Five Essential Questions You Should Ask in Choosing Your Guest Internet Provider
By Michael Kasprzyk, CEO, Thinwires, LLC
As business owners we are always looking to improve the bottom line, aren't we? We are always looking for ways to make our clients happy while improving our margins. Guest Internet services are a great place to improve the guest experience your hotel provides while potentially increasing revenue. In this article, I will outline the 5 questions you need to ask your potential vendors to make sure that Guest Internet Services are a success at your property.
1. Can the vendor provide references for their work?
Yes, this might seem like an obvious step, but it is truly amazing how many times it doesn't happen. You're busy, they seem to be saying all the right stuff, the price is good... must be a winner, right? Not always so. Do yourself a favor, and avoid future headaches... follow through on this important step!
One tip when calling to check the vendors' references is to inquire about their inspection after the new vendor had installed their service and equipment. Be sure to ask if the vendor was thorough. Was the work performed adequately, in an efficient and organized manner? Were they tidy and did they leave the property without leaving a mess? You want to make sure there are no red flags after the vendor you choose has gone home.
2. Is the vendor capable of engineering services for your type of property?
Every hotel presents unique challenges for engineering and retrofitting Guest Internet. Varying construction materials, service level requirements, and the physical layout of your property can dictate different engineering methods. A 25-story building in an urban center is very different from a tropical resort with 25 two-story guest buildings along a beach. Ensure that your vendor knows what is required to service your type of property. The right equipment choices at the beginning of your project can result in a lower total cost of ownership and increase your guest satisfaction scores. At the end of the day, your hotel must have complete coverage in all guest areas. Whether wired or wireless, it is important to make sure that your specific needs will be met by the vendor that you choose.
You may also want to steer clear of IT shops turned "we do wireless, too!" Make sure you understand the core services your vendor offers. Vendors that aren't focused in the hospitality world aren't used to the requirements placed on the network by a constant barrage of new guests, using the network for the first time each day. Your guests come, bring their laptop woes with them, and leave before you can track them down. An average IT company typically isn't prepared to deal with those issues in the same way a company with a specialization and experience in the hospitality world can.
Beyond the hardware, you will also want to be sure that the vendor supports the access model that you prefer, or which may be required by your corporate flag. Whether it be free or paid guest access, or a specific log on procedure, find out if the guest interface will accommodate your needs. This is also the benefit of using a vendor that has experience in the hospitality industry, as they are likely familiar with these requests and can implement them quickly and easily.
3. Does the vendor offer telephone-based technical support for your guests and your front desk?
An important item to consider in your choice of vendors is how they provide support service to your guests. Do they provide a toll-free number for your guests to call? Is there a tech available 24 hours a day to answer guest questions AND front desk questions, or is it just for guests? Do they have tiered support, and if so, what can you expect from each level? Can they provide you metrics on hold times, mean time to resolution, and frequency of calls?
Call centers are not all created equally. Make sure you understand how they measure themselves, where they are located and the types of support staff operate the phone lines. Of particular importance is the increased use of non-native English speakers as help desk support. While Hospitality is an extremely diverse industry, guest services must be easy and simple to understand, whether it's the pool hours sign or the person helping the guest get online. Ensure that the call center works for your hotel demographic and style of service.
4. Once everything is up and running, how can you measure success and failures?
This extremely important question is almost never asked. Just how will you know what your guest experience is going to be like and how do you check up on the issues that are coming up in the hotel? Is there a log of calls? Can you see a weekly or monthly report that spells out what your guests have requested support for? How responsive have they been to your guests? How long were they on hold before someone picked up? How long did it take to resolve their issue?
I recommend that you pose these questions and find out how the vendors you're choosing from communicate with you after the installation is over. Being able to periodically review tickets opened from your property can reveal service issues with your vendor that you can hold them directly accountable for, as well as uncovering issues that may be recurring at your hotel. For example, broken network jacks in the room... Who hasn't had one ripped out of the wall while a guest was trying to unplug it?
5. What kind of service and response can you expect when there are problems or if something breaks?
Something we've seen time and time again in the field is the sincere shock that a hotel owner or general manager may feel when being told that an access point, installed some time ago, has gone out to pasture and they need a new one - more specifically, they need to buy a new one and have it installed.
If you are looking to own the network, expect to replace gear over time just like any other computer or hotel system. It may be to your advantage to ask for extended warrantees on your equipment, or at least negotiate a "cross ship" program where your vendor is going to stock spares of your equipment for immediate overnight shipping to your hotel with the right programming - ready to just plug back in. Onsite service calls may cost additional money but phone support with cross shipping of replacement parts may not be an expensive option.
There are times when you may need an expert to visit the hotel to determine the root of any recurring problems or issues that are causing guest dissatisfaction. Make sure you've budgeted for these visits or make sure they are included in the service contract. Most service contracts are for toll free 24/7 guest technical support and do not include site visits, equipment warrantees or service level agreements for uptime at the property. Many of them offer those services as well, but drop those extras from their terms in order to present their lowest possible pricing. Make sure the price includes what you'll need in the long run, or you'll end up paying more than you should have.
Make sure that it is stated clearly how all the elements of the network will be maintained and repaired when needed. Make sure that you know about all the costs you will face over the first 2-3 years with the vendor you're thinking of choosing.
To wrap it up, you need to take some important steps to make sure you make the right choice for your Guest Internet Provider. Here's the point-by-point breakdown:
- Determine what you're really looking to provide your guests - what's required by your franchise and your market and business conditions?
- Find out if the vendor really fits as an engineering choice - do they work in hotels all day long or just once in a while?
- Get the details on how your guests will actually be supported when problems arise - this is key to reducing front desk call volumes and keeping your guests happy.
- Find out how you can track the success of your new system - look for sample tickets and long-term access to your problem history with each vendor.
- Negotiate your long term service and support details upfront - when you've got an angry set of guests is NOT the time to be figuring our if you can afford a service call or not - make sure you can get what you need without hassle. Email me anytime with questions or comments - I'd be happy to point you in the right direction.
Michael Kasprzyk is CEO of Thinwires, LLC, a privately held company that specializes in guest Internet services for the hospitality world. Since he co-founded Thinwires in early 2003, Michael has successfully grown the business to service several properties of top hotel chains, including members of Leading Hotels of the World. The company currently manages guest Internet services for thousands of rooms in hotels throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. Mr. Kasprzyk can be contacted at 716-883-8719 or firstname.lastname@example.org Extended Bio...
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