By Erick Kobres
As technology innovations continue to transform every industry and job role in the United States, the service industry is certainly no exception. In fact, Gartner believes that artificial intelligence (AI) will create 2.3 million jobs in 2020 while only eliminating 1.8 million, for a net gain of half a million jobs added to American company payrolls.
In the hospitality and sales verticals, technology innovations, including customer relationship management (CRM) platforms and point-of-sale (POS) tools, have come a long way. Well before the term CRM was coined, salespeople would keep journals to track customer activity and acknowledge a sale through handwritten thank-you notes. Before POS systems, we had cash deposit boxes, followed by simple cash registers, then barcodes, mobile payments and now cloud-based technology.
Inevitably, the course of every industry will continue to evolve, incorporate and need more technology to be successful. AI is the next innovation poised to make an impact on hospitality. Many businesses will adopt intelligent machine automation, and by 2022, Gartner predicts that one in five workers engaged in mostly non-routine functions will rely on AI to do many of the humdrum tasks associated with their roles.
Only very recently have voice and natural language processing technologies advanced enough to truly interpret questions and deliver intelligent answers. Machine learning has allowed Siri and other voice platforms to get smarter. Custom voice programs are becoming even smarter and more intuitive, demonstrating the true ingenuity and potential of these hands-free options.
Humans in the hospitality industry won’t be fully replaced, though. By allowing a virtual assistant to manage everyday mundane tasks, such as taking simple food orders, humans can dedicate more of their precious time toward meaningful customer service interactions and tackling more complex issues with guests. We are already seeing large restaurant chains like McDonald’s moving to adopt this technology to build a more efficient and consumer-friendly model, ultimately helping customers accurately place and receive orders better and faster.
Businesses Should Be Leaders In Training Workers
In the next year or so, we should start to see the next round of enablement through voice assistants. Amazon has started to show us what is possible with Alexa and Alexa-enabled endpoints, and we’re finally getting closer to these opportunities with Siri. Although this type of purchase intent is already available through some early apps, we’re going to see it become ubiquitous.
While augmented reality (AR) has yet to become a prominent feature of most businesses, consumers should expect to see more adoption within the hospitality industry in the next few years. AR-powered signage can equip hotel and venue managers as well as restaurant owners with the ability to route customers to specific locations, including pickup or check-in points.
Some hotels are also using AR to make the hotel experience more compelling and thematic. For example, Holiday Inn devised an AR experience around the 2012 Olympics in the U.K. that enabled guests to view realistic, virtual representations of sports celebrities in the hotel by using their smartphones.
Restaurants are also taking advantage of AR promotions. Restaurant chain Bareburger recently ran a Snapchat contest, offering free food to people who scanned Snapcodes from their takeout bags. To redeem prizes, customers posted Snapchat stories featuring Bareburger AR images and then brought the Snapcode to the nearest Bareburger. The restaurant also ran an AR filter that allowed customers to access menu items in detail, effectively previewing their customized food order before placing it.
Biometrics is another key technology that is consistently improving and finding its place within many industries. Facial recognition has been well executed by Facebook, and Apple has shown that biometrics have proven consumer benefits with Touch ID and Face ID. In a hospitality context, we’re getting closer to seamless processes where consumers can authenticate a purchase without a phone or wallet, digital or otherwise. We’ve already seen frictionless use cases with proof-of-concept trials at Amazon’s physical store, Amazon Go, in Seattle and now additional stores are planned for Chicago and San Francisco. Microsoft is also planning to create its own version of Amazon Go.
The nature of biometric authentication allows for consistent and seamless customer transactions that enable users to leave right after a restaurant meal with the confidence that their bill was paid automatically without the need for waitstaff or pay terminal interaction. Due to infrastructure, security requirements and the complex way credit card processing systems work, this ability may take some time to evolve, perhaps as much as five years. Since this is a potentially disruptive change, it will likely be the case that progress and adoption are hindered by consumers’ increasing fears of privacy and security.
