.
Tired of Fighting Fires? 
Proactive Hotel Managers Implement Guest Call
Centers to Deliver Outstanding Service,
Save Thousands of Dollars
By Mike Benjamin
November, 2003

Jack Zimmer’s cross-country trip to meet with his best client in New York City could not have been much worse. After beginning his trip in Seattle, he missed his connecting flight in Chicago. By the time he finally reached his Manhattan luxury hotel after midnight, he was exhausted. All he wanted to do was check his e-mail so he could wrap up his morning meeting presentation and get some sleep.

Before unpacking, Jack unfolded his laptop computer and tried to connect to the hotel’s high-speed Internet system. He followed the instructions but after several attempts it would not work. Not knowing what number to dial for technical assistance (the many buttons on his guestroom phone were confusing), Jack called the front desk.

Front desk: “Hello? How can I help you Mr. Zimmer?”

Jack: “My high-speed Internet connection is not working.”

Front desk: “Hold on one moment.” (Jack realizes the man is checking in a guest as he is put on hold. The man then returns.)

Front desk: “I am not sure what to do but I will either have someone call you or have someone come up to your room shortly.”

Almost 25 minutes passed but he still had not heard from anyone. At that point, Jack was beside himself. What more could go wrong? He called the front desk again.
A different person at the front desk: “Hello? How can I help you Mr. Zimmer?”

Jack: “I called more than 20 minutes ago to inform you that my high-speed Internet connection is not working. What am I supposed to do? (Jack then overheard an engineer talking to the front desk person through a radio. The engineer suggested that Jack crawl under his work desk and reset a button on a box.)

Jack: “Thank you.” (Jack hung up without getting an apology, got down on his knees, reset the button, bumped his head on the desk and finally got connected. Fifteen minutes later, an engineer knocked on his door. Jack was frustrated, knowing that a problem that should have been resolved in five minutes had cost him more than a half hour of precious sleep. Little did he know then but at check-out he would still be charged $10 for using the high-speed Internet service.)

Scenarios like this one happen at hotels every day. Why didn’t the second person Jack called know about his initial request? Did the first person even write it down? What is the hotel’s average response time to solve problems like Jack’s, or any other type of request? It is likely that nobody at the hotel knows the answers to these questions. 

Management at many hotels may empower staff to handle every guest issue but the reality is that there are usually too many fires to get them all under control. What is the best way to manage guest requests and complaints? Implement a guest call center that uses guest response (or Rapid Response) software. A call center can be the starting point of a proactive guest response process. The potential positive impact on guest satisfaction and overall operational efficiency is huge. 

Many hotel chains have successfully implemented guest call centers. Managers at hotels with them are amazed at the volume of calls. Especially in larger hotels, it is not uncommon to see 25,000 to 50,000 in-house calls logged in a year. In the first five months it was open, one new 358-room hotel logged more than 10,000 guest requests.

The amount of feedback guests provide about what they want or what they are unhappy about is staggering. The benefits from collecting this feedback and creating a streamlined process for managing service delivery should not be underestimated. Thanks to its call center system, staff at one 1,000-room hotel expect to save $150,000 in time, labor and asset protection annually.

Why is a call center important?

  • One button on the phone is less confusing for the guest. With a call center in place, guests know who to call and that their concerns will be addressed immediately. Most hotels create a name for their call centers to build brand awareness. Ideally, guestroom phones will have just two or three buttons: call center, messages and wake-up call.
  • It allows for more efficient use of staff. Guests reach knowledgeable experts—not just operators—whose primary focus is request/problem resolution. Guests no longer reach front desk personnel who have to answer phones, check in guests and perform other tasks simultaneously. 
Typically, one person is needed to process calls for every 100 to 150 rooms. Cross-training and rotation of guest service agents is important. When not working in the call center, an agent could be stationed at the front desk or in another area of the hotel. Properties with fewer than 100 rooms may not be able to staff a call center without adding labor. In hotels with a PBX and more than 100 rooms, it makes sense to convert the PBX to a guest response call center and staff accordingly for it. This requires retraining, oftentimes rehiring of staff and a different pay scale.
  • There is better accountability and reliability. The fewer the number of people involved in taking care of a guest request or complaint, the better. There is less chance the issue will fall through the cracks and get lost. When using GuestWare’s Rapid Response system (www.guestware.com), it is possible to track who the issue has been assigned to, at what time it was assigned and the amount of time taken to resolve the request or complaint.
  • Problem resolution improves. Satisfaction with resolution is one of the most important drivers of overall guest satisfaction and intent to return. In a well managed call center, guest issues are resolved quickly. Hoteliers often forget that the moment a guest reports something wrong is when the clock starts ticking. If the problem is fixed in a timely manner, and then is followed up by a phone call, the guest usually will not hold the problem against the hotel.
  • The process of systematically measuring hotel performance is easier. With a call center and Rapid Response system, the following can be tracked: the number of problems and requests that guests report, the average amount of time it takes to respond, the top 10 issues for any given day, week or month, and how much money was spent on guest compensation. These are the types of things proactive managers look at when managing a guest response department. In a traditional decentralized environment, it is much more difficult to collect this kind of data.
  • The number of problems experienced declines. (On average, 20 to 25 percent of hotel guests report a problem during their hotel stay.) One of the greatest benefits of a Rapid Response tracking system is the data that can be used to eliminate recurring issues and improve processes. 
    One hotel was experiencing more than 100 guest lockouts per month. It quickly became their number one issue. Guests often had to wait 10 minutes for security staff to reach their rooms and unlock their doors. The hotel managers’ first reaction was to consider spending $100,000 on a new lock system. A Rapid Response recurring incident report showed, however, that 75 percent of the problems involved just 10 percent of the rooms. Hotel staff corrected the problem, avoided a major capital expense and improved guest satisfaction.

