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Streamlining the Front of House with more Technology.
By Sarah Muxlow ~ exclusive for 4Hoteliers.com
Friday, 13th April 2007
 
For many hospitality operators being present on the web and installing computers front of house has been a big hurdle, for others it was just another step in using technology to streamline operations.

The internet and specific computer software provides a means to assist in many customer service functions. Monitoring internal performance, collecting data feedback and extending the range of services available to guests, are examples of uses of systems.  

Remaining competitive means providing customer service at the front of house and beyond with as much efficiency as technology will allow. Fidelio (guest reservations programme), cashier, banking, accounting, book keeping and cost control systems has been advancing for sometime now. However, the latest systems to be taken up by many hotel chains are booking online options, customer service performance tracking, and email feedback forms.

Check in/out and booking online 

When it comes to booking a hotel online, Compete's research reveals that Baby Boomers (aged 45 to 64) are the most likely to be internet shoppers. Statistically, over 10% of the 17 million Baby Boomers who look online for travel and holiday opportunities, will also book online. This is considerably more than travellers of other age groups. The younger tend to window-shop, and Seniors are often uncomfortable when purchasing from the web.

In search of more time-saving solutions which take the queuing and chore out of travelling, this year Quantas and the Accor deluxe hotel group, Sofitel have teamed up to give customers the ability to check in for their flight from their hotel. Checking in and receiving a boarding pass at the hotel means more time for relaxation or energy for business. This service is believed to be particularly beneficial to business travellers. 

Similarly, Hilton Hotels have also made moves to expand their ‘check in' services for guests by providing multifunctional kiosks. The kiosks have new technology which fortunately comes with step-by-step instructions. Guests can view their hotel reservations, check-in to the hotel, obtain the room key and look up any pre-arrival messages. At the end of the stay, the guest can check-out at a kiosk, review and pay their bill, confirming or change method of payment and print or email home the receipt.

Hilton Kiosks also enables a guest to use an airlines' own web page and check in for their flight, change seats, request upgrades and print their boarding pass at no extra cost. There is the possibility to print boarding passes for 18 major airlines

Since this is only present in some Hilton hotels, and only of interest to some guests, there is still Hotel staff at the Front desk. Greeting guests, answer questions and assisting (if needed, at the kiosks) means that traditional front-desk services and guest relations do continue.

Guestware

GuestWare, the lodging industry's leading customer relationship management (CRM) programme, has many different functions. It is often used as a means to measure problem resolution, track for defects and provide evidence useful in process improvement.

One function of this software is a means to track service quality. There is the possibility with this programme to record reoccurring problems. Hotel staff log details such as, guest name, room number, incident type, how the incident was resolved, who resolved it and whether compensation was provided to the guest in a database. These incident reports enable managers to identify types of incidences as well as problems by room. Identification of issues now not only means timely solutions but with detailed records mean the opportunity to solved/eradicate many problems altogether.

GuestWare is operational in several Marriott hotels and has been found successful: ‘A stay at a hotel, without needing to report problems is highly rated by guests and satisfied guests is a great way to build loyalty.'

Feedback Surveys via email

A good innovation in customer satisfaction studies, relating to performance measures and a use of the internet, is collecting data via email surveys. This, an interesting and new evolution is considered very effective.

As a reader of 4hoteliers has recently commented "When I returned from a recent trip to San Francisco, I found customer satisfaction surveys from my hotel (The White Swan, which is part of an association of small hotels,) and two restaurants I booked through opentable.com. This was an outstanding idea! Who has time to fill out surveys when you are checking out? Yet, to be thorough, a guest does not want to complete the survey before check-out. (And if you notice – many hotels do not include post-paid service to return satisfaction surveys.)"

Overall, technology is getting more advanced, more multifunctional and therefore offering a wider spectrum of practical uses. The cost of software and systems and the need to train and keep training staff is an expensive business but for many this is clearly a worth while expense.

At the forefront for many enthusiasts is that technology will in addition to its tangible day to day functions, also enhance brand loyalty.

SpotLight is the weekly column exclusively written for 4Hoteliers.com by Sarah Muxlow, it is highlighting the challenges and issues which the global hospitality is facing today.

Sarah is writing for hotel and restaurant owners, hotel chain managers, producers/growers/sellers of food & beverage, restaurant associations, governing bodies and hotel schools. She is looking at the problems they face...competition, trends of branding, staff shortages, unskilled staff, turning out students who are looking for good in-house management training schemes with hotel chains, what makes a good quality training course at a hotel school and more... 

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