3 Steps to Better Mobile Solutions

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3 Steps to Better Mobile Solutions

By Lisa Terry, Contributing Editor - 02/16/2016
Consumers’ romance with their smartphones is showing no signs of slowing, with texting, apps and other digital services impacting the very dynamics of social interaction. Today’s guests carry that smartphone culture into hotels, which must respond or risk seeming out of touch.

“Customers expect things to happen fast and get very frustrated when requests are not met in a timely way,” says Tom Smalley, general manager of the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Los Angeles — Commerce (www.doubletree3.hilton.com). Many guests are more likely to express requests or comments via mobile, if not to the hotel directly than on social media sites. Hotels can flip the script by leveraging mobile to keep guests satisfied.

“Mobile is paramount to our value prop,” says Darrin Hubbard, president and CEO of technology consulting firm Deployed Technologies (www.deployedtechnologies.com), which works closely with Virgin Hotels Chicago (www.virginhotels.com). There are considerable opportunities in using mobile devices and platforms to engage more intimately with the guest, from the moment a trip is conceived all the way through post-stay. Getting there, however, demands careful attention to infrastructure and process and a willingness to try and fail until it’s just right.

Few doubt that expectation will quickly spread to nearly every level of hotel, but don’t do mobile for mobile’s sake, experts warn. Start with the problem or opportunity and build from there. Here are three key steps for hotels to create an effective end-to-end mobile strategy.

1 Open the lines of communication pre-, post- and during stay
To tap into the opportunities mobile offers, some hotels continue to enhance current apps, but without incentives or other value-add, some guests won’t download them. To combat this, hoteliers are also leveraging SMS messaging, email and mobile-optimized browser-based sites to deliver mobile services.
The vision for end-to-end mobile adds new services to pre-stay, such as extra towel requests or tee times. On the day of check-in, asking for a guest’s anticipated arrival time via mobile can help synchronize housekeeping and geofencing launches the concierge experience by offering transportation, directions and mobile key assignment as soon as guests are in close proximity.

DoubleTree LA-Commerce uses Whistle (www.trywhistle.com), a Web-based messaging tool, to send day-before welcome and pre-departure offers as well as inviting communication and delivering offers throughout the stay. In addition to boosting front desk productivity, it “allows the hotel the opportunity to fix anything during their stay that the customer would not normally verbalize,” says Smalley. Guests appreciate the faster service, and the information that is shared goes right into CRM and management reports.

Other in-stay services may include controlling in-room temperature and entertainment systems from anywhere, engineering requests, or tableside ordering. Agilysys (www.agilysys.com) has plans to embed mobile devices in serving trays, for example. Mobile payment is a rising expectation. A growing number of hotels are mobile-enabling staff to complete the communication loop, including the ability for one-on-one chats with guests. Text, images and video enhance the quality of these exchanges.

In-stay mobile is also going social: embedded in a message that a request has been fulfilled, FCS Computer Systems (www.fcscs.com) can add links to enable guests to post their satisfaction to social media. Some apps strive to mobile-enable meeting groups, especially group coordinators. LobbyFriend (www.lobbyfriend.com) takes it a step further, setting up temporary social networks for guest-to-guest or guest-to-staff communication, even when they step off property. Virgin Hotels includes a guest chat board in its mobile app, Lucy.

Mobile checkout is becoming table stakes, but hotel staff can also use staff-facing mobile devices to share folios with guests for verification, avoiding printing and discarding the interim folio. Post-stay mobile may include thank you messages, help with transportation, surveys and promotions.

While guest satisfaction is notoriously hard to measure, productivity, service recovery, and value-add are just some of the potential benefits of mobile apps. Mobile can also make a brand promise measureable, by giving operators the ability to log response times. The biggest payoff, however, may come from driving incremental revenue.

Marriott International’s spa operation (www.marriott.com) has already driven $500,000 in revenue by enabling browser-based access to pre-booking at just two properties: 50 more were slated to be added by November and six international sites are in tests. “It’s brought huge efficiency by decreasing call volume,” says Kenneth Ryan, senior director, global spa operations for Marriott International. “We’re seeing customers booking outside of our hours of operation. It’s an impulse buy when they are booking the hotel.” Those advance bookings also improve staff scheduling.

2 Bolster connectivity
Connectivity is a vital component for any level of mobile sophistication. This can be cellular, but many experts recommend robust WiFi for seamless connectivity throughout the property and to facilitate beacons and location-based services. Cellular connectivity will remain important for cases such as contacting a new guest when he enters a geofenced area.

3 Develop an integration roadmap
Some mobile solutions are designed to be used standalone or with hooks into hotel systems, so hoteliers can install and use them to serve guests without investing in integration. Many will want mobile solutions woven more deeply into the fabric of daily operations, such as recording guests’ individual requests in the CRM, pushing out stay-extension offers to guests scheduled to check out based on next day’s occupancy, or pushing guest-texted maintenance requests into an engineering task management system. Amadeus (www.amadeus.com) uses Zingle (www.zingle.me) to enable mobile message exchange with its Hot SOS Hotel Service Optimization System.

Marriott Spa spent two years developing its application with PAR Technology’s (www.partech.com/spa) SpaSoft Spa Management System in a browser while planning integration with the PMS within 18 months, as well as adding social media links. Currently, guests access the Spa site through a Web-enabled link in the Marriott app.

Most often mobile apps integrate into the property management system, but some link directly to POS, PBX and other workhorse hotel applications. According to Maestro (www.maestropms.com), the onus is usually on the mobile app to provide trafficking and alerts for the messages they generate, often via a portal, although others do it through the PMS. More advanced apps use keyword filtering and natural language tools to parse and dispatch messages, and overcome language barriers among parties to the chat.

To attain mobile integration more seamlessly, companies including SkyTouch Technology (www.skytouchtechnology.com) urge hoteliers to adopt a multi-tenant cloud architecture for their hotel platforms to ease integration, avoid firewall issues, attain scalability and ensure brand-wide access to the data mobile solutions needed to deliver services. Open APIs and HTNG standards are key to this effort, but hoteliers should also make sure they understand the nuances of a particular application’s requirements.

Virgin Hotels integrates Infor Hospitality’s (www.infor.com/industries/hospital
ity
) PMS and kiosk platform as well as a food and beverage system from Agilysys and Guestware (www.guestware.com) CRM with its mobile app, Lucy, and Voxer (www.voxer.com) for staff mobile. “HTNG standards are in place as a guideline, but you find out each [mobile service] is written slightly differently, so your mobile platform has to be adaptable,” says Hubbard. “You need robust interfaces where you can flow data back and forth.”