Jeffrey Stephen Parker, VP, Hospitality Systems, Red Lion Hotels Corporation
Shopping at my local Kroger this weekend, I could not help but notice that three more cashier lanes have been removed to put in nine self-checkout lanes, now there are more self-checkout then manned lanes. WalMart is trying out a self-scan option, using your device and their app to scan items as you place in your cart, settle in app, and skip check-out queues all together. In Travel and Hospitality, the first successful self-service started with kiosks at the airport, and now hotels are starting to deliver new ways for guests to drive their stays with their phones. We are clearly in the age of self service.
Kiosks in Hotel are not a new idea, they were tried over 10 years ago. Most, if not all of them, failed. Many times, a guest needed additional assistance from a customer service representative, and was nowhere to be found. Part of this was due to designers not wanting a clunky CRT clad in wood laminate sitting in their beautiful lobbies, so the kiosk was tucked around the corner or down a hall way. Destined to never be used. The other part is the check in process can be complicated with time, available rooms, payment rules, room type and rate, etc. Often the check in process needs an expert to navigate.
Recently I tried the app/kiosk experience at a mega hotel in Las Vegas, it was a kludgy mobile site that walked me through the process, rules and payments. Then after waiting 20 minutes generated a barcoded email that then I had to take to a kiosk to read the code and scan my identification. When it did not work, I was directed to a CSR to check my ID again and make keys. Not only did the process not deliver on speedier service as promoted on several posters by the hotel (Why wait in line? Check in online and skip the queue), but it also was staffed with more people for two kiosks (four) then a desk station (one).
Kiosks are coming, there are already chains that have 99.9 percent kiosk check-ins, but we as an industry still have to iron out some things before they become what they are to the airlines. As we are building out our Kiosk plan, we take away some lessons learned:
• Placement, when you look at other verticals that have successful Kiosk programs, the devices are in locations where our guests can find them.
• Keep It Simple, the process needs to be as few steps as possible. The kiosk does not need to also print boarding passes and directions to Joe’s Steak House.
We need to be cautious on how we rush, so that we are enhancing the guest’s experience, not degrading it
• Have staff floating around ready to help, particularly for hotels that do a lot of Direct Bill, Group, and other more complicated arrangements.
• Set up making keys with the fewest moving pieces as possible. Magazines get jammed, encoders out of alignment, cabinets are not always flush.
The giant push to go mobile is here, everything, even things that don’t seem to make sense is going to the mobile device. Hotel mobile apps have been the bane of many hospitality marketing and technology teams’ existence. Often mobile apps become a disjointed collection of app, responsive HTML5 web sites, and white-labeled add-ins. This is a result of trying to be quick to market, and deliver an over-reaching feature set.
Good mobile apps start philosophically, how do you want your app to enhance the experience of your guest? Then move on to desired functionality and finally a road map of what can be done now, versus items to put off for later. It has to be a very structured process, with many stake holders at the table. Apps that are driven by marketing or technology without involving accounting and operations, are doomed to fail.
Once that is done, and everyone is on board, my recommendation is to do as much as possible with one programming partner. To deliver a great experience to your guest, the app has to feel like it is once piece of software. Every time the user drops to another experience, for example dumping to the online booking engine and needing to authenticate again, or data from your CRM not showing up, it makes their experience negative. This means not only finding a developer that can do this, but also working with partners through APIs and other integrations.
You want your app to be useful, so your guests keep it on their device. Things we are looking to include:
• Loyalty login/status
• Book Rooms
• Look up stay history
• Mobile Check-In
• Mobile Key
• Chat/request service
• Folio Delivery
I know that sounds like a lot. Take a deep breath, it is alight to do one thing really well with your app, better than doing 18 things poorly. Start with booking or loyalty, make that work, make it bullet proof, then move on to added functionality.
Don’t forget the Operations side, if you have a chat or service request app, make sure the hotel has the procedures and the staffing to handle that influx. I have nightmares of a front desk agent checking in a guest, being PBX and now having to respond to 10 text streams. If you are adding new vectors for service delivery in your technology, you have to add vectors in your team. Again, the best programs in the world are doomed to fail if not supported properly.
The rush to enable our guests for self-service or directed-service is exciting, and all indications point to this being exactly what our customers want. However, hospitality is still hospitality at its core, and we need to be cautious on how we rush, so that we are enhancing the guest’s experience, not degrading it.