Welcome to Episode 2 of the Confessions of a Hotel General Manager, a new series on the issues that keep GMs up at night. Each episode explores in detail the trials and tribulations of what it takes to manage a hotel, painting a candid portrait of what goes on behind the scenes. Aliases are used to protect the identity of our subjects, and so we can bring you, the reader, their stories.
In Episode 1, we discussed how “Jon” learned to differentiate his guest experience with a higher level of service. (Read Episode 1)
In this episode, we’ll share the story of “Kelly,” a general manager at a boutique hotel in Chicago, and how poor staff efficiency and processes was holding back her hotel from providing a higher level of guest experience.
Table of Contents
Episode 2: Improving Staff Efficiency
Chicago’s Magnificent Mile is one of the highest traffic areas of the city. Offering the hippest bars, restaurant, and clubs along with upscale shopping and major tourist attractions, the area is an ideal place for travelers to stay.
Located just a block away from the Magnificent Mile, this 70-room boutique hotel offers guests a combination of luxury and cutting-edge technology that makes them feel like royalty. However, due to outdated systems and poor processes, the guest experience is suffering as feedback has revealed.
I came from a bigger hotel with lots of staff to service guests so going to a boutique hotel was certainly an interesting transition. One of the biggest differences I noticed right off the bat was the level of service.
Since we have limited staff, everyone is forced to drop what they’re doing at a moment’s notice to assist guests. One minute you could be at the front desk checking a guest in and the next you can find yourself delivering them their room service, asking if they want milk or cream with their coffee, and even pitching in with housekeeping.
During my first week, I poured over the guest feedback we collected and found that one of the top recurring issues were complaints about slow or unresponsive staff when it came to service requests.
To see what’s going on, I sat in the lobby one day to observe my front desk staff in action. And what I saw was quite disheartening.
I watched as a businessman attempted to check in and was told by the front desk agent that she didn’t know if his room was ready yet. The front desk called housekeeping who didn’t answer, so the employee decided to leave their post to run upstairs and check for themselves. That was a new one for me.
The second after she left, the phone rang. The employee who was still at the check-in desk picked it up. There was a water leak in one of the rooms and the guest needed someone to come to fix it.
The employee wrote the request down on a piece of paper and put it aside. He then began to check the next party in, but the phone rang again. He answered the call and then attempted for a third time to check in the next party.
But the phone rang again. As he reached to pick it up the guest blurted out, “For goodness sake, check me in first and let the darn thing ring -- it can wait!”
Embarrassed, the employee let the phone continue to ring while he finished checking in the frustrated man. The other employee returned and answered the call -- it was a request for champagne (which she also scribbled down on a piece of paper). She then turned to the businessman who was still waiting to see if their room was ready and told them it was not and that housekeeping would call when it was.
She moved on to the next person, but the phone rang again. The other employee picked it up, yet another request jotted down on another sticky note. While he was noting down the request, the other line started to ring. It was the call about the leak -- now 15 minutes later and starting to flood the bathroom!
Then I watched as she wrote down ANOTHER NOTE about the leak then put it aside so she could help the next person in line.
When the rush was over, I watched as the two employees attempted to decipher each other’s chicken scratch on the pile of sticky notes. I’m still not sure if maintenance ever got a call about a leak or if that room ever got the champagne.
It was chaos and this inefficient “process” made us look like we didn’t have it together, because… well, we didn't.
We had to improve this in order to improve our guest experience.
Getting Staff Feedback
As a starting point, I had to figure out if the issues lie within the process, training, system or potentially a combination of those factors.
I began by interviewing the frontline staff from each guest-facing department including the front desk, concierge, F&B, maintenance and housekeeping to get an understanding of their daily operational process.
I asked each department the same questions:
Which areas in the daily process slow you down?
Do you feel like you have the right tools to do your job efficiently?
What are the most common guest complaints that you hear?
Do you have any ideas on ways to improve your daily process?
Every department I spoke to had issues with both process and technology, which was what I suspected.
There were three common responses that stood out to me:
1) Front desk staff are too overwhelmed by phone calls for simple requests
2) Excessive use of pen and paper cause delays and errors
3) The process to submit guest requests to specific departments takes too long
It turns out that the root of our issues were communication and the overall processes we had in place to handle and respond to guest requests.
The first thing I wanted to tackle was the issue of the massive amount of phone call volume our front desk agents get every day. Being a smaller boutique hotel meant that we only had only a couple of agents manning the front desk. If more than a couple of guests are calling or waiting in line for assistance, it really puts us in a bind.
We realized that maybe the first step was to give our guests tools that would allow them to self-serve. Allowing them to self-serve would mean that they would be in control of their experience and free our staff up for other things.
After looking at several self-service solutions, we decided to include a tablet with each room that had interactive features which allowed our guests to find information, request service, control the room temperature and even check out. This enabled our guests to effortlessly get what they want and have a more personalized experience during their stay, which also took a lot of pressure off of our team.
Additionally, since most of our guests are usually out and about sightseeing or lounging by the pool, the only device they would usually have on hand is their cell phones. With mobile and text messaging being so widely adopted and convenient, we decided to implement a guest text messaging software that enabled our guests to engage our staff with questions and requests from anywhere, anytime.
What I loved were the automation capabilities that I didn’t even know existed with a guest messaging software!
We can now send room-ready messages to guests letting them know when their room is ready so they don’t have to sit and wait around. We also try to engage them with mid-stay text surveys that make it easy for them to respond to and help us keep a pulse on their experience.
For us, it also serves as a service recovery tool as we get immediate feedback from guests during their stay and allows us to fix any issues while they are still here.
The messaging service freed our staff from the phone lines and enabled them to capture requests in a much more efficient way. Now our team is able to respond to guests quickly and efficiently while walking around the property using their smartphones, which they love!
The reception from guests was extremely positive. Our reviews have been positive and more importantly, we greatly reduced our phone call volume within the first month of adding the tablets and text messaging service.
This resulted in a savings of around 5 hours per day for each staff member who would otherwise be jumping from call to call. I was ecstatic!
Integrating Internal Systems
Our staff can only be as efficient as internal systems allow them to be. Even if our guests can request service faster, it doesn’t necessarily mean we have the process in place to fulfill it quickly. Both had to work together if we wanted to see real, permanent change.
To deliver faster service we need to know who and where our guests are, and how to directly send requests to the right department, without creating unnecessary work for our staff. This would also help reduce errors in request and orders. When our front desk agents try to take an order or request while phones are ringing and kids are screaming, do you really think those sticky notes are accurate? I don’t think so.
I reached out to our IT director and picked his brain on how we could improve our process.
Based on his experience at his last hotel, he recommended that we integrate our messaging software into our service optimization system, which already stores guest data from our property management system.
The integration will allow us to accept guest service requests via text message and automatically create the service ticket for the right department without having to write it down and manually submitting the request.
Once the ticket is created, our staff fulfills the request and marks it complete in the service ticketing system which triggers a confirmation message back to the guest.
It looks something like this:
As you can see, with our new streamlined workflow, there is no human interaction needed for the entire process (except for delivery).
With the improvements we made to the communication and workflow process, we saw a boost in guest satisfaction scores as well as our employee satisfaction scores.
Guest expectations are constantly changing due to the innovation of technology that is utilized in their personal lives. By meeting the needs of our guests faster, and more efficiently, it gives us a heads up on our competition and keeps the chaos inside our own building to a minimum.
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