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April 7, 2019

Mike Benjamin

How And Why Technology Plays Such A Critical Role In Building A Service Oriented Culture

Click here to view the published article on Hotel Executive

Every hotel management team strives to create a service oriented culture. In todays fast pace world of technology, guest expectations and demands continue to go up every year. The best management teams realize that building a service oriented culture is much more than finding the right people and training them on the soft skills. Strong leaders realize hotels need to adopt technology and build a culture where preventing problems is as important as solving problems and staff are able to perform their job more effectively using the latest tools available.

Great service is not just about solving problems but creating a culture that prevents problems.

Customer service and soft skills training has long been at the core creating a service oriented culture, but the best service organizations go beyond this and use technology with processes focused on problem prevention. Every manager knows that even the best service agent can lose their effectiveness when they don’t have confidence in the overall organization’s ability to consistently deliver good service. In this article we will explore how technology can play a critical role in building a strong service oriented culture.

Good technology provides team members with the tools and information they need to perform their job more effectively in delivering great service. Hotels use many types of technology (or business applications) to perform their jobs and serve the customer, from property management to point of sale and other specific software like spa or restaurant management systems. In this article we are going to look at hotel a type of technology entirely focused on helping hotel staff provide better service to guests.

Task Management or Guest Response software is a comprehensive platform for hotels to streamline and elevate guest service.

Guest Response software is an established but rapidly evolving hotel technology for managing guest requests, resolving problems and automating task oriented processes for all departments, from back of house engineering and housekeeping to guest facing communication. These tools help hotel staff manage the most common guest interactions by streamlining communication and work flow to ensure every guest request and problem is resolved in a timely manner. The automated ticketing system sends every request to the appropriate responder’s mobile device where they can respond and update the status without talking to anyone.

These platforms address and eliminate the most common guest problems in hotels and prevent communication breakdown between one department or person and another. While the staff uses the tool to perform their tasks and communicate more effectively, the platform also builds a culture of accountability by giving management the data analytics needed for continuous process improvement. This enables managers to proactively focus on improving service rather than reacting and fighting fires. Like the famous words of Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

Hotel brands have promoted these tools for many years at larger full service hotels as a way to improve problem resolution and reduce overall guest problems which are critical drivers for overall guest satisfaction. The huge number of tasks logged and fulfilled by hotel staff each month helped achieve a quick return on investment and widespread adoption in full service hotels. Now smaller boutique and limited service hotels are rapidly adopting the technology at lower costs with an easier implementation process to solve the same problems.

How replacing radios and logbooks with task management software & digital mobile communication creates a stronger service culture

This is a technology that changes how people work. Many of the traditional manual processes of radios and paper log books have been in place for decades so change management can be an important aspect of a new implementation and should not be taken lightly. Management needs to drive the changes through the learning curve by reinforcing how the tools will make their job easier when everyone is on-board.

This may sound obvious if you already have a task management system but there are many operators that still rely on paper logs and analog radios to dispatch requests and maintenance issues today. The best way I’ve found to convince a resistant staff member is simply to ask, “If you were an engineer responding to a barrage of urgent guest problems, how would you prefer to receive the work?” The choice is between being interrupted while you are under a sink, having to drop your wrench, pull out a note pad and jot down a room number, guest name and the description of the problem; or would you rather look on a smart phone when your hands are free and see a list of tasks prioritized with details of each job in your preferred language.

If that doesn’t convince them, you can add “When the work is done, would you rather click one or two buttons to update the status or have to call down to the front desk, wait for them to answer and then explain which task you completed so they can update their paper log.” The convenience and efficiency comparison seems obvious but even more important is the difference in accuracy and reliability to avoid costly mistakes. Everyone knows the old game of Telephone and how many mistakes are made during verbal communication. This can lead to embarrassing problems like delivering something to the wrong room or addressing the guest by the wrong name.

Many of the guest issues dispatched in a task system are room problems where the guest needs something fixed in the room like a TV, Toilet or HVAC unit. Any mistakes or delays at this point are compounding the problem. A key benefit of automation is the Escalation Alert to notify supervisors or management when issues are not resolved in a timely manner. We know what happens when a problem is not resolved effectively. The guest is more likely to fill out a survey or online review when they aren’t happy with the resolution.

