This article first appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of The Record.
When Mr Smith steps into the lobby of his favourite European hotel early on Saturday morning, he is personally greeted by the manager and shown to a room with a south-facing view of the garden, a bed with additional pillows and his favourite toiletries in the bathroom. A customised message then appears on the TV, inviting him to enjoy a complimentary expresso and croissant in the restaurant before he starts his holiday. Although Mr Smith did not directly request any of these additional amenities, the hotel analysed all of the information it had gathered about his likes and dislikes during his previous ten visits to ensure that its staff could proactively deliver his ideal hotel experience. Not only does this personalised service make Mr Smith feel valued, but it also makes him more likely to return and to recommend the hotel to friends and family, driving revenue for the hotel owner.
“All hospitality providers aim to achieve the same goal: gaining a full overview of each individual guest to understand how they can deliver a significantly enhanced experience that meets all of their personal needs and preferences,” says Mark Voermans, co-founder and chief marketing officer at IReckonU. “By capturing and analysing customer data, hospitality providers can go from delivering the kind of experience they think guests will like, to one they are guaranteed to enjoy. That’s an extremely powerful tool to have in an industry where there is so much choice, and competition from consumers themselves via companies like Airbnb.”
In addition, says Voermans, being able to access a 360-degree overview of each customer and their preferences enables hospitality providers to create target groups and develop personalised marketing campaigns to proactively encourage customers to visit their properties.
“If I own a hotel located on the route for the Tour de France international cycling competition, for example, I could analyse my guests’ social media profiles to identify those who are interested in cycling and send them a personalised invite to stay at the hotel that weekend,” he says. “I could even offer them a 20% discount on the room price or a complimentary evening meal, which would help to drive loyalty and repeat custom.”
However, while hotels, casinos, cruise lines and other hospitality providers already have much of the data they need to customise each guest’s experience, their siloed and disparate IT systems make it difficult for them to access and analyse it to gain the insights they need.
“Hotels often operate separate IT systems to manage each area of their business – including property maintenance, human resources, customer relationships (CRM), room allocations, and POS in the restaurant – yet they are rarely connected to a central database where all of the data they capture is automatically amalgamated,” Voermans explains. “Instead, valuable customer data is either locked into the system that captured it, or shared with one or two others. Consequently, all it takes is for one of the connections to fail and the guest experience is ruined. For example, if a customer previously complained about having a room overlooking the car park and this information is not transferred from the CRM system to the room allocation system, they could potentially be put in the same room again, reducing the likelihood of them returning in future.”
Built on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, IreckonU is an enterprise service bus-based solution offered as a platform-as-a-service solution that connects these various systems and streamlines operational processes.
“IreckonU disconnects all of the separate point solutions from one another, and instead forces them to communicate to one integrated system,” comments Voermans. “All of the data captured by these individual point solutions is then fed to a single centralised dashboard, which can be enriched by guest data from external sources such as social media profiles. This ensures that the POS, PMS, CRM and other systems are using the same up-to-date information, allowing hospitality providers to gain an accurate 360-degree view of each individual guest.”
Not only does IreckonU enable hospitality providers to gain new valuable insights into individual guest profiles, but it also automates operational processes to reduce property running costs and make it easier to achieve more with fewer staff.
“For example, if a guest’s profile shows that they kept their room at 200C during their previous stay, they can be allocated a room that is already at that temperature, rather than one that is too hot or cold,” he says. “Plus, if the system detects the temperature is rising while the room is unoccupied, it will remotely close the blinds to keep it cool. This means the guest will automatically enjoy a comfortable stay and won’t need to use the air conditioning system to cool it down, saving energy costs for the hotel.”
In addition, the IreckonU dashboard provides the senior management team with accurate real-time information about the performance of all of their properties, or even the individual rooms within each property, in their entire hotel chain.
“If the lights and shower are broken in one bedroom, for example, the maintenance team will automatically receive a notification so they can quickly fix these issues,” explains Voermans. “Most importantly, the room will immediately be listed as unavailable on the hotel’s IT system to prevent it from being allocated to a guest, ensuring that they are not forced to endure problems during their stay. This reduces the risk of them making formal complaints or leaving negative feedback on online review sites like TripAdvisor, which could discourage potential guests from staying at the hotel.”
Users are also able to access dashboards via Windows mobile apps. “Hotel employees can use this app to complete daily tasks, such as activating room keys, monitoring the status of each guest room, and resolving service issues,” says Voermans. “Managers can access the complete dashboard in Windows 10 via mobile devices or tablets. We’re also able to run these apps on iPads and Android tablets.”
Most importantly, notes Voermans, IreckonU helps hospitality providers to regain control of their IT systems and customer data.
“Currently, most hospitality providers are dependent on different vendors for each of their point solutions and because they’re all interconnected in a complex way, it can be difficult to update or change them,” he says. “IreckonU is similar to a power strip – customers can plug in new systems on the fly alongside their existing systems and, once the roll out of these new solutions is complete, they can simply switch off their old system without any downtime. Likewise, customers can add or remove the different IreckonU modules as their business grows and evolves.”
Already, Europe- and US-based boutique hotel chain CitizenM (read more on page 156) and several five-star-plus hotels in Asia, major casino hotels and international cruise lines have adopted IreckonU to optimise how they manage their properties and deliver an enhanced guest experience.
“Every hospitality brand caters to a different client base, so we work with each individual company to fully understand their aims and then recommend the IreckonU modules and scenarios would be most beneficial,” Voermans says. “IreckonU can be easily extended, so our customers can initially target their main pain points and then add new capabilities as their business needs evolve, or as new technologies enter the market. We remain a dedicated partner with each our customers, proactively working with them to help them grow and maintain their competitive advantage in the long term.”
“Ironically, although the hospitality industry is entirely guest oriented, none of the IT solutions used by today’s hospitality providers are focused on the guest,” remarks Voermans. “IreckonU is working with Microsoft, its experts and its technology to ensure that we can significantly improve how our customers operate and ultimately, transform how they interact with, and deliver services to, their guests.”
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