    A report generated from a Rapid Response system by another hotel manager showed that he had been receiving a tremendous number of requests for foam pillows, and that it was monopolizing associates’ time. The problem was solved by adding two foam pillows to each room.


How Rapid Response technology helps

If, on Jack Zimmer’s unfortunate evening, he had checked into a hotel that had a call center and GuestWare’s Rapid Response solution, his experience would have been much different. First, his call would have bypassed the front desk and gone straight to the hotel’s call center. The problem with his Internet connection then would have been logged into an entry screen that included his name, room number, incident type, incident code and level of urgency. A timer would have begun to track the time needed to resolve the issue.

After the incident had been inputted into the GuestWare entry screen and assigned to a specific person in engineering, it would have been sent automatically to the engineer’s SmartRunner pager. When the engineer received the page, he would have acknowledged it by sending a message back to GuestWare via the pager’s keypad. The pager message would have indicated Jack’s name, his room number and a description of the problem. The engineer would have appeared at Jack’s door within minutes of receiving the call, addressed him by name, entered the room and quickly reset the system to solve the problem. After leaving the room, he would have used the pager’s keypad to send a message back to the call center and GuestWare to automatically close the issue. If the engineer had not responded to the page within a predetermined period of time, a reminder or escalation page would have been sent.

Not long after the engineer had left the room, a call center representative would have called Jack (if it was not too late in the evening) to make sure that the problem was resolved to his satisfaction and, if necessary, offer some type of compensation (free use of the high-speed Internet service, for example). Management of the hotel later would have been able to produce reports indicating the frequency and costs of the type of incident Jack experienced. If reports showed a frequent occurrence of high-speed Internet difficulties, management could then take the necessary steps to eliminate the problem or train the front desk staff to explain the solution to the guest the first time.

Management participation necessary

Any call center will not be successful without management support. A manager cannot just delegate call center responsibilities and then hope it works. It is important to select the right person to manage the call center’s day-to-day operation, the Rapid Response component and the reports it can produce. The executive team, however, needs to know what is happening and the importance of making the changes within their departments to make the new process work.

The benefits of a centralized call center are many. Linked with an advanced Rapid Response system, call centers can improve guest satisfaction, lower operating costs and justify needed capital expenditures. Although a Rapid Response system can be implemented in a decentralized environment, the ROI is less than if it were used in a centralized environment. 

There are several Rapid Response systems out there. Shop wisely. Don’t just look for features. You are selecting a company to help you implement the software. Their knowledge of hotel processes, experience with implementation, and support are all just as important. The latest version of GuestWare’s Rapid Response, for example, is currently being rolled out in more than 250 hotels within one major chain in conjunction with the hotel company’s transition to a call center environment. Hospitality industry publications are a good source for information, as well as the Internet. Front-of-the-house or operations managers (rather than Engineering) should evaluate and take ownership of the system and processes since they are the ones responsible for communicating with the guest. 

As more hotels implement centralized call centers with Rapid Response systems, travelers like Jack will no longer have to worry about hotel stays filled with frustration, lost sleep, or an occasional bump on the head. 

**Next month’s article will focus on process improvement and how it can help a hotel eliminate 5 percent of its guest problems in less than a year.

Mike Benjamin is vice president for Diversified Computer Corp., Seattle. Diversified Computer Corp. develops, implements, markets and supports GuestWare, customer relationship management software for the lodging industry. For additional information, call 888-504-8378, write to mikeb@guestware.com, or visit www.guestware.com.

 

###

Contact:

Mike Benjamin
Vice President, Sales
GuestWare
1-888-504-8378
Mikeb@guestware.com
http://www.guestware.com

Glenn Hasek
President
Hasek Communications
(216) 476-9663
hasekcom@aol.com


Also See GuestWare, Arch Wireless Form Alliance to Provide Powerful Two-Way Messaging Solution / June 2003
GuestWare Unveils Enterprise, its Systemwide CRM Solution, at HITEC / June 2002 
Case Study: Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa’s GuestWare Guru Pushes Software to its Limit / April 2003 
GuestWare, Kor Hotel Group Partner to Deliver Powerful, Personalized Service / March 2003 
GuestWare Helps Streamline, Untangle Blue Mountain Ski Resort’s Guest Response Processes / Feb 2003
Case Study: Kimpton Implements GuestWare’s Enterprise to Provide Powerful Guest Service / June 2002 
Customer-Relationship Management Software Helps Salt Lake City's Hotel Monaco Beat the Competition / April 2002 
GuestWare Propels Peabody Orlando to National AH&LA Guest Relations Award / April 2002 
Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group Installs GuestWare to Improve Guest Loyalty Program / July 2001 


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