Hospitality Without Technology
Ironically, as more and more technologies exist to help us do our jobs, the concept of tech detoxing is gaining ground. Some hotel chains like Wyndham Grand have offered promotions to guests willing to give up their devices and go “off the grid” during their stay. The thinking is that if guests aren’t surfing the web, they’re more aware of their physical surroundings, open to other amenities and, ultimately, will utilize more hotel services and facilities. Even with promotional pricing, hotels are coming out ahead and customers have an excuse to unplug for a more relaxing and fulfilling experience.
While exciting technology advances will undoubtedly improve many business processes within the service industry, there are few signs that customer service and human interaction will be fully replaced by automation any time soon. Tools like AI, AR, and biometrics can bring us to a new level of enablement and a transformation of the customer experience in the hospitality context, but their purpose is inherently limited to providing a more frictionless experience with mundane tasks — not amenities and experiences.
Technology is no match for the warmth and personality of the maitre D’s welcome at your favorite restaurant or the hotel concierge whose 20 years of personal connections lands those sought-after dinner reservations or concert tickets.
The future of hospitality will accommodate both human interaction and more advanced, efficient technologies that best serve both consumers and businesses alike.
Just transition towards a digital economy
ASEAN authorities thirstily needs doable or implementable road map to make the just transition arising from technological changes associated with the work of the future happen writes RENE E. OFRENEO
In the run-up to the G20 Summit in Argentina, the trade unions from the G20 countries held their own “The Summit of the Labour 20”. The L20 Summit came up with a Declaration asking the G20 Leaders to heed labour’s call for new architecture of economic globalization, one that is just, equitable and sustainable.
One of the L20 demands is a call on governments to prepare the workforce for a “just transition to a digital future of work”. This is a popular call because there is so much anxiety among workers all over the world on how the technology revolution or the Fourth Industrial Revolution is “disrupting” or subverting existing jobs and work arrangements. There are also threats of mass layoffs due to robotization, automation, AI and other technological advances.
The unions seek social dialogue on how technology is deployed without displacing workers, on how social protection can be strengthened in the digital era, and how the circumvention of workers’ rights can be prevented when employers adopt new technologies. They declared: “Rapid technological change requires new regulations and investment in jobs, and a just transition framework to ensure full employment”.
The above issues were the same topics tackled in the recent Asean Regional Tripartite Social Dialogue Conference held in Singapore. The Tripartite Conference, which succeeded in getting the participation of the Asean Services Employees Trade Union Council and the Asean Confederation of Employers, came up with a Declaration stressing the importance of social dialogue and sustained information sharing and consultation between and among the tripartite social partners on the social, economic and labor impact of technological changes. The idea is for the parties “to come up with measures to minimize the pains of disruptions, maximize the gains from technological advances, and share the benefits from such advances for the good of the whole community”.
The above are music to the ears of the trade union movement. The problem is whether Asean governments and employers are prepared to walk the talk, that is, for the parties to sit down and come up with doable or implementable road maps to make the just transition happen. For the reality is that just transition entails a number of just transformation measures, at the national as well as industry and firm levels.
At the national level, just transformation would involve an unavoidable review and re-assessment of the existing industrial development blueprint. For example, there is so much emphasis being given by the DTI on increased Philippine participation in the global value chains (GVCs) in electronics, auto parts and so on. The Philippine participation has always been at the low end or low-value-adding segments of the GVCs, mainly in the labor-intensive assembly of GVC parts or components. With automation and robotization, the threat of job displacements in these industries in the foreseeable future is very real. In fact, some economists have already coined a word for what is likely to happen – “re-shoring”, meaning industrial work outsourced to developing countries in the name of the GVCs can be brought back to the home countries of the GVC players, the multinationals from Europe, America and Japan.
As pointed out in an earlier article, re-shoring is now a viable and realistic option to the MNCs. This was amply illustrated by the action of Adidas of Germany. This shoe manufacturer used to have a giant factory in Novaliches. This was closed down due to an industrial strike staged by the KMU in the 1980s. Adidas then transferred part of its production to China. But last year, Adidas announced it is now able to operate, profitably, a factory in Germany and a new plant in America. According to some informants, Adidas, through the 3D technology, is able to manufacture shoes on demand, meaning it can produce a pair of shoes based on a customer’s wishes (design, color, etc.) and deliver the order within two days.
