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Commentary by our President, Hitoshi Shirai
Some hotels in the world are spoken of in legendary terms due to the notable services they provide. They are not necessarily exclusive hotels but have acquired a reputation for imparting a sense of surprise and excitement to guests in the course of their long history and traditions. Some examples of these legendary hotels follow.
The first example is a certain hotel in Europe where even guests staying for the first time are addressed by name and welcomed in the following way: Mr./Ms. ___, welcome to our hotel. At another hotel in Thailand, when guests leave their hotel room for a short time after taking a shower, they come back to find that the bathroom has already been cleaned and the towels replaced with fresh ones. At another hotel in Singapore, when a female guest is dining at one of the hotel restaurants and beginning to feel that the temperature of the air-conditioning is a little too cool, a staff member appears with a silk shawl for her use. At one hotel in the United States, a couple staying there on their wedding anniversary discover that a bouquet of flowers has been delivered to their room despite never informing the hotel of their special occasion. And at a hotel in Tokyo, not only staff members greet guests but also the guests themselves greet each other when passing each other in the corridors as if they had known each other for a long time.
I have not personally checked to see if all of these legends are true but I believe that when many people hear the names and services offered by these hotels, they will nod in agreement.
To change the subject, I would like to go back about 10 years when there was frequent talk about a “ubiquitous information society” based on innovative information technologies.
Indeed, “ubiquitous” was a word rarely heard until then. Once the media began using this word with relative frequency, however, it became a buzzword of the day. To convey in an easy-to-understand manner the attraction of this specialist-sounding word that was hard for ordinary people to understand, “a society where various services can be used anytime, anywhere, by anybody” was used as an alternative expression.
I believe that even people in the IT industry felt from the outset that use of the phrase “anytime, anywhere, by anybody” was a more expedient means of getting customers and users to understand the merits of ubiquitous-ness than explaining the meaning of the difficult word itself.
One day, however, an event I encountered made me realize that something not so simple was at the heart of the matter. I was asked to present a lecture concerning the ubiquitous information society at a seminar sponsored by a newspaper company and my approximately half-hour lecture was followed by a Q&A session. The first person to raise a hand was a man in his mid-50s, who appeared to be an impeccable gentleman from head to toe.
“I’ve worked in the hotel business for over 30 years. Although today’s talk was about a service that can be used anytime, anywhere, and by anybody, I felt the service you spoke of was somewhat different from the kind of service I have aspired to provide. My idea of the ultimate service for a customer is where the customer feels the service is being provided only at that place and time for that particular customer only.”
This person had worked as a concierge at a well-known hotel in Tokyo. After the seminar ended, I had an opportunity to talk to him about his views on service for about 30 minutes. The stories I heard on that occasion sparked my interest in legendary hotels around the world during my overseas business trips and postings afterwards.
There must be some kind of manual or knack for providing the kind of legendary service that I described at the beginning of this article. I imagined services of this nature to be tried and tested as part of an established system implemented by trained staff members to impress customers, and these services became an integral part of the status of such hotels.
The information society today is ushering in a new stage where the utilization of big data will surpass the parameters of services of a ubiquitous era. Thanks to analyses of enormous amounts of data, the foundation for offering services that can be used anytime, anywhere, by anybody is on its way to becoming a reality. At the same time, however, unlike the type of services offered at hotels, there are still some issues that must be overcome.
For example, even if protection of privacy can be strictly guaranteed, the reality is that many people may feel uncomfortable about the type of service that can be provided only at that time, at that place, for them personally. Another issue that may need to be addressed in the future is whether services can be provided at a level that will excite people beyond surprise solely through IT, or how close IT can approach the domain of human beings.