Updated: Oct 25, 2020
HOW CAN WE CONTINUE TO MAKE USE OF ADVANCED
TECHNOLOGY WITHOUT LOSING OUR CHARM?
Before "certain people" start making comments about this subject, I do need to admit something about myself: when it comes to technology in general, I am probably not your greatest source. If you know me or if you have worked with me in the past, you might remember me as one of those people who can crash a computer or a phone by just looking at it, and who always needs to be best buddies with the Director of IT.
But, when it comes to hotel technology, I am some sort of expert, thanks to the years spent using and implementing the newest softwares, and to the fact that I really enjoy the progress our business has made in this respect.
Thinking of my first job experiences I remember all the manual work we used to do, which made every assignment time consuming and extremely tedious; and look at how we work now, just 10-15 years later: our work has become so much easier, faster and more efficient thanks to the technology we have available to us. And I have been exposed to a lot of different ones, so I consider myself a reliable source of information and advice on this topic.
I also consider this topic very interesting and current, particularly helpful in a reality where face to face interactions are not a desired way of doing business, and where technology has stepped up to offer valuable alternatives.
The hotel industry in the last 6 months has been adopting a completely new approach to figure out how to cope with the “new normal”, and how to keep guests and employees safe. I have been working on this myself this year, and I have been once again very impressed with the possibilities we have nowadays.
Before we get into details of what system does what, there are a couple of simple pieces of advice that I’d like to offer.
First off, as much as technology is a lifesaver for certain aspects, we shouldn't forget that it’s subject to failure, and therefore I do not like to blindly rely on it. I prefer to be always prepared to handle downtime with a good back-up plan, so that’s the first advice I would like to offer. Simple and obvious to some maybe, but surprisingly not applied everywhere...
Secondly, when it comes to choosing a new software, the best ones in my experience are the ones which are user friendly, simple to understand and easy to teach. We need to remember we are going to have different levels of employees using it, including people who are maybe a bit older and/or not so tech-savvy, so why would we get stuck with something more complicated?
And last but not least, when introducing a new technology, a very important component is getting everybody in the organization on board with it. There should not be a situation where one person, or one department is using it and the others don’t. Technology is meant to make our jobs easier, but it will work to its full potential if we trust its capabilities and if we use it correctly, otherwise we’ll defeat the whole purpose of having it (and of spending money on it). So my last advice is don’t try and adapt the technology to your existing way of working, but the other way around: shift your previous ways to fit the more advanced tools.
Let’s look through not only the newest softwares that can solve 2020 dilemmas, but also the ones that have already improved our operations over the last decade.
The truth is there are plenty of products that provide similar solutions nowadays, for the most part all quite good, so hopefully this post will prompt some insights on which ones I find better than others. I have purposely left out the ones I used but did not prefer as I am here to promote the good ones, and not to discredit the other ones.
When it comes to housekeeping softwares, I have personally implemented from scratch and worked with Knowcross in 3 properties, and it’s no secret that I am a big fan.
Knowcross is not only a housekeeping software anymore. With its 5 modules, it allows you to manage your housekeeping department with the touch of an ipod, but also to communicate, dispatch and resolve jobs intra-departments; it facilitates the creation of an extensive database for your daily documents such as checklists, rooms inspections, hotel standards etc; it provides an efficient tool for guests’ profiles and complaints management; it finally automates and monitors your preventive maintenance activities. It’s a whole package, and the reason why I grew to like it so much and to recommend it, is mainly because it does everything I need, it’s extremely user friendly - easy to learn, easy to use - and therefore accessible to everyone, and it builds a very comprehensive historical useful for tracking purposes and data analysis. The only thing the system does not have yet - but I know it’s on their radar - is forecasting capabilities. Hopefully that’s coming soon!
Moving to the front of the house side, the possibilities are endless.
The latest softwares I have implemented existed before the pandemic, but they seem to be designed specifically for the current circumstances. Before Covid-19 the industry was already going in the direction of using technology to replace personal interactions. Just like in airports, big hotels have had kiosks for quite some time, so guests can check-in and out with a machine versus with a front desk clerk. More and more properties are adopting text messaging systems such as Whistle, Zingle, or Akia, which allow guest communication through phone texts, versus in person. TV operating systems allow guests to do things such as ordering Room Service or sending requests, or viewing their final bill on the TV itself, versus having to call or go to the front desk.
I must say I’m always a strong supporter of personal exchange, and I really want my guests to come to the front desk and talk to us. However, now more than ever, our priority needs to be the safety and the comfort of our guests and employees, therefore adopting such solutions or not is not a choice between luxury service and technology anymore, it’s simply a necessity. So we comply.
