Mr. van Meerendonk

Revenue Management

[R]Evolution of Customer Service for Hotel Software Products

By Paul van Meerendonk, Director of Advisory Services, IDeaS Revenue Solutions

Hotels increasingly rely on Software as a Service (SaaS) products as their primary technologies for running operations, sales and catering, and revenue management functions. This reliance on industry-specific software solutions has given rise to a new set of concerns, specifically around how to retain hospitality talent in the face of high turnover rates. How do hotels ensure the sustainability of the business know-how and processes built around their software? More importantly, how do they ensure business continuity and brand consistency for key system users such as revenue managers?

SaaS products drive hotel performance by both providing a technology platform for completing routine tasks more effectively and helping team members rethink how to perform those tasks. When it comes to software solutions, however, technology deployment is just the beginning.

New learning technologies available with hotel software products are reshaping how SaaS providers think of Customer Service and address business continuity challenges at their source: by providing what experts call "on-demand performance support."

Today we're talking with Greg Moore, Senior Learning Experience Developer here at IDeaS, on how the evolution of learning technologies embedded in software has spurned a "revolution" in how these systems can drive performance and transform hotel businesses. Greg, has over 10 years of experience in the design and development of learning solutions for Fortune 100 companies.

PvM: Greg, can you help us understand some of the new software learning technologies and why they are important for hoteliers today?

GM: I hear many buzz words working within the hotel industry, and most often the overarching theme is outstanding guest service. Most hotels excel at using customer relationship management (CRM) and engagement technologies to achieve outstanding guest experiences, which in turn increases revenue. The enterprise training technologies work in a similar way, but they focus on engaging a hotel's human element. These ground-breaking learning methodologies provide hotels a return on their software investment by ensuring users effectively interact with the systems and execute the business rules despite the high turnover environment and formal training gaps. This is where "on-demand performance support" and "situational learning" come in to play.

One example is the typical system training that employees attend in traditional online or classroom settings. The time dedicated to applying what they learn comes sometimes months later, so employees forget what they learned. Employees will seek help from co-workers, try to reference the system's help documentation or contact the provider for customer service. This is what I call the "I need it now!" training. Most of this type of support interferes with the business process. Learning technologies like on-demand performance support and situational learning can help avoid these scenarios.

Software providers, can use the evolution in learning technology to offer better customer service and support users situationally and in the moment of need, for example when performing tasks like configuring system controls or creating business rules. This allows software solution providers to streamline training to high-level concepts, and provide on-demand performance support for the software to work as intended: help the employee perform better.

PvM: Why is this learning technology getting a lot of attention, particularly by hoteliers?

GM: Deloitte's 2015 Hospitality Report indicates that hospitality turnover rates are "nearly twice the average rate for all other sectors" and recommends that hotel "companies need to rethink their operating model to effectively execute business talent strategy." The report also shows that 52% of the true cost of turnover is due to productivity losses, while 14% is related to orientations and training. This is where hotels can leverage learning technologies to drive change in their business continuity strategies. Enterprise training technologies are becoming game-changing components of hotel software products. Since many hotels accomplish strategic tasks using large-scale software platforms like PMS, CRS, RMS, and GDS, it becomes increasingly important to ensure key users interact with these systems in all the right ways despite their levels of expertise or time on the job. Learning systems help users quickly build the skills and capabilities to get onboard with the efficiencies that a new software solution introduces.

PvM: Can you talk more specifically about how these on demand performance support and situational learning technologies help hotels drive performance?

GM: Of course! The first goal is improving system and employee interaction. Imagine a system pushing information to you at the moment you need to perform an unfamiliar task. With near real-time access to information, learning technologies can transition away from teaching employees system specifics and focus on training them how to process information and solve business problems.

The second goal is improving productivity. Learning technology has advanced past the point of providing handouts with screenshots and procedural steps. We can now give employees real situations to work through to practice using the system to solve problems. This not only helps hotels retain and/or train their employees, but also gives them another avenue for brand consistency. Today's revolutionary learning technologies employ real training environments to promote effective learning within the actual technology platform and using the solution's process efficiencies.

PvM: Are there any examples from other industries where the new learning technologies made a significant impact on the ROI of technology investments?

GM: I recently worked on a project in the pharmaceutical industry to improve FDA reporting and electronic submission processes. When employees worked in drug development, we tracked their login profiles, assigned project tasks, progress within the drug development lifecycle, and tasks they needed to complete at particular points during the lifecycle. We used this information to enhance their learning by suggesting on-demand performance support that aligned with wherever they were in the lifecycle. We knew when they needed new software, and we suggested smaller learning objects to support what they needed to do in it. This sped up the software adoption process and improved task performance.

Another example involves the professional services industry, which has similar training needs as the hospitality industry. All the big professional services companies hire thousands of employees every year, and many are recent college graduates they want to turn into consultants. These companies experience high turnover rates with consultants, which makes training imperative. To effectively train recent graduates and maintain their brands' delivery standards, the professional services industry has embraced technology to create targeted simulations for this audience. They have moved away from rote memorization and toward case studies and in-depth simulations to drive these learners to finding that 'I need it now!' information to help them quickly and efficiently perform as consultants.

It is the application of knowledge that now drives the evolution of training to support performance improvement. Just providing screenshots of a SaaS solution does not fly anymore. It's important to allow learners to experiment with simulations and case studies, and sometimes fail, within real environments. Technology should also allow for constant improvement and engagement through use of gamification and achievements. The same design and development behind your favorite phone app or game can make learning engaging and rewarding for your employee and profitable for you.

PvM: In summary, what are some of the next generation improvements to customer service that hotel executives should expect from SaaS solution providers?

GM: Personalization is the first foundation for the next generation improvements to customer service by hotel SaaS solution providers. Hotels should increasingly expect role-based personalization of their system training, both predictively and in the moment of need. Second, performance support designed around real world situations to help employees turn into strategic thinkers. Third, and most importantly, solutions should include the five key learning needs of a user: learning for the first time, learning more, trying to apply, problem solving, and learning for change. A good hotel software solution should have on-demand performance support, situational support, and support that maps the specific business processes to the task at hand. Incorporation of these technologies within SaaS solutions will not only ensure business continuity, but also enhance employee engagement. It is this level of engagement and longevity that has been shown to increase revenue and profits across a company.

PvM: Well Greg, thank you for this revolutionary conversation. At IDeaS, we are as excited about the future of hotel software solutions as you are. Any parting thoughts to leave with hotel executives?

GM: On-demand performance support and training around real world situations are already proven winners within other industries. Using a combination of methods and learning technologies, we can similarly address training issues that impact the hospitality industry and create a seamless performance-enhancing solution. Envision a future where employees embrace new technology and its innovations and the frustration of change fades into the background. Gone will be the days when users sit on the phone with customer service about system errors. Instead, systems will suggest the best response to a problem based on what the user is doing. The more information we have to help the user, the more ability we have to improve their performance.

As Director of Advisory Services for IDeaS Revenue Solutions, Paul van Meerendonk leads a global team of revenue management advisors focused on hotel revenue optimization projects. Mr. van Meerendonk is responsible for global development, management and operations of the Advisory Services team. He oversees the hiring, training and management of industry-leading consultants located in London, Beijing, Singapore and Atlanta. Mr. van Meerendonk also represents IDeaS on industry thought-leadership initiatives related to trends and best practices within revenue management, including authoring a number of white papers, conducting public speaking engagements, as well as leading key client webinars with an average audience of over 200 global representatives. Mr. van Meerendonk can be contacted at +44 (0) 118-82-8100 or Extended Bio...

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