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Is YOUR Service Priovider Providing Service to YOU?

by Terence Ronson, ISHC 
November 16, 2011

I attend meetings, talk with clients and Associates, read various articles and BLOGs, and when I do so, all too frequently I unfortunately hear adverse comments about Service providers and how woefully inadequate they are about providing service to YOU - The Hotelier.
In an industry that exists solely to provide service - I ask myself why is this? Why is it that a Service Provider (You) are not receiving service levels commensurate with your expectations? Is it conceivable that the customer - YOU, are being too demanding or have too high expectations, or is it really the case - the service you receive sucks?
Let's firstly ask ourselves - what kind of service levels are we looking for?
Personally, I think it's as follows:
  • Someone at the end of a phone line, who can understand what we are saying [often under stressful and emotional circumstances], be sympathetic and responsive to our needs and have some diagnostic skills. Of course, they must also be able to converse in our language.
  • They should not be just a pencil pusher or keyboard operator - and if you - my service provider are using a 3rd party for this service - please test the lines yourself from time to time and see how efficiently that company operates. These folks are the front line to your organization, which WE are calling, and directly facing customers. Imagine the type of character, personality and social skills Hotel personnel possess in this role. Should your people be any different?
  • They should - depending on the SLA [Service Level Agreement] YOU have with the supplier, be able to either handle the call themselves, channel it efficiently and speedily through to someone who can, or arrange for YOU to have a call back within a specified time.
  • Vendor take note - If it's a call back situation - make sure it happens well within the agreed time and not at timeline - three minutes fifty seven seconds if you have a call back limit of four hours...Be mindful that someone is at the other end of the phone pacing up and down waiting for that all important call.
  • The person whom you speak with should have excellent interpersonal skills, again be sympathetic remembering you are possibly stressed out and emotional, have great diagnostic skills, and the requisite technical knowledge to handle the issue. If some information is already known about the incident type - then prior research should be made before the call takes place about a potential fix - and not always wait for the call to happen and then keep the caller waiting even longer at the other end. That is frustrating and a waste of both parties time.
  • During the diagnostic phase, if the person taking the call analyzes that they cannot handle the case [hopefully this will happen quickly and without and any hit/miss situations], they should speedily expedite it to someone who can. This particular part of the process can be extremely frustrating for the caller since you are now passing the call to a third person, time has been wasted and stress levels significantly increased especially if we are talking about a mission critical system and Guest Service is being affected, so this process needs to be handled with the utmost care, sensitivity and attention.
  • Once the remedy has been made, and confirmed to be working correctly, the support individual should thank the caller for calling the Support Line and ask if there is anything else they can help with. Whilst you may feel this can be opening yourself up to abuse, remember, the calling party is paying for this service, and often at a very high rate. Your job is to serve!
  • If the problem cannot be immediately solved and knowingly is going to take some time, then a workaround should be offered [if practical and possible] and a specified time and process made for handling the follow-up process given to the caller. The caller MUST agree this to process otherwise potential conflict can happen.
Why do we need System Support in the first place?
When I hear the above points, I also challenge the person making the statement asking why they need to contact support - trying to understand the underlying reason(s):
  1. Is it a system bug? Remember, all software inherently has bugs, and is fundamentally broken. That's why we get regular updates for commercial Operating systems, Programs and apps. They are not just enhancements....
  2. Is it that you are [incorrectly] expecting the software to do something in a certain way and it doesn't?
  3. Do you, or your people have a lack of training and experience, and are calling the Support line to make up for this deficiency?
  4. Are you handling first line support internally via Super Users and System Owners, or your own Help Desk - or just picking up the phone and calling Support because it's the easy thing to do and you think it's your God given right as you are paying for it anyway?
  5. Is it because you want a Report to give you information in a particular way, and you can't find the data or it just does not?
  6. Has the system crashed?
Some of the above reasons should not cause you to call support lines. I'm not defending them in any way shape or form, but you should firstly have the requisite knowledge in-house to cope with some of these issues, and not tie up support lines for non-emergency items.

To draw a parallel - if you cut your finger at home, and all you need is a Band Aid, or sneeze a couple of times - do you call the emergency services to send an Ambulance? I hope not!

Let's talk about in-house first line support
Firstly - day-to-day support of application solutions [like PMS, PABX, POS, S&C, HR, Accounting to mention a few] is not the job of the IT Manager! What? I hear you say. Yes, it is NOT his/her responsibility. The IT Manager should be responsible for the entire network making sure all systems work harmoniously - interconnect via interfaces and function smoothly - they manage the sum of all the parts - the IT ecosystem.