For the first time last year, I worked with Zingle (product of Medallia) - and even though I did not see the advantage at first, after using it I have to admit I was impressed. First of all, guests love using this kind of tool, and staff does too. It does take away from the effort of providing personal service, but you gain in communication efficiency and speed. We live in a reality where everyone walks around with their phone, and whether it’s your style or not, texting really is the most efficient and fast way (and secure nowadays) of passing on information or asking a question. Zingle certainly wins when it comes to being user friendly and providing options to automate, track, and interface. Alice offers the same solution amongst its products, and it’s quickly emerging as a leader of hotel solutions in the last few years.
The implementation of one of the platforms Zingle interfaces with - called MyCheck, was one of my last big projects before my role was eliminated. MyCheck is also something I would have probably not considered before the pandemic, but in 2020 a system of this kind can provide some very good solutions to our challenges. This software offers various products for front desk, reservations, and food & beverage, with the main goal of making the experience for the guest completely digital. Through a simple web link (or through your hotel app), guests can manage their reservation details before arrival, pre-register, obtain their room number, and check-in. During the stay they can use the same tool to order in room dining or at the restaurant, to view their details and preview the folio. Finally on departure, they are able to pay their bill, check-out and receive their final receipt.
And like all its other partners, MyCheck integrates with Assa Abloy - Door Security Solutions - and provides an additional feature: mobile keys. Guest room keys are now available on their phone and room doors can be opened with just a quick phone tap.
There is essentially no need for a guest to come to the front desk anymore. Again, unthinkable for luxury hoteliers, but necessary right now.
As far as the front of the house, there are also many tools available for guest services, in particular for our amazing concierges!
GoConcierge was well known to me before Alice bought it and transformed it into Alice Guest Services.
What I particularly liked about GoConcierge was the clean organized aspect of the system, and the nicely catalogued and fast way to extract data. It was a simple system, yet perfectly functional. My concierge teams loved it and so did I. I have not had the pleasure of seeing the new version of it, but I am confident Alice has done a great job with it. With its 6 products that offer multiple solutions for different departments, I feel like I would like it just as much as Knowcross. I would love to hear some comments from Alice experts and users.
When it comes to valet operations, FlashValet is the software I have worked with in a couple of properties, and valet teams seemed to be always quite satisfied with it. Easily downloadable as an i-phone app or as a cloud platform, the system offers parking operations management solutions, pulls reports and revenue figures, interfaces with your PMS, allows text messaging with guests, and it now offers contactless payment as well.
Monsierge offers an Apple partner in-room entertainment system which seems quite well done. At my last property we used Enseo, which seems to be one of the top rated for the last couple of years, but I honestly did not use it long enough to have an opinion.
During my readings, I have come across a newer product called Angie, which provides HD voice controlled thermostats and more. Brands of this kind offer an interactive voice feature to control the temperature of the room, without touching it or having to get up in the middle of the night. Also sensors detect if the guest has left the room for an extended period of time and prompts to dim the lights, regulate the temperature, and save more energy - always a big win!
Alexa for Hospitality launched by Amazon in the summer of 2018, not only manipulates the room temperature, but provides a full range of voice-controlled options for guests to operate the TV, the music, the lights, and even allows to request items to be delivered or to check-out. Incredible.
If you have been exposed to Reservations or Revenue during your career, you know how the work of Revenue Managers has also been simplified by the use of systems that analyze circumstances and historical, and build rates and forecasts for them. The preferred system within Lore Group was Ideas, it was not part of my responsibilities to work with this software, but I played with it from time to time, and I found it quite amazing.
What about F&B? The QR code option has lately become so popular and easy, every hotel and restaurant is now going for it, and Room Service is going in this direction as well: not only with digital menus, but also with automated systems. I swear I have seen articles about robots delivering food (or others) to your room, and about automated machines that connect the room minibar directly with your in room dining storage - sort of like a reverse chute for products delivery.
I am not surprised to hear of such technology, because I have heard of astonishing inventions. During my Executive Housekeeper time, I remember one day our Business Development Director sent me an article about self-cleaning rooms! I thought it was a joke, but it is a reality already and some hotels are seriously starting to experiment with it. Take a look at this article: Self cleaning Rooms.
So there you go, not only we have systems that will do brain work for us, we now have advanced to the point that technology can perform our manual labor as well and spare us of any human interaction or physical presence. It’s promising and exciting that all of this is possible, but it’s also scary. Is this leading us to the point of not needing people anymore? When Covid will be in our past and we will be able to go back to the “old normal” will hospitality opt to return to the old ways, or will it continue to use the advanced technology that we have been talking about? Is our industry destined to become more automated and to lose personality or will we be able to make use of our brilliant advancement and still keep our charm?