Executive Summary Technology continues to transform the way guests want to communicate with your property.
The latest trend is guest-facing mobile communication, a new channel for service requests. These systems allow travelers to bypass the traditional voice call to the front desk. Guests today can make requests via smartphone texts, in-room tablets, television sets, and voice-controlled devices like Amazon's Alexa.
Despite its rapid growth, guest-facing mobile is an emerging technology. That means most travelers still ask for extra towels, HVAC repair, or luggage assistance the traditional way – with a phone call or face-to-face conversation. Based on extensive customer data collected by Guestware, emerging mobile channels represent less than 10 percent of request tickets generated in hotels that offer a mobile guest-facing request option.
That said, when consumers express their preference, mobile is clearly the future:
- 64% of U.S. consumers with texting capability would prefer to use texts over voice as a customer service channel.
- Half of U.S. travelers want more automation in hotels.
- 49% of U.S. travelers want to use mobile devices to communicate with hotel staff.
These statistics leave hotel operators with some bottom-line questions:
- Can a guest-facing request system translate to increased revenue for your property?
- Can the request system enhance and personalize the guest experience?
- Can it improve operational efficiency?
The answer for many properties is "YES"…with one important caveat.
A guest-facing request channel can deliver maximum benefits only when linked to a comprehensive back of house guest request management system.
A robust request-ticket management system automates work flow behind the scenes so each request is quickly routed to and addressed by the appropriate staff resources like housekeeping or engineering. The use of an automated back of house system also ensures good processes are in place before introducing the new guest facing channel.
When the ticketing system integrates with the property management system (PMS), staff can access a guest's stay record and the room's maintenance history to evaluate the best response. Information collected during request fulfillment becomes part of a valued guest's profile and logged in the property maintenance and daily operations databases. This easily identifies and enables correction of recurring issues.
Before you put the latest mobile request technology in your guests’ hands, make sure your back office systems are in place to deliver what you promise.
This white paper looks behind the mobile tech trend to guide owners and operators in evaluating how a guest request management system can help their properties stand apart from the competition and differentiate themselves through exceptional service.
A Tale of Two Guest Requests
The following illustration shows the importance of having a back of house system in place before implementing new guest facing technology.
Scenario #1 – The Standalone Text Message System
Weary Traveler enters her hotel room after a delayed morning flight complicated by lost luggage. She puts her feet up for some much-needed R&R before her dinner meeting, only to discover that the TV remote does not work. Tired and annoyed, she uses the property’s app to text a service request.
A front desk associate responds to the guest and then reaches out to the engineer on duty via radio or cell. The engineer accepts the job while occupied by a plumbing emergency on another floor. When he finally makes it to the guest’s room, the guest has run out of time and must prepare for her meeting. This is not her first stay. She wonders why a preferred guest receives such a slow response and lack of follow up on a simple service request. She shares her experience on Trip Advisor and makes a note to book a room at a competing hotel the next time she comes to town.
Scenario #2 – Integrated Guest Request Management System
Weary Traveler texts her request for a new TV remote. The ticket management system automatically determines that the maintenance person assigned to the room is occupied by a plumbing emergency. The system reroutes the ticket to another available maintenance worker, who promptly delivers a new remote. On the way to Weary Traveler's room, his mobile app references the guest by name and also notes that she is a preferred guest. He offers her a dining coupon as a good will gesture and thanks her for being a member.
Weary Traveler's experience is automatically linked to her guest history, which triggers two flags. One informs engineering of the recurring TV remote problem. The other signals housekeeping to make sure Weary Traveler's TV is functioning before her next visit.
It is clear from the Weary Traveler scenario that an integrated guest request management system streamlines operations and elevates service, a benefit to both the hotel and guests.
Recommendations Before Implementing a Guest Facing Mobile Request System
The following list highlights operational and functional considerations that owner/operators should evaluate before adopting mobile guest request technology.
This list was compiled by Guestware based on more than 30 million hotel service requests processed by the company's cloud-based system in 2017. Guestware has been implemented in over 1,500 properties across 70 countries, with customers ranging from global hotel chains to independent properties.
1. Automate back of house (BOH) processes with a ticket management system
- Log current guest requests into the ticketing system
- Auto-dispatch all requests and work to staff mobile app
- Configure business rules to optimize task assignments based on location, shift, skill, etc.
- Engage staff to log all non-guest tickets like housekeeper generated work orders
- Configure engineering preventive maintenance schedule
- Integrate with PMS for guest recognition, room status, and history
Without these processes in place, adding a new channel for guests to communicate can create significant challenges for optimizing service operations.
2. Important functionality to consider when selecting the right guest facing mobile request system
There are many approaches to guest facing service. These range from simple SMS texting to mobile websites and brand mobile apps which offer more options. Here are questions to consider during your system evaluation:
- Can it integrate with existing systems (ticketing and PMS)?
- Are requests linked to a reservation and guest?
- Does the system offer SMS or a branded mobile web app, or both?
- Does the solution offer guests a pick list option for common requests?
- Can service agents log in and out of a chat queue and prioritize assignments?
- Can agents or managers transfer or take over a chat conversation?
- Does the system support pre-configured replies for common questions?
A big box brand property will have different needs from a small boutique or select service hotel. Give careful consideration to the pre-configured pick list for common requests. This approach automates ticket generation and eliminates the need for staff to respond to a text and dispatch tickets. 70% of guests will use a pick list when available over free-form text.
Handling a text request may seem no different than answering a phone, but responding to texts requires a different skill. Take time to train your team, then monitor how staff respond. Other considerations include:
3. Operational considerations for preparing the team
- What is your response time goal for new messages?
- Is staff available to monitor incoming and ongoing chat conversations?
- How qualified are staff at addressing guest questions in writing?
- Management should be prepared to draft standard guidelines for written responses.
- If pick list options are not available (pure SMS) then each request must also be entered for dispatch which takes more time and typically requires follow-up.
Conclusion – The convergence of emerging guest facing systems with back of house work flow systems
Hoteliers have used service request management systems since the 1990’s for service optimization and back of house work flow automation. These systems streamline the process of fulfilling requests and maintenance work and capture valuable data for process improvement. Management uses the data to make informed decisions about staff effectiveness and capital expenditures while eliminating recurring problems and elevating guest satisfaction.
Today, new ways for guests to communicate with hotels are emerging and evolving at a rapid pace. It is too early to say if any one solution will be the silver bullet for hotels. In addition to hotel focused solutions, more generic chat apps like WeChat, WhatsApp and voice systems like Alexa or Siri are also starting to catch on in hotels. Until a silver bullet emerges, hotels should prepare for multiple new channels and have a strong back of house ticket management system with open integration to support every possibility.