Last month the organization YouGov polled 1,219 adults about their hotel stays. Results indicate that most hotel guests (62%) are not frustrated by a lack of fitness center, spa or a trendy bar as much as by the presence of unfriendly staff. More than a third of guests polled (38%) indicated that a source of frustration was the front desk taking too long to complete requests, while almost a third (31%) were irritated by delays in service.
A cursory conclusion from these results could indicate that frustrations derive from two principle sources: lack of efficiency in service tasks, and staff having less than sunny personalities.
Yet both relate to each other. Staff not inundated with mundane operational tasks or frustrated by systemically recurring communication snafus will be less preoccupied, and more likely to be better able to focus on customers and their requests. Reducing operational and communication inefficiencies, in other words, may also reduce the incidence of staff grumpiness.
One system designed to streamline in-house task management and communications for the hospitality industry is ALICE—named after the ever-efficient family housekeeper in the television show the Brady Bunch. (The company that owns ALICE funded the research mentioned above.) This system is intended to rid staff of hurried pencil notes and static filled radio chatter in order to get different departments—from room service to valet parking—communicating via one integrated umbrella technology. Hotels utilizing this technology can dispatch and track guest requests with greater ease. Streamlining communications is also intended to lower costs and improve service delivery.
Co-founder and president of ALICE, Alexander Shashou, explained the platform.
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The guest travels through departments, effectively being looked after by housekeeping, by maintenance, by room service, by the front desk, by the concierge, by the room itself. All of that comes together to create your experience. But when we started out six years ago, none of the technology worked together. Some departments would be on the radio, some departments on a concierge system, some on a housekeeping system—all siloed from each other. Which is why service falls through the cracks, why you sometimes call down for the same thing and they apologize, why you have to wait longer than necessary to receive service. It’s why you’re disconnected as a guest.
ALICE, a cloud-based platform, is intended to improve the ability of hotel staff to fulfill guest requests. The vision for this ‘hospitality industry operations platform’ is that more efficient internal communications can result in greater guest satisfaction. Consider it somewhat of an Uber for hotel staff carrying out a multitude of tasks. Shashou continued.
Take a really simple example. You’re in a room, pick up the phone and call the front desk and say, ‘I need extra towels.’ Instead of the front desk having to go on a radio open channel to all housekeeping, saying the guest in room 202 needs towels—without identifying who the guest is, or knowing if the towels have ever been delivered—the front desk, via ALICE, dispatches that request to the housekeeper responsible for room 202. That housekeeper is on an iPod or Android device. They see the job, accept the job, start the job, and now the front desk knows they’re on the way to the room. When they arrive to the room they can see your last name, and address you by name. They can finish the job, noting it on the device, then ask you, ‘What else can we do for you?’ You say, ‘By the way my air conditioning is not working so well.’ Straight from their device they can send that request to maintenance, who will come and look after you next.
That’s what an operations platform is. We’re working with almost 2,000 hotels around the world, predominantly in North America—the U.S. and Mexico—and then about 250 hotels in Europe. Predominantly with hotels that really care about the delivery of service and experience. Everyone from Dream to Viceroy to Firmdale to Rosewood. Hotels that are effectively three, four and five star.
The company that created and implements ALICE raised $40 million to build the platform. In six years the staff have increased from three to 100 members, demonstrating the demand for their product. The company now works with such brands as Leading Hotels of the World and Grupo Posadas. It also acquired a company named Go Concierge and is migrating those customers to its Alice platform.
Can improving communications improve staff friendliness? Part of that relates to the personalities of individuals. Yet part may also relate to technology. Shashou explained.
I actually think that what causes someone to be unfriendly is their inability to do what’s on mission. If you are looking at technology and it stops working and the user experience is not good and you can’t look after the guest because you don’t know what they’re asking about, or you don’t have enough information, I think that makes staff frustrated.
We found that 38 percent of those interviewed are frustrated when the front desk takes too long to complete requests. It’s not because they’re slow. It’s because they’re inundated with phone calls, emails, messages, housekeeping requests. Software can help that. We’ve reduced the amount of systems, because you have one platform across all of your departments. You’re no longer jumping into five systems; you just have one ALICE, so you spend less time completing requests. Why do delays happen? Because requests have to go through loads of communication channels, and this fixes that.
If you can operationalize the mundane, you can exceptionalize the human side, spending more time with guests, looking after them, spending less time in the operational admin of getting tasks done.
Shashou grew up in the hospitality field; his father built and operated hotels. The original idea he and cofounders had for technology was for guests to better connect with hotels. They soon realized that most hotels had no internal online infrastructure, hence nothing guests could connect to. They also realized that there was a need for better internal communications within the industry.
The biggest challenge has been moving an industry from a mindset that is offline to a mindset that is digital. Training staff how to use technology, not just how to use our technology. Changing their behavior so they communicate through technology, so that nothing can get lost when their shift ends. Because you want to look after the guests and connect and allow guests to control more of the stay themselves. If you want a personalized experience, you need to know who the guest is and what they are doing with you. That can be achieved with software.
ALICE must be simple to operate, including for staff who may have low reading and writing proficiencies but who are familiar with working with images, logos and icons.
Most software in the world is underutilized—and that’s usually because of the user experience. So we really had to make Alice simple to use.
The future is unfolding in tandem with this technology, and will likely incorporate artificial intelligence to learn from past experiences to predict future needs.
The industry itself is starting the acknowledge the need for operations technology and won’t be able to deliver a personalized guest experience without it. We think that over the next years an entire industry will be moved online. Then we can allow hotels to begin really personalizing guest experience. To know that you stayed in our hotel in Germany last year and now you’re in our hotel in France this year, and will be in the U.S. next year—what did you do on past trips? How can we provide you with a better experience? You’ve been with us a few times, you’re not a stranger. The concierge knows you’re eating dinner at 8 p.m., so why doesn’t housekeeping turn down your bed at 8.30 p.m.? Our entire idea is that when you run a hotel, you have all the different departments that have to work together in perfect harmony and tandem to orchestrate a guest experience.