’ satisfaction with the service process and when it diminishes the guest experience.

Equity theory suggests that when the use of technology prevents guests from responding to an employee’s friendly advances, guests experience psychological tension and decrease their evaluations of the service experience. The reverse situation also applies, so that when employees are less than friendly the barrier created by technology increases service evaluations by reducing guest anger.

However, it is not always the case that friendly frontline staff and technology don’t mix. In a follow up field experiment, guests who used a Monscierge touchscreen system located not far from a bell stand preferred interacting with the technology when a hotel employee was nearby though not directly engaging guests. Thus, frontline employees should still develop a rapport with guests, but when technology acts as an “equity barrier,” the employees should provide guests with “social space,” without abandoning them entirely.

Download the study at Cornell University (free registration)

Read also "Cornell study highlights customers' role in service quality" at Cornell University