Hoteliers are turning to mobile technology to manage their back-of-house systems as new hardware and software become available.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Mobile technology is changing a lot about how guests interact with hotels, but there’s another side of mobile technology that guests don’t see, though it plays a large part in making their stay comfortable.
All aspects of a hotel, from the front desk to housekeeping to engineering, are moving away from pen and paper checklists and adopting mobile back-of-house technology that boosts efficiency across all levels.
Putting mobile to work
Hotel Equities has used a mobile system for the past two years to track room maintenance as well as customer requests and complaints, said Rob Cote, VP of operations for Hotel Equities
. His company has been happy with the new platform, he said, because it’s been easier to track the
progress on tasks and
provides opportunities to follow up with guests.
“We’ve seen improvement in our guest service scores,” he said, citing the company’s ability to be proactive in meeting guests’ comments and requests. “You see certain trends. You can adjust the amount of towels on certain dates so (guests) don’t have to call. There are really some great benefits to using this particular system.”
Previously, employees would create a paper log to keep track of the calls that came in, and then they would have to write down when someone followed up on it. Likewise, they would call each other on radios to have another employee pick up a work order. Now the mobile systems have eliminated the need to use extra paper.
“This is a much more efficient system,” Cote said.
Greenwood Hospitality properties have started to phase out the old radio systems and pagers, said Paul Wood, VP of revenue generation for Greenwood
. This is faster and easier, he said. He expects hotels to phase out radios in the next three to five years, which should make for better guest experiences.
“I can give too many examples of when I walk into a Target and an associate has (his or her) radio blasting,” he said. “They’re too loud. It’s ruining the guest’s experience. They don’t want that in a hotel. This is an easier way for a better guest experience.”
From housekeepers running towels up and down at night or an engineer fixing something, the mobile system allows employees to send texts, get email alerts and respond back directly using smartphones or tablets. One of the systems his properties use sends out an initial alert to an employee and then another after five minutes to make sure the employee received it. Then another one goes out after 20 minutes asking for an update or for completion status. The manager can get updates as well and request a call or set up a reminder, Wood said.
Easing into adoption
When implementing the new mobile systems, Wood said hotel staff naturally took to it. Many are younger, he said, so they grew up with this type of technology.
The main challenge isn’t employee reception but Internet reception. Guests can use a great deal of bandwidth, he said, so any property with more than 200 rooms should upgrade up to 100MB and, where it’s available, 1GB. Because the company doesn’t want to take away from guest use of the Wi-Fi network, the properties have a separate back office network that guests don’t even see.
One of his hotels doesn’t use radios at all, Wood said, and the property isn’t in an area with great cellphone reception. The mobile devices are on the Wi-Fi network, so they can receive texts and other information, but there are areas of the property with poor reception.
“If you’re in the back closets by the dryers, you’re not always going to get that signal,” Wood said. “Being able to ensure Wi-Fi across the board in every inch of the hotel is absolutely essential.”
Because the TownePlace Suites Bloomington is located in a college town, said David Vint, the property’s GM, his employees love anything new and exciting. Some of his housekeepers are older than his management team so they can be slower to adapt to new technology, he said. However, he hasn’t had to bring in that much technology for them. Once new technology proves itself, everyone is all for it, he said.
Necessity vs novelty
As useful as mobile apps can be, they’re only good if they fit the job, Vint said.
“Being a member of Generation Y, I’m fast to embrace anything new, technology-wise, regardless of whether it adds any benefit,” he said. “The issue is, there are a lot of tools out there that may or may not be (better) than the systems in place. You’re at risk of a generational rift if you’re getting rid of what’s working.”
The conflict will exist regardless, he said, but once a property gets past that stage, the staff can look at the new apps objectively.
Another danger he found is using apps outside of their context. Because mobile apps are available at any time because they’re on phones, the temptation is to use them, even when away from work. That can take away from necessary rests and mental breaks, he said, and thus rob productivity later on. The convenience and ease of use, while beneficial at work, can be a “time drain,” he said, and that doesn’t help the bottom line. As with any tool, they’re best when used for the task for which they were designed.
Technology is best when it augments the brain, he said. It should assist natural processes, not replace them.