During RLHC’s Virtual Conference and Expo: United We Roar, John Edwards, SVP and CIO at RLHC interviewed Jeff Parker, workgroup facilitator of HTNG on how hotels can use technology to their advantage during the era of COVID-19. During the course of their conversation, Edwards and Parker focused on a few key areas where technology will greatly help improve the guest experience and operations: guest communication, payment processing, and checklist technology.
Communicate More Often
“You cannot overcommunicate in this day and age,” Parker said. “Guests want to know more information faster than ever. And they want to know it earlier in the booking process.”
While e-mail is still an important way to communicate with guests, Parker noted that more immediate forms of communication – such as instant messaging and texting – have become critical. However, allowing general managers or front desk members to message guests via their own personal devices is not a strategy that Parker recommends. Not only is it not secure, it doesn’t allow for consistency. Additionally, if that staff member gets busy – the guests may be left waiting for a response (or forgotten entirely). Keeping a guest waiting for information, especially if you claim to offer a messaging service, could cause distrust among guests and could cause them to cancel their booking, Parker added.
One possible solution to this guest need is an AI-based chatbot.
“Eighty percent of the questions we get everyday are repetitive,” Parker noted. “Using an AI-based chatbot to respond to those questions frees up staff members to do other tasks. Meanwhile, the AI system can forward the unique 20% of questions to a live agent for answering.”
Additionally, AI-based chatbots can be programmed to upsell items to guests. For instance, if a guest messages asking about the check-out time, the chatbot could be programmed to ask if they would like to upgrade to a later check-out for a small fee. Similarly, this type of messaging service has the potential to interface with other software programs – such as housekeeping. The hotel can message the guest when a housekeeper is about to enter the room to confirm the room is empty and to ask that they stay away from the room until they receive a message that housekeeping has finished cleaning it.
Consider Different Payment Options
“If communication is the number one issue hotels need to resolve in this new era, payment processing is the second,” Parker noted.
Many guests no longer want to exchange credit cards with a staff member at the front desk, and some don’t even want to use the POS terminal. So what’s a hotel to do? There are quite a few options, actually.
Hotels that have the ability to offer EMV should turn on “tap” for less contact and put the POS out where guests can access it, Parker recommends. Hotels might also consider accepting payment in advance, during the booking process. Some hotels are even texting their guests with a link that both offers important information – such as information on the hotel’s check-in policy – and also captures the guest’s payment information, ID and digital signature. And as more and more consumers become familiar with and reliant on Venmo, Apple Wallet, Paypal and other forms of mobile wallet, hotels should begin to really focus on offering this above property payment level of processing to guests as well.
Of course, before partnering with any technology service on payment processing, hoteliers need to ask: is this solution secure? Ensure that the vendor is following the requirements for PCI, GDPR, CCPA, etc. And then hoteliers need to ask: is it easy to use? The solution should be making things easier for overworked staff members, not harder.
When it comes to chargebacks, HTNG currently has several workgroups laboring on how to help hotels prevent them. Moving to an e-commerce channel or an above PMS model means hotels must be aware of different rules governing how to take payments safely – such as getting the three digit security code on the back of a credit card.
Making a List, Checking It Twice
While check lists are by no means new, the way they’re being used – and how they’re being implemented – is getting a big boost from technology vendors.
“Right now many hotel staff members are being forced to wear multiple hats,” Parker explains. “Some jobs they’re not used to doing, they’re being overworked, and they’re in a hurry. Daily checklists help make sure things are done properly.”
So how is the humble checklist getting a modern upgrade?
Some vendors have created a mobile app (or integrate with the hotel’s branded mobile app) to offer staff members access to checklists where they can mark each to-do as completed. Some hotels are even making this checklist available to guests, so they can quickly see a list showing exactly what was cleaned, how it was cleaned, and when it was last cleaned – helping guests feel safe and secure. Similarly, for hotels without mobile apps, some vendors allow this type of checklist to be displayed on the guestroom TV for guests to view as soon as they walk into the room and turn on the TV for the first time.
Other vendors have created QR codes that can be scanned by staff and pop up a checklist of actions they need to complete. These QR codes can also be scanned by managers to see who completed which checklist and when, going back even a few days in the past if necessary.