Mr. Ellis

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

How Employee-Facing Social Technology Improves the Guest Experience

By Bernard Ellis, Vice President of Industry Strategy, Infor Hospitality

In today's world of 24/7 information access via smart phones and tablets, the next generation of hotel guests expects instant gratification and craves constant connection to the data and services they seek. According to Forrester, online and mobile consumption as a whole rose from 29 percent to 40 percent between 2009 and 2013. (1) This has significantly impacted the hospitality industry, as hoteliers are faced with the challenge of keeping pace with ever-increasing service expectations from guests through a growing number of outlets. In order to meet these expectations, hospitality organizations are examining internal processes and looking to new technology platforms to help boost efficiency and speed service to guests.

The use of social media for communication between properties and guests has already been established as an important outlet over the past several years. Creating a presence on social websites such as Facebook and Twitter is no longer optional, but rather something that hoteliers must participate in to be viewed as a viable travel option. Research confirms that hospitality organizations utilizing social media experience significantly more website visitors, which ultimately facilitates an increase in reservations and revenue. Social media channels have also become viable outlets for marketers to present real-time offers and promotions to potential guests based on the time and location from which they view the hotel's profile. Additionally, as review websites such as Yelp and Trip Advisor have opened the door for guest discussions about hotels, social media outlets provide the most direct way to engage with customers. Many travel websites automatically link to Facebook profiles of members. Therefore if a hotel receives a negative review, they can instantly connect with the guest via social media to pinpoint the issue and potentially protect the relationship. As a whole, social media have forever altered marketing and customer service possibilities in the hospitality industry by creating an entirely new avenue for feedback and discussion.

While the impact of using social media externally is well recognized, the use of social collaboration tools for employee-to-employee communication is often overlooked. However, this has the potential to be equally, if not more, beneficial for hoteliers. Hospitality companies should focus efforts not only on building a social presence externally, but on improving internal productivity and guest services through the latest social platforms for business applications. Through the use of social collaboration tools, hotels can improve interactions between employees, gain operational efficiencies and enhance the overall guest experience.

The primary downfall in this era of never-ending accessibility is that consumers are now flooded with information. This is true within the workplace as well, as hotel staff members are constantly inundated with emails, phone calls, meetings, text messages, and often unorganized information updates passed along in person. These methods create silos of information - when something is communicated via one channel but not another - which produces a disconnect within the organization. For example, the revenue manager might be aware that the hotel's forecasted demand has suddenly spiked for a particular week. However, this information may take several days to reach the marketing department through routine meetings and reports. Still thinking demand was soft for that week, marketing plans a high-cost campaign to generate bookings, unaware of the change in forecast. Because of a lack in communication, the hotel is wasting marketing funds that could have made a much larger impact at another point in time, and alienating potential new customers by offering promotions that will not actually be available when they try to book them.

Social collaboration tools that are embedded in core systems and processes can eliminate scenarios such as this one by providing a central location to share and organize information. Connectivity to critical property, financial and asset management applications helps to capture vital corporate knowledge that might otherwise be lost. In order for social collaboration platforms to be effective, they must be integrated across the hotel or hotel group's properties and deliver advanced functionality that includes:

  • The ability to "follow" both people and objects, which enables updates not only on other user activities, but on the status of accounts, equipment and entire departments.
  • Contextual intelligence that displays real-time data on a single screen based on the employee's current task. Information should also be easily searchable and shareable through the application.
  • The ability to drill back into this information to pinpoint sources of error and determine the "why" behind day-to-day operations.
  • Automated tasks and alerts that help to speed processes by delivering critical updates to the right stakeholders are the right time.

Simply tacking a social platform onto existing solutions will not provide significant gains in operational efficiency. Selecting a tool with the above functionality, integrating it with critical systems, and then providing access to employees across all areas of the hotel are essential steps to enable success. With this approach, users can share information such as credit alerts, maintenance requests and VIP check-ins, for easier, more efficient collaboration. When all users have access to the same real-time data, collaboration becomes assumed. The ability to cooperate across multiple departments becomes the rule, rather than the exception.

Promoting a collaborative corporate culture expands the focus from the individual user to an enterprise-wide perspective. Employees become accustomed to working together to solve problems and achieve goals in new and unprecedented ways. Rather than thinking, "what does this information mean for me," users now have the necessary insight to say, "what does this information mean for our hotel?" Consider this illustration. A property that has implemented a social collaboration platform receives a last minute reservation cancellation from a large group. The front desk can immediately alert all department heads, who can then adjust staff scheduling accordingly. With payroll as one of the largest expenses for hoteliers, the social tool has just facilitated significant monetary savings for the property by quickly disseminating a critical update. Additionally, marketing leaders could work to replace the lost business with enough advance notice, helping to further prevent revenue loss for the organization.

By providing increased insight into daily operations, social platforms also help to improve agility across the enterprise. Numerous unpredictable factors, such as a broken air conditioning unit, threaten to alter circumstances at a moment's notice. Therefore the ability to quickly and efficiently address change is essential to hoteliers' success. Working faster and smarter by reducing reliance on less effective communication methods such as email can give hotels the necessary advantage to remain competitive in an increasingly dynamic market.

Not only are traditional outlets such as email and phone calls more time consuming, but they also lack the traceability of a social collaboration platform. Past documents, details and discussions are easily lost in information silos, but integrated social tools capture vital corporate knowledge for direct reference in the future. For example, a VIP guest checking in to the hotel asks for the same discounted rate at the spa that he received during his previous visit. Rather than physically calling the spa, or demonstrating sub-par service by asking the guest precisely how much he paid last time, the front desk employee could simply create a post on the social platform and tag the spa manager to make this request. The spa manager would receive an automated alert that this VIP guest had arrived, and could reach out to them directly to confirm the discount and schedule the appointment. This demonstrates to the guest that the hotel is not only accurate and timely, but that they value his individual patronage.

As demonstrated by this scenario, all benefits provided by a social collaboration tool culminate to enable superior service to guests. Promoting brand loyalty and increasing guest satisfaction is the ultimate goal for all hoteliers, as this generates revenue and increases the likelihood that guests will return to the property again. With a real-time social application, hotels can provide excellent service by managing exceptions and issues immediately, rather than delaying service by having to communicate the same information over and over again.

Social platforms are not just a place to store data, but rather a critical tool to improve and speed process management. As business and personal technology continue to converge, and the competition and pace of the hospitality industry continues to intensify, integrated social applications are the next logical step for hoteliers who want to remain on the forefront of speed, efficiency and guest satisfaction.

References:

(1) David Truog, Forrester, "Get ready for the ultra-connected customer to upturn marketing in 2013"

Bernard Ellis, Vice President of Industry Strategy for Infor Hospitality is responsible for defining the global go-to-market strategy for the entire Infor solution suite for the hospitality, travel, and leisure industry vertical. In addition to general product positioning, brand messaging, and industry relations, Mr. Ellis directly oversees product management of Infor’s hospitality-specific PMS, RMS, and POS industry applications, and pursues their tight integration with Infor’s world-class solutions.. Mr. Ellis also guides these other solution groups on the “last mile” functionality required to achieve specialized hospitality editions that outperform best-of-breed industry solutions, yet are still cost-effective to implement. With his launch of Infor CloudSuite™ Hospitality in 2014, Mr. Ellis marked over 15 years of evangelizing SaaS solutions. Mr. Ellis can be contacted at 202-232-3839 or bernard.ellis@infor.com Extended Bio...

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