The re-shoring threat also applies to the call center/ business process outsourcing (BPO) sector. One informant manager informed this writer that jobs in the call centers, not so much in the higher-value-adding BPO segment, are likely to decline, by as much as 50 percent in five years, due to advances in AI-assisted interactive communications, do-it-yourself (DIY) instruments and various types of software automation.
Should we then fold our arms and wait for a job Armageddon?
The answer is a clear No. But our government officials, along with their industry and labor partners, should get their act together. They should go beyond discussing, sometimes endlessly, what is the Fourth Industrial Revolution and what are the threats to jobs and businesses the said Revolution poses. There should be doable and actionable road maps. Along this line, one can learn some pointers from Singapore.
Alerted some years ago that its industries are highly vulnerable to the disruption impact of the technology revolution that is rolling all over the world, the Singapore government undertook a series of consultation meetings with industry and the National Trade Union Congress. The tripartite parties came up with a number of readiness programmes.
At the center of Singapore’s comprehensive readiness programme is the Future Skills for Digital Workplace (FSDW), a programme which provides skills upgrading opportunities to adult citizens, employed or retired, complete with training allowances and a well-researched menu of training modules. The programme, now running for at least two years, helps individual workers understand the emerging technologies, how they impact work, how to collate and interpret data, and how to adopt a positive mindset for change and innovation. The programme is also beamed at employers, especially the SME players. They are oriented on how to understand and manage technological changes at the workplace and how to take advantage of opportunities in the cyber era.
The FSDW is fully budgeted. Every interested Singaporean is given the opportunity to upskill himself/herself regardless of his/her employment status, meaning he/she can be prepared to pursue a possible alternative future career. In short, no one needs to worry if he/she loses a job because there is an opportunity for a second career path.
On the other hand, should there be displacement in an industry due to technological change, the Singapore tripartite system is always there to discuss problems in a proactive and constructive way.
At any rate, the question being raised by this article needs some answers from the policy makers: Does the Philippines have a realistic, doable and people-centered transition programme towards a digital future?
* Efreneo writes for Business Mirror
Exploring and exploiting PR in the digital economy
PR communicators in the cyber economy must rapidly build their ability to deliver brand experiences for customers and they need to use technology to achieve this, argues Bong R. Osorio
THE Asean PR Network (APRN) staged a one-day summit recently on “PR and the Digital Economy” coinciding with the inauguration of the Bali, Indonesia Campus of the London School of PR. The main campus is in Jakarta. This writer represented the Philippines in the summit and also delivered a talk on “PR Strategies and Tactics in the Digital Economy.” Highlights of my talk are below:
The digital economy has given and continues to give birth to new business models. It impacts in an overwhelming way on business and society. Speed is the critical issue. With speed comes change, and change is harder to deal with when it is happening faster and faster.
It used to take a Fortune 500 company an average of 20 years to reach a billion-dollar valuation. Today’s digital start-ups—if they succeed—get there in four years. Wealth and value creation has increased in speed fivefold.
Digital platforms include artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality and widespread cloud platforms, complex walled gardens of integrated applications and the growth of the “Internet of Things.”
In 2015 3 billion people were connected. By 2020 it is projected that 50 billion people and things will be connected. By 2030 it could be 1 trillion things and people connected.
For businesses, this means they need a digital solution to thrive and succeed. Change in culture is as vital as change in technology, data is the new currency of business, and hyper-connectivity requires the development of systems and platforms. Indeed, the future belongs to the fast; legacy and lethargy are the enemies of speed and if you are not going fast enough, someone else is, and you can be run over.
Social, mobile and e-commerce are now approaching critical mass. Data from multiple sources become connected, the technology effect multiplies the benefit as you approach the ability to target, follow and engage with identified, but unnamed individuals.
Changes in trust are redefining the PR business. The meaning of trust has also evolved over the years. Trust in the earlier days was defined by the church and state, and was driven by guidelines. In the latter days, trust was driven by brands and advertising as people chose to believe or not the brand promise. Trust was based on belief. Today, trust is driven by collective experience. People trust people like them.
