COMPUTER BUSINESS REVIEW

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Issue Date: September 2006

2010 turns up the heat on hospitality service delivery

September 2006
Paul Bornhutter, FrontRange Solutions product manager, Africa

There are very few industries in which the quality of service is as immediately obvious to the customer and therefore as critical to the sustainability of the business as in the hospitality sector.

Take an hour to deliver a sandwich via room service and you are toast – not just to that customer but to all the others he tells about your shoddy service. And not only in a few days’ time when the guest is safely out of your environment, but immediately, loudly, in your lobby in the midst of a party of arriving tourists.
Get a guest’s laundry mixed up with someone else’s and you are begging for a stain on your reputation that will spread into an ever-increasing number of unsold nights. That is because, in the hospitality industry, the devil really is in the tiniest and often the most unexpected details. There is no limit to what a guest can ask you to help with – from booking concert tickets and calling a taxi to medical emergencies.
Other service industries tend to have fewer and more controllable activities. But in a hotel or B&B, large or small, the guest dictates what most of your activities will be, not you. Which implies that you need to get the basics absolutely right, so that you have got the time and organisational capacity to take the unexpected in your stride.
And one of the easiest ways to get the basics right is to automate them, using information technology.
I know, I know. Many is the time I have had hoteliers and others in the hospitality industry throw up their hands in horror at the thought of putting technology between themselves and their guests. The hospitality industry is, of course, the one where human contact matters more than just about any other.
But think about it. You are not going to be able to show a smiling, confident face to the guest if you are ferreting frantically in the background for a lost room service order or screaming over the phone at your laundry supplier who has managed to mix the whites and the colours. Or, like Basil Fawlty, you are castigating a member of your cleaning staff out of one side of your mouth for not changing the linen while you are trying to persuade the incoming guest to have a cup of tea before taking possession of his room out of the other.
Far better, surely, to have a call centre-type environment in which the guest phones one number to get all his requests and problems dealt with. And, from that one call, a system kicks in and makes sure that the request or problem is routed to the right person within a specified time and, if that person does not respond quickly enough, escalates the situation to a more senior person. A system that also keeps the guest automatically notified of the progress of his request or complaint.
By way of an SMS, for instance. “Your order for breakfast has been sent to the kitchen, Ms Jones. It will be served in your room in 15 minutes.” Or, “The laundry supervisor has been notified that your laundry has gone missing. He will contact you within the next five minutes to tell you what he has done to find it.”
Sounds too good to be true, does it not? Except that it is already being done at the Arabella Sheraton in Cape Town. The call centre agents can manage and track a guest request or complaint right from initiation all the way through to production and delivery – and can pro-actively involve whatever department of the hotel should be contributing to resolving the issue.
Technology helps you both better understand your guests and improve your efficiency in servicing them. In fact, it ensures that you achieve the impossible: an absolutely consistent quality of service, no matter how many different departments are involved.
Research shows that there are as many as 70 different standard guest-driven tasks undertaken on an average day by most hotels. Interestingly, most hotel management staff are not aware of the full range of tasks or how they link together to make either a positive or negative impression on a guest.
And that is because they have not asked the right kind of questions. How often, for instance, are you being reactive rather than proactive in relation to a guest request or complaint?
What means do you have to check, timeously, that each person has done his or her job in relation to a specific guest request? Can you see at a glance on a board or a computer screen what the status is of all the requests and complaints currently in hand, so that you can take pre-emptive action to remedy a situation where necessary? Can you spot trends quickly and act accordingly? If there is a sudden run on a particular type of service, like housekeeping, can you see it happening and trace back to what is triggering it before you, say, run out of towels and sheets?
Do you know what the most common guest requests are, or at what times of the day or night they are made? Do you know what the individual steps are in the processes related to delivering on those requests or how long each step should take in order to deliver the ideal service to your guest? Do you know who is responsible in which department for taking action at each step?
When you have a return visit by a guest, can your systems recognise him on check-in and give your reception staff all his details and preferences on their computer screen? Can your reception system automatically alert, say, the kitchen, that your vegetarian guest has arrived and will be having a special meal within an hour?
These questions all become much more critical, of course, in the light of 2010, when the country is going to be flooded with tourists for just one month. It is one of those bizarre situations in which a single event is either going to make your name in the hospitality industry or destroy your business. There is going to be no time to get up to speed during the World Cup. You have to be at the top of your game in time to take the first bookings – months ahead of the event itself.
So there is really no question of whether or not you should have customer satisfaction technology. It is a question of which is the right sort of customer satisfaction technology.
There are four critical factors you should consider when investigation competing solutions.
* Track record: Does the solution have a track record in service management environments? Was it developed for the purpose of service management?
* Flexibility: How flexible is the software solution? Can it be easily adapted to your organisation’s needs and processes?
* Time to value: How long will it take for you to be able to demonstrate the rand value of actual savings and improvements from having this solution?
* Integration: Can the solution be integrated with other systems being used in the organisation so that, for example, tasks can be automatically created and the appropriate people automatically notified?
* Business intelligence: Does the solution enable you to pull up at a key stroke the core data and trends that will enable you to draw up quickly business plans based on this analysis?
In addition, the solution must be robust, proven and stable; it must provide deep functionality and features, and be able to scale up as your business grows or the sophistication of your service capabilities increase.
The alternative, of course, is that you carry on as you are – being managed by your guests.


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