This article was first published in the Summer 2014 issue of Speak
From the moment a guest enquires about a hotel, to the moment they leave the property, staff strive to offer patrons a seamless experience that differentiates their brand and fosters loyalty. In the past, this experience arose from the hotel’s ability to provide efficient and personalised interactions between guests and its staff. But in today’s world, where mobile and online applications are increasingly replacing traditional face-to-face interactions, is it really possible for hospitality organisations to deliver a compelling personalised service?
“Any new technology, devices or services implemented within hotels must benefit the guests in some way,” says Greg Jones, industry solution manager of worldwide hospitality and travel at Microsoft.
To create a memorable guest experience that builds brand loyalty and generates incremental revenue, Margaret McGregor, CEO of Technovation Solutions, believes it is vital that staff understand the needs and preferences of the guests to identify how they may impact on their upcoming stay.
“Simply providing employees with new tools or systems is not sufficient to improve the relationship between hotel staff and the guests,” says McGregor. “Understanding what the guests are looking for is paramount, while the ability to provide actionable data to staff through centralised and more accessible information systems is what alters the dynamic between the hotel and its customers.”
According to Jones, technology links multiple departments within individual hotel properties, offering a single connection point between staff in customer-facing positions and those working behind the scenes. Lying at the heart of all successful hotels is the property management system (PMS), a centralised repository containing information about past, present and future guests, as well as records of financial investments, maintenance work, staff workflow and more.
“When I arrive at a hotel I expect that the staff will check me in immediately, notify me about any relevant events, offers or services that are available during my stay, and provide me with a room that matches all of my requirements,” says Jones. “Using the PMS, staff can access a single, unified view of information about me and my historical preferences – from my favoured payment method, to the type of pillows I like in my room. They can then ensure that this seamless, personalised service is replicated every time I stay at the hotel, or at another property in the same chain.”
McGregor explains that as many of the current hotel systems are antiquated and disparate – the information in the PMS is not connected to the data in the central reservation or customer record systems – it is often difficult for hotel staff to gain a 360-degree view of their guests. “For example, employees may be unaware that a guest has a particular allergy so they don’t change the pillows in the room, which leads to the guest becoming frustrated and dissatisfied with the service they receive during their stay,” she says. She adds that that a key part of staff enablement is giving employees the ability to transform available customer data into actionable solutions that can be implemented effectively.
“At Technovation, we collaborate with our Hospitality Client Advisory Board and foundational partners, such as Microsoft, to identify the challenges hotels face and determine which devices, software and staff enablement tools can be used to improve the guest experience.”
Customer relationship management (CRM) systems, such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013, enable hotel staff to gain this 360-degree view of the customer by aggregating all of the available data about them – from their basic details to their dietary requirements. It then provides employees with advance notification that a particular customer is coming to stay in a faster and more manageable way so they can prepare for their visit.
“If staff have access to big data or CRM solutions, they can easily identify that one particular guest is a regular customer at the hotel spa and offer to schedule treatments for when they arrive,” says McGregor. “By providing staff with real-time access to a record of the full range of interactions with the guests, hotels can increase productivity and guest satisfaction, as well as giving the employees a sense of achievement.”
Redesigning the traditional company intranet to ensure that relevant content from the PMS and CRM systems is delivered to individual employees and departments in a simplistic, easily digestible, task-based format is also a key priority, says Jones. “Staff need to be able to access information quickly, not only to inform guests about simple things such as events or changes in meal times, but also to ensure that they can fulfil their roles properly,” he explains, highlighting that establishing and maintaining standardised services across the hotel ensures a seamless guest experience, as well as employee satisfaction. “For example, night managers need to know exactly what happened during the day shift to ensure they can follow-up on incidents if necessary, or if there’s a medical emergency, staff need to be able to quickly access a list of the procedures they should follow.”
Platforms such as SharePoint provide hotels with a central repository for all records and documents relating to the property and its guests, while Office 365 and Lync offer a fast and efficient way to establish effective interdepartmental communication channels and standardise services across individual hotels and the wider chain.
“If an issue arises, Lync’s instant messaging function could be used to notify all relevant members of staff and ensure that the problem is resolved immediately with minimal disruption to the guests,” says Jones. “If a shower is broken in one of the rooms, the duty manager can quickly contact a relevant member of the engineering team, while simultaneously informing the reception staff that the room will be inaccessible to guests and warning the housekeeping team that it will need to be re-cleaned after the engineer has finished.”