If you have a software issue with say your PMS - and you can't print a report, or something simple goes awry with the Point of Sale system [and I don't mean a hardware failure], then the System Owner - people within the owning group for this system (Stakeholders) in which it is a business tool should firstly try to handle this utilizing their diagnostic skills and higher level of training as a Super User. And in the unlikely event that they cannot handle the case - then the incident should be escalated to the IT Manager to call the Support line. If you don't already have Super Users in place - then you should develop some quickly to take care of this gaping need.
Calling Support
When you call Support - you MUST log the particular incident/case in some form of System Log - some Hotels use a Spreadsheet, some use a physical log book, and some have more sophisticated tracking systems - Like Unify. Whatever method you use, and you must use one - the call should be logged with at least the following information:  
  • Unique number identifier of the case - can be a sequential number like 1,2,3, etc.
  • Date
  • Time
  • Person making the call
  • Issue reported by (department/name/time)
  • Details of the issue - be as descriptive as possible - short codes are OK so long as others can understand what has been written
  • System affected (if you have one book per system - which is the best method, this can be omitted)
  • Person you spoke with at the other end - get their name and extension number or direct line
  • Case status - (1) Resolved, (2) Pending
  • Is it (1) Bug, (2) Unknown issue (3) Something wrong (4) Nice to have/enhancement
  • Severity of problem (A) System crash (B) Partial failure (C) Workaround in place (D) Not critical
  • What will happen next - if applicable
  • When is the follow up to take place and by whom?
Follow-up the case
The IT Manager should review logs on a Daily basis so he/she knows what's going on - even if they have been woken up at home in the middle of the night to help support the case. This should be done prior to the daily Morning Briefing, since some of the issues may be raised at that time - especially if they were critical and affected the operation.

It's also a good idea to summarize system issues and find any trends/patterns. These should appear quickly if Logs are well maintained and analyzed. For example if you see printers keep failing, reports don't print, system hangs during a certain process - then you know there is a trend. More importantly if Support is being called because a certain process is not working on a regular basis.

Vendors should also be logging Support Calls and analyzing them on a regular basis with clients - understanding where issues are happening, and see if patterns emerge that perhaps require additional training or some form of operational modification.

It is important to point out to the Hotel if a particular person keeps calling Support for issues that could easily be handled on-property, then additional training should be given to enhance that individual's First-aid skills. This especially rings true with employee churn and after an upgrade has taken place. I know this is one of the arguments CIO's are using for moving systems off-property/tothe Cloud - and by doing so, reduce the need for on-property skills.

Fact is that the existence of (up-to-date) SOPs, which include the use of system functions (input/output), are a convenient vehicle to administer training (and re-training) ensuring consistent service. There is nothing worse for the business than outdated SOPs and I would go as far as binding the SOP maintenance and training activities to the annual bonus scheme of every supervisor. It includes updates as a result of either system enhancements/upgrades or business driven changes. 

But until that happens - both parties can benefit from higher levels of on-property skills, and more importantly by doing so, the Hotels' operation will be improved, and the Support line will receive less calls. Overall, it's WIN WIN

(C) Terence Ronson ISHC 


Terence Ronson

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Also See: STOP, LOOK, LISTEN: Where We Are and Where We Are Headed with Hotel Technology / Terence Ronson / September 2011

New Kid on the Block / Terence Ronson / September 2011

The Cloud is Fast Approaching - What This Means to You - The Hotelier / Terence Ronson / August 2011

What Was Your Takeaway From HITEC 2011? / Terence Ronson / July 2011

DO's and DON'Ts of Hotel Technology v3.0 / Terence Ronson / June 2011

Life Can be Full of (Pleasant) Surprises; Especially When a Property Sets Their Mind and Heart into Doing it Right / Terence Ronson / May 2011

Innocent Until Proven Guilty - The Proliferation of iPads / Terence Ronson / April 2011

Your Hotel May be Old, But The Way You Deliver Service Should Not Be....Just Ask Mickey Mouse / Terence Ronson / February 2011

2010 Reflections...And a glimpse into 2011 - Guest Room Technology Focus / Terence Ronson / December 2010

The Front Desk Is Dead. Long Live the [New] Front Desk / Terence Ronson / August 2010

Fairmont Hotels Installing Self-service Kiosks in All North America Hotels; Includes Guestroom Mapping and Airline Check-In Features / June 2005

Hilton Tests New Check-In/Check-Out Self Service Kiosks at Two Flagship Properties / Sept 2003

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