PR communicators in the digital economy must rapidly build their ability to deliver brand experiences for customers. They need to use technology twofold: to bring inspiration and transaction ever closer together, and to use technology to create new products and transform business processes. As experience replaces belief in the consumer conscience, creating commerce through experiences will be even more important.
TO perform smarter PR communications today, you must be agile and on the ball with a world on fast forwards. Being agile is being nimble or being graceful. In an organizational context, agility means creating value and to continuously and consistently charm the customer, while promoting and responding to changes in its environment. The challenge is not only to deliver value early, but for the most part, to make people happy.
PR messages must be expertly crafted to fly in a frenzied, always on-the-go, world. To do so requires a mastery of your brand narrative, extreme knowledge on how to create a compelling story, and how you network your story.
INFLUENCER PR is what PR professionals need to do in the digital economy. It is all about building relationships. You deal with influencers, advocates and employee advocates. Building long-lasting relationships with consumers can increase passionate brand supporters, turning down the noise of negativity. You can strengthen relationships by regularly engaging your community, which can solidify your presence within. You must create unique content to educate the uninformed, and to bring them to your community, and support your most active fans, who will create advocacy for your brand.
INFLUENCERS are people of notable status and are the focus within their community. They create engaging content, which has relevance, reach and resonance valuable to a brand or program. Advocates are individuals and groups who support a brand or product and exercise their right to be heard, particularly in situations where opinions are appropriate. They encourage more dialogue and ultimately more advocacy for the brand. Employee advocates are internal publics who are empowered to share their support for a company’s brand, product or services on their professional social channels. They inform, educate and engage with other employees or like-minded professionals.
Influencers come in many forms. They can be content specific, super PR platform specific, themed opinions, artistic and creative approach; with many followers on multiple platforms; maven or thought-leader focused on one platform.
ADVOCATES are brand ambassadors, brand activists, marketing partners and reputation managers. They help with word of mouth, which influences people’s purchase decisions 74 percent of the time. In choosing advocates, consider these: They work with or are interested in working with the brand, have not worked with a competitor in the past, understand the role the brand plays in the consumer’s life and the role the consumer plays for your brand, and identify the actions the brand must take to generate more advocates, and create momentum.
RESEARCH reveals that brand messages travel five times more when shared by employees as compared to when they are shared by a company’s official communication channels. Employees who work for the brand can become the best advocates for the brand as they are part of the company DNA.
Good employee advocates are extremely knowledgeable regarding the topic, tend to have the most passion and are inexpensive. They should be used as knowledge-holders. Talking about the brand is great, but its messages are far more credible when they are resonated with by others, and who better to talk about the brand than its employees? People are more influenced by people like themselves. It has been proven that brand messages sent via employees’ social accounts are more influential, and that well-implemented employee advocacy system generates more brand buzz on social media.
Advocates are typically not incentivized for their social posts because they are already loyal fans of the brand and are happy to speak highly on behalf of it without payment. Some advocate programs, though incorporate incentives such as product giveaways, public visibility, or surprise and delights.
The digital economy is having a big impact on society and set to transform the future. But the influence of the digital economy is not all positive. It has also brought a more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world where too often business benefit is at a cost to the wider society, a world where we see a collapse of trust, as well as an overestimate of short-term impacts over long-term implications.
If the digital economy can transform the way you work and live together in society, how do you make sure that it drives meaningful change? PR professionals must continue to be a social communicator: Put your heart in your work, be a compelling storyteller, believe in yourself and your team, apply ethics and governance principles, remember that honesty fosters trust, and never stop learning.
PR Matters is a roundtable column by members of the local chapter of the United Kingdom-based International Public Relations Association (Ipra), the world’s premier organization for PR professionals around the world. Bong R. Osorio is a communications consultant of ABS-CBN Corp., SkyCable, Dentsu-Aegis Network and government projects, among others, after retiring as vice president and head of the Corporate Communications Division of ABS-CBN.
We are devoting a special column each month to answer our readers’ questions about public relations. Please send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Bong R. Osorio is the communications consultant and spokesman of ABS-CBN Corp.