The past year saw plenty of new technology hitting the hands of travelers — from keyless hotel entry to Apple Watch flight notifications — and many brands let their employees join in with this new gadget and mobile love.
United Airlines is the latest example–it gave 6,000 airport employees the iPhone 6 plus in an effort to empower employees on devices they’ve used for years. Thinking of employees as guests, in that they value continuity and using tools familiar to them, makes other strategies seem illogical at the dawn of 2016.
“Traditionally what has happened on the marketing side with the guest experience feels very disconnected from what happens on the employee engagement side,” said Mohammad Gaber, Adobe’s head of travel. Adobe works with Delta, Etihad, and a few large hotels on improving employee-facing technology. “We definitely see those two worlds merging because these employees are like customers. First and foremost that merger is a cultural transition in terms of frontline employees and the technology is an enabler and a follower to that transformation.”
“What makes devices like mobile phones useful is the software data content component. Where we often fall with this component is that the rigor that a company evolves those applications is not as fast as it should be. There is that void between the customer and employee applications.”
Three hotels Skift spoke to share these sentiments and plan to introduce employees to new tools in the coming year that go beyond tracking guests’ preferences or facilitating mobile check-in. These tools free staff from engaging with guests through gratuitous tasks when that’s not required that in turn show guests the greater value of employees.
Tracking Guest Complaints
Palm Beach, Florida’s Eau Palm Beach Resort has used HotSOS a guest request tracking system, for about a year and a half but guests are likely unaware the property uses the system and one planned addition will probably go unnoticed as well.
The resort will expand HotSOS to go deeper into tracking guest complaints next year, something that’s currently done manually at the front desk but will become more streamlined.
That’s the foundation of HotSOS–employees receive notifications of requests on iPod Touches or desktops and quickly work to resolve them without guests realizing any issues. All actions are time-stamped and there’s little chance of oversight as requests get elevated to managers the longer requests aren’t attended to.
“Say something went wrong while the guest was on property and it was clear that they weren’t pleased,” said Michael Branch, the director of front office at Eau Palm Beach, a Preferred Hotels & Resorts member property. “We would be tracking all that and would have already went ahead and called the restaurant where they have their dinner reservation to make sure the manager comes to greet them when they arrive and that they have a nice table. This new addition will help automate processes like that.”
“We’re recovering the guest in a way that they didn’t think we were doing and we’re about two weeks from rolling-out this HotSOS extension so it’s easier for us to correct complaints faster and it’s not just a human keeping track of complaints.”
Acclimating employees to this kind of system doesn’t happen instantaneously, especially for older employees hired long before this level of collaboration existed.
“Trust is first step, then we build the process around that,” said Branch. “In an environment of luxury, an error isn’t an option. When you tell an employee that they can hit a button and something just happens, that’s difficult and just takes time.”
“We can also get intuitive data for where defects are in the business and assign and control how requests are linked to particular guests and how hoteliers interact with that information as well. The system frees-up time so that executing those duties are spent on quality of service rather than the process itself.”
Communicating With Guests Through Messaging Apps
When EAST, Miami, another Preferred member property, opens in 2016 employees will talk to guests on messaging apps they already use through a tool called Glowing.
Glowing helps employees communicate with guests through messaging apps like WhatsApp, WeChat and Viber or SMS messages through a single back-end dashboard. Although reaching guests from Asia is one priority of Glowing, given messaging apps’ pervasiveness in that region, telling all guests they can message a hotel just like they do a friend is the tool’s prime purpose.
It’s available on mobile and desktop for employees and hotel manager David Arraya said staff don’t need extensive knowledge of any messaging platform. Only one employee who’s trained to respond with the hotel’s values in mind will use Glowing to centralize the flow of messages.
“It’s a matter of teaching one system versus five different channels,” said Arraya. He added that his hotel will be the world’s first to beta-test Glowing. “If an employee hasn’t used WeChat in the past, for example, that’s fine because they’re communicating through a dashboard rather than directly on WeChat. Communicating through messaging is something that’s easy for our brand to do because we have a relaxed personality.”
“We get the guest’s phone number, hopefully before check-in, and with that number we can initiate the conversation because all of these apps are connected to your mobile number. Most importantly, we’re not asking the guest to take an extra step and download another app. We’re communicating with them through something that’s already on their phones and we’re not asking people to change how they communicate.”
Arraya said his hotel also uses HotSOS and eventually Glowing will synch with that system to automate what he calls “transactional” guest requests, those which probably don’t necessitate interaction with a human.
“About 80% of guests don’t tell you something’s wrong until it’s ready to explode and these are the people who actually come down to the front desk to tell us about a problem,” said Arraya. “We’re hoping messaging helps to show them that it’s easy to talk to our staff and that we want to hear from them. We’re even thinking of adding kiosks throughout the hotel for guests to message us on in case they don’t have their devices on them.”
Enhancing a Hotel’s Sound
Few things can set a mood better than the right music, a belief held by staff at Austin, Texas’ newly opened Hotel Van Zandt.
The Kimpton hotel’s cultural bedrock includes an array of musical genres like indie or comedy performances gelling with Austin’s funky identify. There’s live music every night and for hyper-aware guests, music in the pool is an unexpected surprise that’s even possible in December with the area’s year-round warmth.
Given music is the hub of the hotels’s energy rather than background noise, songs playing throughout the property must be calculated and guests’ reactions measured. The hotel works with The Playlist Generation, a company that curates personalized playlists for brands and has worked with the Standard Hotel Group and Sundance Film Festival, for example, to create playlists containing thousands of songs with virtually no repeating tracks.
Hotel Van Zandt’s playlists are conceived primarily for Geraldine’s, the hotel’s Texas-inspired restaurant, although tunes play in lobbies and hallways as well.
“Whether I’m on property or traveling I can open my app that’s basically a dashboard and control center for the music and click on Hotel Van Zandt or more specifically Geraldine’s and I can hear what songs are playing there right at that second,” said Lauren Bucherie, the hotel’s director of music and social programming.
“We’d have to have the playlists going 24 hours a day for about five days before we start to hear songs repeat. Recently I heard a song come on in Geraldine’s that didn’t fit with the mood we’re trying to create, so I could go in and mark an X next to that song so that it will never play again after it finished playing that time. We give a lot of thought to what we want to hear at 6a.m. as opposed to 10p.m., for instance.”
Bucherie is the only staff member that monitors the music using the app but said the food and beverage team also provide input on which songs sound best.
“If you’re just using Pandora or Spotify you’re not really going that extra mile to customize what it’s like to be in Hotel Van Zandt in Austin,” said Bucherie. “Guests have also asked what songs are playing and I’m able to instantly tell them their names. Guests appreciate a customized music experience now more than ever and having that quick access on my phone is really effective and I don’t think it’d work any other way.”