If employees are expected to respond to such issues immediately, they require devices that allow them to access historical, current and real-time data, regardless of their location. Mobile devices such as smartphones or Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablets can be deployed in various departments across the hotel property, as well as in the bedrooms, to offer guests access to the hotel’s online collateral, restaurant or bar menus and digital newspapers. For example, housekeeping staff or engineering staff could log completed tasks or access historical maintenance records on ruggedised tablets, while bar staff could use the tablets to take orders from guests by the pool or in the lobby.
Leveraging mobile devices to empower employees to be an ‘always available’ resource for patrons is crucial, according to Daniel Mollard, operations director of international interactive software provider Monsciege. He says: “When guests address hotel staff, they expect their request to be met accurately in a timely and consistent manner. By providing employees with better access to information via mobile devices and other technology, employers can give them the necessary tools to meet and exceed guest expectations.”
Mollard highlights that often, when staff have the tools to complete tasks efficiently, this has a direct impact on the quality of the service they can provide to the customer and enables them to boost the appeal of the brand. For instance, web-based platforms that place the hotelier at the centre of the guest relationship, such as Monsciege Connect CMS, offer tools to manage staff workflow, control multilingual content and facilitate real-time communication between employees and guests on various touch screen devices. “Hospitality organisations can often access the information the guest has requested, but it is rarely stored in a centralised place and is not usually available in a digital format that can be consumed easily on smartphones or tablets, which are primarily used by customers,” he says. “If hoteliers can provider guests with access to information about a property’s amenities, or local maps and recommendations via their smartphones, it reduces the need for guests to search elsewhere. It also minimises the number of trivial interactions, allowing staff to focus on more important tasks, thereby improving efficiency and accelerating service delivery. Plus, if staff can use apps or devices to communicate with guests in their native language, it adds value to the guest’s experience and helps employees fulfil requests more easily.”
Chad Brown, president and CEO of XOMNI, also believes that devices are pivotal in enabling hotel staff to resolve a multitude of guest queries. “It shouldn’t matter if you work behind the front desk, in the restaurant or by the pool, as a staff member you should be able to help your guest with any request,” says Brown. “To offer patrons a truly personalised, white-glove experience, every employee needs the ability to move beyond their traditional property management role and access additional data, such as loyalty information about guests. However, it is important that the tools used to facilitate this are intuitive, otherwise they may not be used.”
While organisations must deploy new form factors – such as devices with embedded RFID or geo-location and geo-fencing technology – to increase employee mobility, Brown argues that omni-channel platforms also have a pivotal role in making sure the information stored in the hotel’s various consumer channels is accurate and, therefore, useful. “As employees continue to become cross-functional and move out from behind the service counter, omni-channel experiences, and the devices that deliver them, will become more important,” he says. “XOMNI’s omni-channel cloud service platform helps hoteliers integrate customer loyalty data with information about their property’s products and services, enabling them to align the right product to the right customer. Employees are not only better equipped to help guests, they can also capitalise on cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.”
However, striking a successful balance between providing staff with access to new devices and ensuring that this technology does not detract from their ability to establish personal connections with the guests is essential.
“While technology provides a great opportunity to automate and simplify many processes, hotels need to ensure it does not prevent their staff from remaining attentive and available to welcome and assist guests,” says Jones. “You can have a comfortable, quiet room, or a delicious meal within a hotel property, but ultimately it is the service you receive from the staff during your stay that will encourage you to return to the property at a later date, recommend it to others, or become a loyalty member of that particular brand. Offering guests access to devices and other technology is important, but the staff are the face of the brand and, as such, it is the employees that provide the differentiated experience.”
According to Mollard, as today’s informed guests are increasingly planning, booking and reviewing accommodation using tools unconnected to the hotels, it is even more important for hospitality organisations to optimise each opportunity to interact with guests. “Every guest interaction can be a make or break experience and should be considered as an opportunity to win or lose repeat business,” Mollard says. “As face-to-face interactions between guests and hotel employees are increasingly replaced with communication via mobile or online applications, there will be fewer opportunities for the hotels to influence the guest experience, promote brand awareness and, ultimately, gain customer loyalty. In future, guests will carry ever higher expectations of quick, concise and more efficient resolutions.”
By providing employees with the right tools, hotels can meet these needs while gaining customer loyalty. “By empowering employees with the right productivity and collaborative tools and using technology to collect, access and optimise data about individuals, hotels can not only strengthen their business model, but also provide an enhanced guest experience,” concludes Jones.
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