By Alex Shashou
Guest request management, or as some call it, guest experience management, is an important part of hotel management because it underpins guest service. Yet hotels often fail to prioritize request management with the right technological tools.
Before digital communication, request management was already a challenge. But as digital communication channels have proliferated, guest request management has become commensurately more complex. Today’s guests can request services, information or amenities in person, over the phone, by email, via mobile app, or through social media. Text messaging and other messaging services also add complexity and challenges for the staff at the end of these messages.
The main reason why request management requires a dedicated software solution is because the hotel staff member who fields the request is almost always not the employee who executes it. Without a dedicated solution, this necessitates a multi-person chain of communication. And both analog and digital communication chains create space for requests to get dropped or misplaced.
Analog communication (radios, pagers, and even pen and paper) is still surprisingly prevalent in hotels. According to a 2015 survey from Software Advice, 25% of U.S. hoteliers still use pen and paper to manage their entire properties. Another 16% of respondents said they had no system at all (i.e. they’re 100% manual). Analog interactions have no traceability. Guest requests are not captured in a searchable place, so hotels can’t learn about guest habits over time. Simple everyday occurrences like shift changes can wreak havoc on request management processes that rely on analog tools.
But request management is challenging to hotels that rely on technology too. This is because hotel staff technology is typically fragmented and disconnected across departments. Although a hotel’s property management system (PMS) is one common system that integrates with many service systems, it is not built for unifying operational requests. Department specific systems must connect to the PMS when sharing is important to operations, but there is no central clearinghouse for all hotel requests.
Having staff on different systems complicates request management and makes it virtually impossible to standardize operations. It becomes impossible to provide a consistent experience across every department, or across every hotel in a group. Disconnected staff technology means that as staff fulfill requests, there is no central place to track progress. Requests can be dropped, accountability can be skirted, and service ultimately suffers. There is no real trail of guest engagement. It is nearly impossible to ensure that everything gets done.
As new communication channels come into vogue, request management becomes even more difficult without a dedicated solution. Spreading guest requests across even more channels unmanaged means hotel staff must now spend their time monitoring all these different channels. They then have to sort through and dispatch these requests by hand to the appropriate employees. There's an irony to this. Increasing communication options for your guests can lead to increased guest satisfaction. But when your staff is unable to keep up with these channels, service suffers. Guest satisfaction is again compromised.
Request management matters because service today has a direct bearing on ADR. As the influence of TripAdvisor on bookings continues to grow (95% of travel planning study respondents report reading travel reviews prior to booking), hotels are under a microscope like never before. Guests are evaluating service in real-time, with rankings increasingly correlated to hotel revenue. Previously, a hotel’s marketing department could focus on distribution and content that supported a brand’s image, without concerning themselves with the day-to-day operations of each individual property. In today’s environment, however, guest-generated content on blogs and review sites is driving bookings, and this content is focused heavily on the experience in-stay. This means hotels are under more pressure than ever before to align the brand’s image with its service delivery at the property level. Effective guest request management – the foundation of service delivery – is thus core to this new paradigm.
Fortunately, technology today can make guest request management a whole lot easier. Dedicated guest request management software can centralize all digital and analog requests. Mobile software tools can let hotel staff enter requests made by guests in person, on the phone, or through any digital channel. The software can then seamlessly dispatch these requests to the appropriate departments and individuals. Employees can then accept these requests in the form of tickets and close them once completed. This provides accountability and transparency to the processing of all requests, something that is not provided by typical analog tools like pen and paper and radio. It also provides a de facto workflow tool or to-do list.
Dedicated request management technology can also save hotel staff from many hours of “detective work.” A digital paper trail frees the front desk, engineering departments, and management teams. No more rooting around to find the cause of an issue, context for a maintenance request, or the source of a guest complaint.
With the right request management system, your staff will never miss or drop another request. And this no matter what crazy communications the hotel industry comes up with next (here's looking at you emoji room service menu and voice-activated hotel rooms).