Mobile strategy: Start with back of house
01 JULY 2014 7:56 AM
Panelists at the HITEC conference said back of house is a good place to start with a mobile strategy.
LOS ANGELES—For hoteliers who are still making the transition to mobile, back-of-house operations offer a good starting point, said panelists at the HITEC conference, which took place 23-26 June at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Hotel staff is increasingly using electronic formats such as text, email and Apple’s FaceTime for back-of-house communications, and panelists said the strategy is highly effective and cost-efficient.
John Edwards, VP of IT with Dolce Hotels & Resorts, said during a panel session titled “Mobility & your guests” that his company has been focusing on back-of-house mobile operations for the past three years.
“Our operations group has driven the shift to mobile, which has been good and bad,” he said. “Sometimes priorities needed to be aligned, but we’ve made an effort to not be ahead of the curve or below the curve so we can really work on the back of house.”
Matthew Seim, senior VP of IT at Sage Hospitality, said his company too has been focusing on how to use mobile with employees, specifically to prepare for technological advances such as mobile check-in. For example, one of the company’s Denver properties does not have a front desk, so staff had to come up with a mobile check-in strategy.
Stout Street Hospitality is in the early stages of its mobile strategy, but Jeffrey Parker, VP of technology for the Denver-based hospitality management company, said staff is already reaping the benefits of using mobile.
“We can show definitive results on TripAdvisor and comment cards on the improvement of service that has resulted from a better mobile situation,” Parker said.
The mobile solution Stout Street is using for its housekeeping and maintenance staff has been beneficial because it has a telephone component that allows an operator to speak in any language, Parker said.
“(Staff members) will report their problems in any language, and it’s translated to a ticket,” he said. In addition, for solving issues quickly the company offers its employees incentives, such as Starbucks gift cards.
All panelists shared their guidelines regarding devices, and the rules varied. For example, Dolce has a BYOD (bring your own device) policy.
“We have an ownership level (in the BYOD policy) that we call corporate owned and personally enabled; for example, I can put my Facebook on my company phone,” Edwards said. “Then we have other devices that are dedicated company devices that have no personal info.”
Sage, however, has a much more strict approach until the company figures out its mobile strategy, Seim said. Anything guest related is done on a company device only.
Staff hiccups, successes
Bringing staff into the fold for any type of technology change is important, panelists said, because often there are some hiccups along the way.
For example, Dolce has been using a mobile point-of-sale system for three years, and to the company’s surprise, there was some reluctance from staff, Edwards said.
“What we learned quickly was that the staff was reluctant as opposed to the guest,” he said. “What we’ve normalized on is don’t use mobile for mobile’s sake. Use it where it makes sense.”
Edwards said taking the time to train staff and educate them via role playing is important, especially for a hotel to remain efficient. Dolce is shifting its focus to check-in and check-out as the mobile check-in trend continues to build.
“One reason is to keep up with the Joneses, but also to drive guest efficiency so the guest does have some kind of control over their experience,” Edwards said. For example, if a guest is coming in late, he or she can let the hotel staff know.
Parker said his company too struggled with aligning employees on a mobile strategy.
“We made the assumption that everyone had smartphones, and some weren’t comfortable with touch screens and were beating up the hardware,” Parker said. “We even had to teach them how to charge the devices.”
Parker said Stout Street is focusing on two areas where mobile needs to improve: meeting services and marketing.
Food and beverage is one area that has improved for Sage since the company implemented mobile solutions, Seim said, especially at properties that have a limited staff.
Since implementing handheld devices for F&B operations, Sage has seen a 25% to 30% uptick in check size, Seim added.
Mobile keys? Apps?
Panelists addressed a couple of topics that were a common thread throughout HITEC, including mobile check-in and mobile apps.
Should the hotel industry move forward with mobile keys? Panelists agreed there will be pushback from certain guests and also hotel operators who want the opportunity to interact.
“If it’s going to take off, it’ll be with your repeat guests,” Seim said. “(Hotels could) have a subset of rooms that offer that, but the regular guest will not be interested.”
Edwards said Dolce doesn’t see an immediate need for mobile keys.
On the guest-facing side, hoteliers are struggling with the need for an app, or lack thereof, panelists said.
“Our biggest approach right now is what do we do with an app? What would they use it for? Does it matter?” Edwards said.
Parker said Stout Street is leaning toward a HTML-5 base as opposed to a mobile app. For example, after linking their device, users will see a Web page that looks like an app.