Ms. Nedry

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

The "IT" Factor in Service...How Does the Information Technology Team Fit into Today's Guest Experience?

By Roberta Nedry, President and Founder, Hospitality Excellence, Inc.

The IT or technology team is not always on the front line of attention when it comes to Guest Service skills. Their roles and guest demand for technology services has increased and is going up and yet, guest service may not be a priority in this department. How can these team members be better prepared for making the service excellence difference?

Guests are lined up at the front desk, sales clients are calling, room service is backed up and temperatures all over the hotel are rising. The computer systems are down and panic is spreading quickly as the IT phones start ringing off the hook. The fix is not fast enough for anyone on the front line as demand for immediate solutions becomes more intense. The technology team slips into analytic action and begins to try to determine who to help first.

How does the Information Technology team in any hospitality environment respond to technology snafus that impact service delivery? Do the individuals in those roles understand the emotional domino effect of technology frustrations on employees which then also impact guests? Are IT teams oriented or trained to understand that they are providing customer service to internal customers, the employees and do they comprehend the behaviors that will add or decrease anxiety in these anxiety -producing situations?

Most employees in a technology role probably begin with a different mindset. They are trained to understand the intricacies and nuances of machines, software and the internet. They are probably not trained to understand the intricacies and nuances of the humans and the emotions around them. Frontline personnel are trained to anticipate, be proactive and responsive to guest needs. Technology teams are trained to anticipate, analyze and be responsive to machine and software needs. Integrating the two philosophies and approaches can lead to productive new strategies to benefit both employees and guests.

When an emergency takes place or the unexpected internet disruption takes place, how does the front line of technology help the front line of guest service so service to guests is not disrupted or displaced for too long?

In some small properties, the traditional hotel engineer has been given the added responsibilities of solving wireless and computer problems when they were previously more focused on TV's, remote controls, air conditioning and lighting. Now, with additional hi-tech duties and guest needs for immediate access to wireless and the ability to set up their hotel room office away from home as soon as they arrive, expectations are higher. Whether the problem is at the front desk, in the room, or between departments, within operations or in the administrative offices, any hiccup, long or short, can cause tempers to flare and emotions to escalate.

Depending on the property or brand technology structure, some services might be outsourced to an outside internet provider. If that's the case, there is another step in solving the problem and the engineer may have to interface with that provider or in some cases, the guest may have to step in. Hoteliers who are used to solving problems immediately on property may be faced with the additional considerable challenge of controlling projects at a distance with outsourced services. Without service standards in place or guest -service oriented policies, the teams both inside and outside the property may not be prepared for solving problems with a guest service focus.

Hospitality leaderss need to consider if those responsible for information technology understand their role on the stage of guest experience management. Do they view their role as one of providing guest /customer service in addition to solving the specifc technology concern? Has each touchpoint in the service delivery chain of events been mapped out and have each of those touchpoints been matched to service behaviors which can impact that point of contact in a positive, negative or indifferent way?

Understanding the big picture and all the sensitivities involved can be powerful to share with IT teams. Because they may not be on the fronline with guests, they may not realize how these little or big problems affect the guest service result. IT teams, whether they are engineers, sophisticated technology experts, outsourced firms or even managers with expanded duties need to recognize that their fellow employees are their primary customers. Setting expectations is an important part of this process as is communicating those expectations in a responsive and efficient manner. Not knowing what is happening or when it might happen can exacerbate any situation. Many times frontline employees must deliver expectations to guests without really knowing what those expectations may be. IT teams can really alleviate technology trauma by providing solid expectation communications to the frontline so the frontline does not lose credibility.

Providing a deeper understanding works both ways to create the most effective guest service strategies. IT teams can explain what it takes to analyze and solve problems to frontline teams. Frontline teams can explain to IT how guests react and what type of communication would be helpful to them and enhance service delivery. Developing effective working relationships between these two very different employee 'cultures' may seem obvious but is often neglected and that's when misunderstandings occur.

Other areas impacted by the IT/frontline interface include the hotel's website, customer loyalty tracking systems, data collection, meeting planner specs, reviews and responses to them and especially now social media. Who takes the lead on designing the guest service strategy for any of these areas to complement each project? What proactive steps and standards can be put in place to anticipate and plan for ways to enhance service delivery as well as plan for service recovery?

Consider the following priorities to enhance technology touchpoints to support stronger guest service:

• Include and provide Guest Service training to all employees involved in IT or technology efforts. If any services are outsourced, make sure a representative of that company or key points of contact are integrated into the hotel's guest service philosophy and standards

• Design service standards for the IT team. Make sure they understand how their role may impact those standards and train them to understand what behavior skills are essential to support those standards.

• Focus on internal communications between the IT teams and other parts of the hotel or business. Recognize both internal and external customers. Analyze how expectations are set and delivered. Determine most efficient and responsive ways for departments/employees to interact with IT and vice versa so that everyone understands how each touchpoint will impact the guest and employee experience.

• Be proactive about what services are provided and what are needed most by guests and employees. Evaluate things that are going well and problems that come up frequently on a constant and consistent basis.

• Map out each point of contact, even the smallest ones and identify each opportunity for interaction. Then, identify ways to make each of those touchpoints exceptional

• Share feedback from guests and employees, both positive and negative, with the IT teams after problems are solved. Continuously provide productive feedback to help IT employees and providers better understand how these situations impact emotions and in turn, experiences.

• Include Technology employees/teams in reward and recognition efforts and celebrate service successes!

Add extra Hospitality awareness to the IT team and get a "HIT" in guest service connections. Add the soft skills of service to the software of technology and make sure all systems are "GO" for guest experience management. Experience the efficiency of repeat guests, referral guests, great reviews and increased profitability of human productivity!

Roberta Nedry is President and Founder of Hospitality Excellence, Inc. and has spent over 32 years exploring, delivering and managing guest and customer experiences and service training. She helps organizations to reach levels of exceptional service and regularly consults with executives and managers on transforming customer experiences. Her Hospitality Excellence Team is internationally recognized for its expertise in creating customer experience strategies that zero in on and inspire the DNA of each client yielding enhanced internal employee experiences and external customer and brand value. Ms. Nedry’s diverse background with both public and private companies allows clients to draw on her extensive career experience for business solutions. Ms. Nedry can be contacted at 877-436-3307 or roberta@hospitalityexcellence.com Extended Bio...

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Guest Service: The Personalized Experience
In the not-too-distant future, when guests arrive at a hotel, they will check themselves in using a kiosk in the lobby, by- passing a stop at the front desk. When they call room service to order food, it will be from a hotel mobile tablet, practically eliminating any contact with friendly service people. Though these inevitable developments will likely result in delivered to their door by a robot. When they visit a restaurant, their orders will be placed and the bill will be paid some staff reduction, there is a silver lining – all the remaining hotel staff can be laser-focused on providing guests with the best possible service available. And for most guests, that means being the beneficiary of a personalized experience from the hotel. According to a recent Yahoo survey, 78 percent of hotel guests expressed a desire for some kind of personalization. They are seeking services that not only make them feel welcomed, but valued, and cause them to feel good about themselves. Hotels must strive to establish an emotional bond with their guests, the kind of bond that creates guest loyalty and brings them back time and again. But providing personalized service is more than knowing your guests by name. It’s leaving a bottle of wine in the room of a couple celebrating their anniversary, or knowing which guest enjoys having a fresh cup of coffee brought to their room as part of a wake-up call. It’s the small, thoughtful, personal gestures that matter most and produce the greatest effect. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.