Skift Take

Personally — while Virgin Atlantic may disagree with us — wearing a smartwatch is preferable to donning a Google Glass, and we have a feeling hotel staff members would agree, too.

When guests check into the Viceroy L’Ermitage Beverly Hills in California, they shouldn’t be surprised to find members of the hotel staff, from housekeeping and maintenance to the bellmen, all sporting the latest Samsung smartwatches on their wrists.

That’s because the hotel is using those smartwatches as part of a strategy to improve the overall guest experience and deliver better customer service.

These Samsung Gear S3 watches, which were developed by Samsung SDS and hospitality technology platform provider ALICE, enable hotel staff to manage guest requests and resolve incidents more quickly and efficiently, without necessarily having to carry around a bulkier solution, such as a walkie-talkie or a phone, and without having to use disruptive radio communications that aren’t nearly as private. Alerts are also bilingual in English and Spanish.

Examples of guest incidents that can be more easily addressed with the smartwatches include fulfilling urgent guest requests such as a request for more towels or a request to fix a broken toilet. Staff members wearing the watches can receive silent vibration alerts on their wrist and respond to them by accepting the task via the smartwatch. Management can track all the tasks in real time to make sure the requests are fulfilled in a timely manner.

The development of this new hotel staff technology tool came about 10 months ago when Viceroy Hotels approached Samsung about the possibility of adding ALICE’s hotel operations technology to Samsung’s smartwatch.

“We asked ourselves, ‘How do we improve responses to guest requests ta the hotels and try to be less intrusive about it?'” said Darren Clark, vice president of technology for Viceroy Hotels & Resorts.

The pilot officially began last week and already, Clark is noting some key metrics in terms of responses to guest requests.

“On average, it takes three to four minutes for employees to receive and respond to a request, but now with the smartwatch it’s only 60 seconds on average to get the request,” he said. “It’s a big improvement on response times.”

Customer Service Use Cases for Smartwatches

This isn’t the first time that a travel or hospitality company has tested out the use of smart wearables to improve customer service. Virgin Atlantic tested out both Google Glass and a Sony smartwatch in 2014, but the airline actually found that the smartwatch wasn’t a good solution for providing better customer service.

Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger told Skift, “… We found with the watch that looking at your watch is the universal symbol for, ‘I’m bored with you.’ And it’s really not a very good customer service proposition for your customer service people to be telling your customers that they’re bored with them. The watch didn’t turn out to be good.”

The benefits of using a smartwatch versus a phone or tablet, ALICE creative director Sean Cohen, have a lot to do with maintaining eye contact, however.

“In a hotel, an enormous number of people have to do two things at once — they need to have their hands free and available,” Cohen explained. “And the definition of being hospitable and making eye contact and smiling are difficult to do when you’re looking at a smartphone.”

Viceroy’s Clark also said that he believes hotel staff will merely “glance” at the alerts so they won’t be looking at them nearly as often or for as long as they would be if they were using a tablet or a smartphone.

Restauranteur Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group gave Apple Watches to the managers and sommeliers of his Union Square Café Restaurant when it reopened in 2017 in an effort to help them better manage reservations. The technology, which was provided by restaurant technology platform Resy, was also designed to act as a customer revenue management system or loyalty program of sorts, storing data on diners.

While wearables such as smartwatches have been around for a number of years, it’s only until fairly recently that sales of the products have taken off with consumers. Research firm CCS Insight said it expects 71 million smartwatches will be shipped out in 2018, and that 140 million will be sold by 2022. In 2017, sales of the Apple Watch increased by 60 percent to a total of 16 million devices sold.

When asked why ALICE developed this technology with Samsung, versus, say Apple, Cohen said that it was primarily because Samsung is so invested in developing technology products for the hospitality space such as smart TVs and hotel Wi-Fi solutions.

Looking Ahead

The cost of giving smartwatches to hotel employees versus giving them tablets or smartphones is also less, Cohen noted.

“Watches don’t have to run on Wi-Fi — they have service agreement like phone would and they are less expensive because they only give you a limited amount of information at a time,” he said. “From a cost perspective, you can give everyone a watch for price of two to three pairs of Google Glass.”

ALICE president Alex Shashou said that while they haven’t yet developed the enterprise pricing for this technology just yet, the costs of utilizing this technology aren’t expensive, relatively speaking. The watches themselves retail for $279 each, while the cost of a radio is $750 each.

Shashou said that this tool also “opens up” the operations platform to bellmen and valet staff who are often located outside of Wi-Fi zones. If a hotelier wants to make sure these staff members can use the phones, they can add a phone plan that would probably cost only $10 a month.

Viceroy plans to test the Samsung smartwatches first at its Beverly Hills hotel over the course of the next six to eight weeks, and then eventually roll out the technology to the rest of its 14 other hotels, with plans to continue to evolve the technology.

“We may add voice communication from the smartwatch to different departments to eliminate radios,” Clark said, “as well as add the ability to receive guest messages to see the requests directly.”

Samsung and ALICE will make the technology available to hotels later this summer, and they plan to showcase the smartwatches at the upcoming Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference in Houston next week.

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Tags: alice, samsung, viceroy

Photo credit: Samsung and ALICE have developed a smartwatch for the hospitality industry intended to make it easier for hotel staff to respond to guest requests. ALICE

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