In the face of COVID-19 and the need for a contactless, sterilized and traceable environment, hotels rapidly pivoted by implementing a myriad of hard and soft solutions to make guests and staff safer while also enabling remote work, more data-driven decision making through deeper integrations and faster service through automation.
After all this, are we done with tech for now? Is it time to refocus on the “real” hoteling of high-touch service? While hospitality will always be a people business, there is one critical area where this is dangerously wrong.
During the opening salvo of the pandemic, most hotels cut back a large portion of their teams, both at the frontline level as well as within the senior ranks. The problem with these lean teams is that by clustering all the daily minutia into a few select personnel, those individuals aren’t left with any prolonged chunks of time to think and devote their focus to projects that will advance the business beyond steady-state management.
As an example, consider a revenue manager who is the sole executive left standing after two others on their team were furloughed in conjunction with two marketing coordinators and two front office managers. When will this knowledge worker find the time to devise a well-researched rate plan for next year if they are already handling reservation requests, updating OTA listings, adjusting rates to adapt to erratic market conditions, filling in at the front desk and attending executive committee meetings?
Compounding this new model of continuously interruptive workflows is the fact that, coming out of the pandemic, many hotels have opted to keep their teams lean either due to the omnipresent uncertainty of the virus or as a means of recouping from the losses.
So, if lean teams will be semi-permanent going forward, we need to look at both the cultural shifts and technological tools that will help protect managers’ time from all these somewhat toxic attention dividers.
More Efficient Meetings
How much time is wasted in small talk at the beginning of a group meeting when four attendees are waiting on a fifth key player to join? How much short-burst time is spent in endless email chains coordinating a one-off meeting time? Coming out of a meeting, how do you ensure that everyone knows their exact responsibilities and due dates?
To start, we advocate fewer meetings overall. Additionally, lots of calendar systems can help with coordination by setting up recurring timeslots and attaching collaborative agendas so that everyone stays on track. Importantly, any attendee who isn’t a major participant should be able to easily opt-out and get access to a recording or minutes on a cloud-based work management system to avoid it all from crowding an email inbox.
To set up a time, many are already deferring to scheduling software. These replace endless email threads with “office hour” blocks of available time that everyone can set. Once implemented, it’s just a matter of omitting certain periods of the day and devoting them to silent concentration – no meetings, no calls, no texts, no emails, only the work.
Email Reduction Platforms
As a simple example, a guest emails you asking for the address and what rooms are available on a given night. While your address is likely plastered all over your website, and all room types can be queried within the booking engine, customer laziness is still an unavoidable problem because you want the revenue. Some manager has to spend the time to courteously reply and reply again if there are follow-up questions, all of it zapping their ability to focus on more cerebral thoughts.
In this case, one solution is the deployment of chatbots that are able to automatically offload all these basic inquiries and reservation requests so that managers are only looped in when it’s a more complex situation or error escalation event.
Similarly, card-not-present payment platforms can eliminate the time spent emailing back and forth (or on the phone) to confirm a credit card transaction.
Thirdly, a solid and well-connected operations management system can seamlessly deliver all the necessary service tasks to the appropriate staffer without ever notifying a manager unless it’s required.
Time Trumps Cost Savings
We could list off another dozen or so prominent automation tools that can help your managers save their time and rescue them from a barrage of interruptive emails or texts that prevent them from focusing for a solid hour on a singular project. The obstacle to implementing all of these technologies is that it’s difficult to quantify the ROI.
How do you put a monetary value on the cost savings realized by deploying a new platform that can free up, say, 15 minutes of sporadic time for any given manager each day? A modest calculation could boil down that manager’s compensation in quarter-hour chunks then multiply it by the total workdays, but the true savings are actually far greater. Not only is there an opportunity cost where those 15 minutes can be repurposed toward a positive outcome, but psychologically, the lack of interruptions that result from automating that quarter of an hour can help to de-stress and inspire that manager so that they can be more productive on the tasks that actually matter.
As is often said, you can always make more money but never time, so use the latter wisely. With the coronavirus somewhat under control, many hotels have put a pause on enhancing their tech stacks. This is a huge mistake because now is exactly the right time to start thinking in terms of the next phase – using technology to maximize the productivity of your lean teams.
This requires a cultural shift at the highest level. While time savings may not immediately translate into a discernable ROI figure, our hope is that this explanation suffices to elucidate the dangers of constantly distracting your managers with the everyday and most trivial tasks involved with running a hotel.
About the Author
Together, Larry and Adam Mogelonsky represent one of the world’s most published writing teams in hospitality, with over a decade’s worth of material online. As the partners of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice, Larry focuses on asset management, sales and operations while Adam specializes in hotel technology and marketing. Their experience encompasses properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service.