Why Mobile Technologies Now Make Sense in Hospitality
In businesses like hotels where a large number of employees often do not speak the local language and are working semi-autonomously around a facility or campus, one of the largest challenges in communication. How do you keep the team apprised of salient information that is necessary to fulfill the ultimate goal – providing a wonderful guest experience that is profitable to the hotel? Historically, there have been two recurring answers to this—more staff and some technology. The landscape has changed to allow for mobile technology to replace the need for more staff.
Let’s start with an example to describe communicating through staff. We’ll use the early check-in process at a resort where guests tend to arrive as early as possible and leave as late as possible. When a guest arrives in the morning to the front desk, there are often no rooms available for check-in. The agent at the Front Desk generally assigns a room to the guest but tells the guest to check with the desk later to see if their room has been cleaned. Then, the agent or someone else designated at the Front Desk calls Housekeeping to rush the cleaning of the particular room. The person answering the phones in Housekeeping then communicates the room rush to the supervisor or runner who is working with the room attendant assigned to the room. That supervisor or runner then tracks down the attendant to advise of the rush, and all parties monitor that the Attendant actually cleans this room next. This is typical in many hotels, and as many five people were involved in what should have been a very simple workflow.
As far as using technology to improve communications, hotels have communicated with staff using devices like pagers and radios and more recently cell phones for years. Originally, it was mostly voice based communications which is a challenge in multi-lingual environments. More recently, software solutions have made use of text based messages on pagers and cell phones to hold basic, automated conversations with remote team members. Think of work order solutions that integrate to cell phones to dispatch work and retrieve job updates from team members. Even this level of communication has proven cost prohibitive for some team members, like Room Attendants.
More powerful solutions like ruggedized Windows Mobile devices have been around for years, but their adoption has been limited. Devices have been expensive to purchase and use. Cellular network access was expensive and WiFi network access was non-existent. The devices were designed as portable version of desktop computers. On top of being expensive to acquire, you needed to allocate a good amount of training time to learn how to use it. In an industry with such high employee turnover, their application was very limited.
In the last couple of years, things have really changed. First, ubiquitous access to wireless communications has become affordable. Cell carriers are offering voice/data or data only plans that are very attractive for those who have not already outfitted facilities with complete WiFi access. The other change is just as dramatic. Hotels are no longer limited to basic devices because the choice of easy to use, affordable handheld personal devices (iPod Touch) or smart phones (Android, iPhone or Windows Mobile 7) has grown exponentially. With every day that passes, the likelihood increases that team members already know how to use them because they own one personally. Think back to when managers were assigned cell phones and shown how to use them and compare that to today when they are just expected to have one of their own.
Now that we know we can train anyone to use one of these devices and they are affordable, all that is left is to offer the software solutions that communicate the knowledge in a fully interactive way with the team members. One such example addresses the room cleaning example given earlier. MTech has developed a software solution, REX, that takes information from the PMS and other systems on property to help Housekeeping assign rooms to clean. Then, room attendants use an iPod Touch or Android phone to get their cleaning assignments one at a time based on what room is most important to clean as defined by the software’s settings. All of this is presented in the native language of the room attendant. All the agent needs to do at the desk is rush the room from the PMS or from a console and the assigned attendant is automatically directed to that room next. Almost the entire manual process is eliminated. Large hotels have claimed up to $500,000 a year in labor savings as a result. Smaller hotels are experiencing $30-50,000 a year in labor savings. What’s more important is that the likelihood that a room is now ready is increased dramatically. A large beachfront convention hotel saw the list of guests waiting disappear after the first week of use.
Training for these solutions is straight forward and simple. There have already been examples of team members running the solution, REX, on their own phones.
This is just one example of what is now possible. There are others and more to come. As the tablet adoption continues, the next step will be to move managers and supervisors away from their desks while staying in complete touch with the operation.
In conclusion, advances in mobile technology and adoption are redefining what is required to provide the best service. More staff is not the answer. Well deployed affordable mobile technology is can make it seem that a hotel’s entire staff is within earshot and speaking the same language.
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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.
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