Recently, Michael Heinze, Chief Architect of Shiji, spoke with Tobias Köhler, CCO at BIG MAMA Hotels at the 16th Deutscher HotelKongress, a large hotel expo in Germany for the industry’s movers and shakers. The theme of the discussion was “Revolutionizing Guest Experiences: How Overcoming Legacy Thinking is the Key to Success,” and about 30 C-suite hoteliers were in attendance. Below are highlights from the discussion between Michael and Tobias.
Breakdowns in the Guest Journey
With the scarcity of resources in the Hospitality Industry, manpower being the most critical of them, it has become imperative to change our way of thinking about how we can meet guests’ needs and wants, while also relieving employees of many repetitive and less meaningful aspects of their daily tasks– not just improving guest experiences but revolutionizing guest experiences.
The panelists cited examples of this disconnect they have personally experienced as guests, such as during the conference itself when they were unable to book a massage for later in the evening as it wasn’t a function available on their hotel’s app, or Michael’s experience of checking out of a hotel when late for his train, where he needed his billing address changed and so was delayed further. They also both mentioned language barriers experienced by some guests when traveling, which could be solved right away by making requests via an app. On top of it, there are many friction points created by poorly executed strategies, such as QR codes that don’t link to usable pages, or slow systems that crash or do not connect to the internet properly.
It isn’t uncommon for hotels to have many different systems for bookings and reservations. Employees are under a huge strain in checking and updating all of these systems, as well as replying to guest queries on multiple platforms, simply because systems don’t connect. Another example is when F&B outlets are understaffed and QR codes only display PDF versions of the menu, sometimes not even the correct one for the time of day, so the staff must inconvenience guests again by asking them to change their order. Or yet again, when sales staff must manually update Excel sheets or other systems with data obtained from group guests or other systems.
As a whole, they agree problems usually stem from disorganization between departments in a hotel, with each one only solving problems of their own and lacking overall supervision. What they need is someone who is in charge of ensuring all tech communicates and integrates properly. Apart from inefficiencies in daily work tasks and team conflicts, this also affects the guest experience, and their satisfaction is diminished as a result.
Michael mentioned instances where technology did work in revolutionizing guest experiences, such as in a hotel in Seattle where he was welcomed by name by some of the tech in the room, and could even control appliances such as the TV by downloading an app via a QR code. A hotel in Dubai is also mentioned, where a link containing all the hotel info was sent directly to his phone within a few seconds of checking in, rather than hours later. Although features such as table booking viewing weren’t available, Michael contends that these are individual examples of positive experiences that could be put together to build a top-notch guest experience.
How to Overcome Legacy Thinking When Revolutionizing Guest Experiences
- Take a step back: Thoroughly evaluate what systems you have in place now and whether they are all necessary
- Look to the future: Determine what sort of service and experiences you want to offer your guests
- Change your mindset: Think out of the box about how you can solve your current problems, and be curious about rephrasing questions and exploring solutions
- Integration is key: Ensure your chosen tech stack is integrated and promotes efficiency for both your guests and your employees
Solving the Issues
In the Hospitality Industry in general, hotels often get a score of two out of five when it comes to digitization, and both agreed that this demonstrates the need to rethink our processes and take examples from other industries’ best practices and solutions – Amazon and Netflix for example – with their excellent recommendation systems and easy processes, all of which work due to a thorough rethink about the experience when rebuilding these platforms. They cited how, on these platforms, all services are integrated and customers are able to access them anytime, across multiple devices, which is the constant connectivity that is needed today.
On the other hand, some systems used in hospitality, such as PMSs or CRMs, have their roots in the 80s or 90s, were built to solve problems of guests back then, and have not necessarily evolved to solve problems of today. They argued that if it is possible today to open a new bank account, with all its requirements and formalities such as scanning of ID, we should be able to do the same with a check-in registration form.
When clinging to systems that were built to solve problems 30 years ago, we clearly will not be able to solve our problems of today. Old systems have no new innovations or updates, making it impossible to integrate departments such as Marketing, Sales, Reservations, and so on. If we assume the processes between these departments actually belong together and have to be connected, we need to think about how to create the vertical integration needed in our industry. Integration is, after all, nothing but efficiency. Note, Shiji recently published a guide with seven points to verify when looking for a new PMS.
Good examples to mirror are the electric car and airline industries. The former has learned from its traditional counterpart that buying parts from a myriad of different suppliers was a waste of energy, and electric cars are all about having as much range as possible, therefore they altered the procurement process to achieve higher battery efficiency. As for the latter, multiple systems are integrated throughout the customer journey, from buying tickets to issuing them, to luggage management, to actual check-in. The goal is to make it easy for the consumer, giving them a fluid user experience, and being efficient.
Efficiencies For Hotels
When speaking of efficiencies in revolutionizing guest experiences in our industry, it translates to how fast and comfortable it is for the guest to do something by themselves, across all products, and throughout the stay. It also translates to how efficiently we can equip employees, so they don’t need to manually transfer data to and from multiple systems, many times during a guest’s stay, but instead have these processes automated and free up time to focus on the guest, or to be able to give employees a 4-day work week rather than a 7-day one.
If we don’t have integration, we fall behind more and more as time passes. Michael shared the example of a hotel where, as a consultant, he counted 49 different functional areas and 47 different software systems, out of which 15 have guest contact. He mentioned that this is a nightmarish scenario, as managing this sort of stack is exhausting and extremely difficult, not to mention how ineffective it is in terms of costs and training staff. Rebuilding it can also be challenging if one keeps a closed mind about what the problem really is.
He proposed approaching the process differently: Auditing what these systems are, what they are needed for, and if they are actually necessary. How the systems work for the employees and for the guests is a top priority, they must be efficient, and there must be as little friction as possible so that the least possible amount of data is lost and everything can happen in real-time, be automated. There should be a platform that is central and covers essential functions of a hotel across all departments, with supporting systems that integrate and speak to each other.
Future Proofing, Now or Later?
As management, we must ask ourselves strategic questions too, as this rebuilding of the tech landscape isn’t easy to implement. The decision to future-proof your hotel now or in a few years needs to take into account the players in your area, as well as evolving expectations. Be also wary of what you ask of vendors and partners. If you go to a consultant and tell them you need a new CRM or PMS, then you are already trapped in the world of these old drawers, as the partner will provide a solution for exactly that request. Instead, shift your thinking to a different perspective, one that considers what problems you are trying to solve and the kind of experience you want to provide in the future, and only then look for options that help you achieve that.
Management, along with their department heads and perhaps consultants or partners, should think out of the box and restructure their way of thinking, lest they will continue to have the same problems they are facing now.