People Are The Driving Force Behind Personal Interaction! Aren’t They?

21 December, 2017
  • 9 min read
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Karoline Wiegerink, Research professor at Hotelschool The Hague and Director of Platform for Customer Centric Management: Imagine you are attending a convention abroad. You arrive at your hotel. The hotel robot’s voice recognition system recognises you and the reception screen welcomes you to the hotel. Your e-key has been activated, the interactive media unit in your room has already turned on your favourite music, and your preferred channels appear at the top of the list. Menu suggestions that take your diet preferences into account as well as your personalised city map are ready for your review. Thanks to VR, your room has a relaxing ocean view. Did you forget your toothbrush? No problem! Simply print one in your room. And, your virtual butler is available to answer all your questions... Pleasantly surprised and happy? Do you feel at home? Or is there something else you would like?

Technology is making its mark on customer relationships at a dazzling speed. We are on the cusp of the era of artificial intelligence, hyper-personalised offers, chatbots, VR-AR and the Internet of Things, not to mention personal assistants like the Amazon Echo, which are becoming full service platforms. Fast, efficient, easy, 100 percent relevant to you, accessible via all channels 24-7... The sky is the limit! And, what about consumers? They will get used to it. Requirements and expectations in this area are growing as the technology improves. AI-powered service will become the new standard and it will not make people happy over time. Customers will not be loyal for long. So, how do you make sure your customers keep coming back? Customer delight is derived from attention and a friendly approach by people who are sincerely interested. They exceed expectations and surprise customers by going the extra mile. As a hotel visitor, you will be happy with a host who has a cheerful smile and a drink ready for you because he sees that you need it after a busy work day; or the bartender who shares special tips as a local with you, or the spontaneous conversation with another guest. People buy from people, people make other people happy. Studies show time and again that people are the differentiating factor. Whether it is the friendly bus driver, the welcoming attendant at the theatre, the helpful staff at the airport or, of course, shop personnel who are truly interested in helping you find what you are looking for... there is undeniable evidence that a human-to-human approach has a positive impact on the customer experience and on NPS!

You can really only make a difference with a people-oriented organisational culture in my opinion. Anchored in the core values based on the examples of the hotel world: ‘We put people first’ (Marriott); ‘We are all ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen’ (Ritz Carlton). People-oriented organisations not only focus on customer experience, they also focus on employee experience. The management agenda not only contains investments in high tech but also in high touch.
A pleasant working atmosphere in which employees want to go the extra mile; supporting empathy, social skills and interaction that is focused on customer delight. There is still a lot more work to be done in this area. And it is certainly faster than to continue waiting for the emotional intelligence of a robot!

Technology will change personal interaction exponentially. Hotel reception desks and shops will not be staffed, AI and machine learning will replace human tasks. However, when it comes to personal interaction with customers, people are still the differentiating factor. Applying the power of sincere interest works best human-to-human, believes Karoline Wiegerink RM. This is in part endorsed by Jeanine Dijkhuis RM, who also sees a role for digitisation and robotics.


Effective personal communication is also possible, and perhaps even better, if it is based on a team effort between man and machine. Why shouldn’t you take advantage of machine learning to improve your own product, process or customer approach? There are both functional and social aspects involved in serving customers. A robot arm that pours beer can pour more beers and at a faster rate, and perhaps no interaction is needed or desired at that moment. If you assume that customers in service or commercial oriented settings demand human interaction, that interaction must be based on sincere interest.  No artificial intelligence can compete with that. Sincere interest has never been a fair comparison to machines until now. Not all human communication actually occurs in a manner that both parties ultimately desire. Truly listening and empathising with the other person is not necessarily a given during each customer interaction, despite good training. Exceeding expectations is a monumental task. If man was always capable of helping the customer every time by physically recognising the customer’s needs, we would not see the trend of hiring customer experience managers who are tasked with the job of creating the ultimate customer service experience. Another consideration is the fact that not every customer values face-to-face contact.

Personalised communication based on information is not the same as just giving information. It is more than that: communicating with a personal tone of voice via non-human channels (e-mail, video etc.) whereby the offerings are based on forecasts, analyses and algorithms. The return on investment can be measured by the differences between an action group and a control group. Customer satisfaction can be measured after every interaction, which enables adjustments to be made to solve any problems. Even if communication is seen as nothing more than giving information, digitisation can guarantee the information communicated is relevant. Ease of use can ensure retention and loyalty. The machine will continue to get better at replacing people as time goes on. Digital channels and lead management systems are, even when automated, very capable of stimulating customised attention, interest and desire (AIDA), in particular in sub-processes that are part of the contact journey, such as when concluding a transaction. E-commerce purchases will be voice-operated in the future, machine-to-machine. The marketing and communications industry is also capable of optimising all touch points. Data and machines can be of great help so that insights gained from interfacing with large-scale data can contribute to personalised communication.

Interpreting data is just as valuable as recognising and interpreting non-verbal communication. The power of human communication mainly boils down to one person influencing another, the ability to attract the other person based on credibility. That is where you will find the power of communication. That challenge applies to every channel.

This article has been originally published on 31-12-2017 © Tijdschrift voor Marketing on pagina 13.

About the author

Hotelschool The Hague

Hotelschool The Hague was founded and funded in 1929 by the hospitality industry to create a central place where industry partners could gain and share new insight, skills and knowledge. Since its foundation, Hotelschool The Hague has become an international hospitality business school specialised in hospitality management, offering a 4-year Bachelor in Hospitality Management. This degree course is also available as the accelerated International Fast Track programme. Our 13-month MBA in Hospitality Management is designed to deliver the next generation of hospitality innovators.

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