An important part of comprehensive task management systems include problem resolution and follow-up tools. These tools effectively replace the Manager On Duty Log with an electronic logbook detailing each incident and the steps taken to resolve the issue. This way ALL problems can be followed-up on to ensure every guest is satisfied BEFORE they leave the hotel. Compensation can be awarded and recorded for further analysis with the goal of preventing the guest from creating a negative review.

Creating a culture of consistently reliable high quality service

Everyone knows the phrase “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. This applies directly to hotel customer service. How do you know if your team is performing if you don’t collect data related to the process? Automated task management systems provide the data for management to set goals, measure results and hold people accountable for their work. Without a system, how would you know how each individual or the team is performing without spending hours compiling paper logs and building spreadsheets and graphs.

Imagine a “Help Desk” customer service department trying to measure performance without having a system that tracks every case and its resolution. I think of task management systems as the “help desk” system for hotels. A typical hotel logs over 500 tasks per month per 100 rooms and 200 hours a month of labor fulfilling the tasks. All this data feeds into reports that help management with employee performance reviews, staffing and scheduling needs, training, problem reduction, response time analysis, all which drive accountability and customer service improvement.

The automation of daily tasks on its own improves service performance with accountability created by live monitor dashboards with escalation and streamlined communication. These are benefits that impact the day to day operation of the hotel and service delivery.

Instead of management focusing on survey results that only show a tiny fraction of the actual guest problems, management can look at the actual data of what happened with guests during the stay and how they were resolved. This can be much more powerful information for truly building a service oriented culture of continuous process improvement.

How the data collected supports building a culture of continuous service improvement

The benefits of automating the process as described above could pay for the system on its own but the greatest return on investment (ROI) and cost savings come from bigger picture process improvement initiatives. Up until now the benefits focused more on improving how we deliver on existing requests and problems, but more significant savings comes from truly eliminating recurring issues by using the data to identify hidden opportunities.

The best management teams create a structure around looking at the data on a regular basis and focusing on monthly and quarterly goals for solving the biggest problems. Starting with simple reports showing the top 10 guest problems and identifying new issues, then a manager can dig into specific reports to identify root causes, trends and solutions to ultimately reduce or eliminate potential problems before the occur.

For example, the monthly top 10 guest problem report identified ‘TV Remote Not Working’ as a new problem creeping up the list. Upon further analysis using a report identifying recurring problems by room, they identified a change in the type of battery as the root cause. Another example with ‘WiFi Connection’ problems in specific zones and rooms had increased. The solution was implemented with a slight redesign and placement of the WiFi equipment resulting in a 40% reduction in WiFi complaints.

Not all opportunities are related to eliminating problems. In full service hotels, guest requests often attribute to over 60% of the tasks logged which also ties up labor with houseman or dedicated runners. One hotel found it was delivering 400 extra towels each month. They discovered it was only on weekends where families were using the pool so they changed the PAR levels reducing the delivery labor by 30 hours each month. Even when a job or position cannot be eliminated, the labor savings can be used on other tasks resulting in faster response times and better service.

Great service cultures have managers that use the data to work smarter, more efficiently and continuously work to eliminate recurring problems. It’s not uncommon for a hotel to eliminate 10% of guest problems experienced within a year of implementation. If a 200 room hotel’s GSS survey averages 20% of guests experiencing a problem, a 10% problem reduction would lower the Problem Experience to 18% and about 60 fewer guest problems per month (or 720 fewer guest problems in year). The result is lower operating costs while increasing revenue associated with higher retention and happier guests.

What is the better service culture?

If you had to choose between the two, which of these would be a stronger service culture; One with super friendly staff frequently apologizing and responding to problems or one with a less friendly staff but consistently delivering quality service without mistakes? Personally, I don’t think smiles and smooth talking can overcome inconsistent service. In the long run, repeat guests frustrated with inconsistent service will see through the charm. Hopefully I’ve shown that empowering the organization with great technology and a management team that focuses on using the data for process improvement will give the staff confidence they need to sincerely smile and engage with the guests.

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