By Adam and Larry Mogelonsky
The check-in experience is perennially under the microscope because first impressions are everything. When you consider the context of the guest that’s arriving – jetlagged, lower back pain from being crammed like sardines into an airplane, stressed from being in a foreign city – it makes sense to prioritize upgrading this aspect of the hotel stay, particularly when there are so many tech vendors who can help you solve the challenges of long lineups and disgruntled travelers who may not want to deal with a front desk agent.
First and foremost, we must mention the non-mobile upgrades because they are important, too. Yes, certain guest segments would likely prefer to check in and out directly from their phones and remain largely invisible to the front office team. Consider the solo corporate traveler who wants to be as efficient as possible with their time or members of the younger generations who are, to hyperbolize just a bit, addicted to their phones and may even get minor anxiety from having to contend with the front desk. Then there are luxury hotels or resorts where meeting the guests at check-in is a set way to set the tone for an enjoyable stay.
For all these instances where mobile check-in is out of the running, a good first step is developing strong data connections to business intelligence or a dedicated labor management platform. Such systems would be able to give you actionable insights on the exact times when front desk agents are most needed so that you can staff efficiently while also preventing those dreaded lineups. Moreover, bringing in the data from the mobile app will give you better intelligence on the average check-in time, letting you attenuate housekeeping schedules. As this is but one function that these platforms perform to help finesse operating costs, they are worth investigating regardless of whether you’re going mobile or not.
Next, for economy, select service and midscale properties, the advent of check-in kiosks offers a healthy middle ground between front desk clerk and fully mobile. While a number of vendors now incorporate proper biometric verification so that falsified identities are not a concern and so that guests can more frictionlessly get their keycards, what we stress again is guest context. Many travelers will be fully zoned out by the time they arrive in the lobby – not exactly a mood conducive to upselling. But kiosks are just a screen where there’s no pressure that you’re keeping someone waiting.
In other words, like the website, the newsletters, the social media posts and the dedicated pre-arrival upselling platform, kiosks facilitate ‘window shopping’. Some customers want to evaluate their potential purchases from afar, without the perceived discomfort of monopolizing the staffer’s time or any semblance of ‘decision fatigue’ from having to choose on the spot likely at a moment of weariness. The same guest who says, “I’ll think about it,” then never does after being prompted by a front desk clerk about add-ons may instead spend a few extra seconds evaluating some promotional offers at a kiosk.
With all this background, we can circle back to what the latest is with mobile check-in where the concepts of intelligent labor management, biometric identification and window shopping all apply.
Like kiosks, mobile apps have progressed to the point where remote identification can be completed in a secure manner. This is an important step to look at integrating as, again, consider the context of a tired traveler who just wants to check in off their phones but then gets frustrated because they still have to visit someone in the lobby to verify their passport. Call it the mission to be ‘incrementally frictionless’.
With that as the goal, another captivating feature for mobile check-in is the ability to geofence so that the software can interpret the estimated time of arrival to then coordinate onsite activities. As a simplified example, suppose that a guest who purchased a chilled bottle of champagne as a welcome amenity is discovered to be checking in from the airport and you know that on average it takes half an hour to get to your hotel. This alone would help to guide smoother timing of the required service order to the room through the ops platform.
The key here is ‘smoother’ wherein tight labor controls are a consummate goal for hotel management. Once you understand how geofenced check-ins can help to more accurately time service delivery, it lets you get more creative with what welcome amenities you can offer and what the arrival experience looks like.
Then just like the kiosks, the app interface is yet another way to upsell and cross-sell without the subconscious pressure of keeping real people waiting. Therein you can test different offers or the specific ordering of offers to see what resonates the most. To be clear, we aren’t talking about night-and-day revenue growth, but a win is a win, and if you can incrementally drive a few percentage points each quarter for suite upsells or additional F&B orders, then that’s still worth celebrating.
To close, it’s important to mention the actual hardware that facilitates the mobile check-in process. Your door locks may need some upgrading, which is a potential scheduling roadblock for the low season. Therein you have to decide whether to allow for silent near-field communications so guests can enter the guestroom simply by approaching the door or if you require an extra point of security – and friction – by making them open the hotel app before the door can be unlocked. Moreover, you will also need backup procedures in place for when a guest’s phone dies. Like anything in this regard, permitting mobile check-ins has its uses and its tradeoffs, but we hope this clears up a few points.