I spent four years in Silicon Valley working for an online food delivery company. All industries, even new ones like in tech, benefit and learn from hospitality. Here’s how.
I need to talk to you about hospitality skills in the tech industry because so much of what we hear nowadays about technology and artificial intelligence seems antithetical to the world of hospitality, but it is in fact, roads that run in parallel with each other. A little background: I worked in Silicon Valley for years leading right up to the COVID-19 pandemic, for a little-known company called Waiter.com which was a food delivery company akin to UberEats or DoorDash. My time at the company was in business development, and I had a hand in everything from signing on partners to individual customer service. While working in the tech industry, I even learned how to design AI bots specifically for customer service! People with a degree in hospitality should consider how their education can lead to professions outside of a hotel or restaurant in amazing ways, such as in tech. With the challenges that I faced during my time in Silicon Valley, soft skills such as the ones that I see students learning at Swiss Hotel Management School are more important than ever. Here are five examples of how.
One might think that because people order from an app, there is not any face-to-face interaction. However, the app is just one step in a complex system. Online delivery services, especially those involving corporate customers, involve account managers, restaurant staff, company decision-makers, delivery drivers, customer service representatives, and individual customers. Although the ordering app is the tech, the focal point, the tech world is, in fact, an industry of people. For example, online delivery apps serve as a newer, simpler way to send orders, but real people still carry out the order. Behind the scenes, decision-makers make deals face-to-face, programmers and account managers set up services, restaurants receive orders, drivers go to the restaurants to pick up the food, and they also interact with the customers. If the customer has an issue with the order, they reach out to on-call customer service, who help either over the phone or in-person.
If any of these relationships fail, or if trust is broken at any of these steps, then even the best-designed app in the world cannot support the business. Working there, I found that the most valued skills were empathy and problem-solving, two hospitality soft skills that SHMS nurtures. Empathy is what drives understanding between executives and employees or a fleet manager and his team of drivers. Empathy also strengthens relationships between people of different industries, such as those of us in tech and those of us in the food industry. Meanwhile, something like online food delivery is a multi-step process with each order. Many issues can come up, such as running out of an item at a restaurant or traffic delays during delivery. A director or manager with strong problem-solving skills is key to having smooth operations. Behind the scenes of the digital interface, a strong emphasis on soft skills is what truly drives success in the online food delivery industry, fostering positive relationships between platforms, restaurants, drivers, and customers.
Waiter.com specializes in Business to Business service (B2B), meaning that they work with companies in Silicon Valley such as Facebook, Intel, or Microsoft to provide employees with meal services or event catering. For me, that meant going to companies to personally address how they could provide impactful benefits to their employees and talk to people to learn what their needs were. Key hospitality skills are extremely important in these dealings, such as planning services skills, event logistics know-how, and customer service on both a corporate and individual level.
It is extremely important to consistently provide good service in order to keep the company satisfied and customers happy. We had dedicated account managers to address corporate needs, plus a separate in-house customer service team, further stressing how important this is. The same can be said in a hotel or a restaurant.
While most customers interacted with account managers or our online customer service, I want to share one example of a large corporate client who decided to choose our services over a competitor’s due to our understanding of hospitality.
This Silicon Valley corporate office was so big that they required special coordination and attention; daily lunch deliveries were, to some degree, organizing a large-scale event every day. We immediately recognized this need right away and appointed on-site managers to go there every day and make sure that everything ran smoothly, from ordering to face-to-face customer service. We paid attention to detail, including personalized labels for every order, every meal. During the trial period with the client, they could compare our services with those of our competitors. When the client saw our hospitality and dedication to excellence, they chose to keep working with us.
A big part of why clients recognized us as the superior service was due to our understanding of the service and restaurant sectors. For example, unlike most other delivery companies that have contractors making the deliveries, Waiter.com has employee drivers and dispatchers managed under one person in the company. Along with an in-office customer service team, this was a huge advantage in communication and teamwork because employees could be trained consistently as well as have an available network in place to help each other. We understood right away that these were non-negotiable for many of our clients who decided to stay with our services rather than that of a competitor who didn’t realize the importance of these factors. This is true for any company, not just for a food delivery tech company. I can’t count the number of times I've called customer service only to reach an outsourced office, talking to someone who has never experienced the product that they are trying to troubleshoot, who doesn’t understand my problems or needs.
More specifically, in the online food delivery sector, we worked with hundreds of restaurants on a daily basis, who depend on us to enhance their business offerings. Restaurants trust people with a service and hospitality background more than any tech bro or MBA grad who has only gone to school to study programming or corporate networking. Someone with experience in hospitality and restaurant service can better understand how the restaurant operates and can better empathize with what the restaurant needs, further strengthening the partnerships.
In Silicon Valley, I trained to design AI chatbots specifically for customer service. This experience demonstrated how important it is that hospitality specialists be involved in the design process. Hospitality skills are something that can be trained and taught. This is true for both people and for AI chatbots. These bots are able to process more data faster than any human being, but they lack the ability to empathize with people or understand human behavior, which is remains the biggest challenge in the field.
Most often, the people designing these chatbots have technological know-how and can get the bot to do and say anything they want. But for a chatbot that is meant to help people, I believe that a hospitality-trained individual can design the chatbot to say the right thing. An engineer may not realize that programming a bot to give a list of general solutions to a problem might be super frustrating for the average person, while a hospitality professional would understand that a person wants to be validated and feel listened to first before addressing their specific problem.
More than ever, we need people who understand people. We need hospitality professionals trained in soft skills to go work in traditionally “hard skills”-focused industries such as the tech industry. The world is more than just a digital transaction, and the tech industry is a dynamic arena where the art of customer service and the application of essential soft skills play a central role. In this industry, success hinges not only on the efficiency of technology but also on the ability of individuals to connect, communicate, and empathize with customers. In my experience, from delivery drivers ensuring that meals arrive promptly and in perfect condition to customer support representatives addressing inquiries and resolving issues, the importance of soft skills cannot be overstated. In this increasingly interconnected world, the online food delivery business serves as a prime example of how human interaction remains at the core of even the most technologically advanced industries.
The current views and opinions expressed above belong to the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Swiss Hotel Management School or any institution the author(s) may represent.
Whether you want to manage a hotel or work in the another industry like marketing or tech, a hospitality degree can open doors for you. Choose a program at Swiss Hotel Management School to kickstart your career.