When it comes to the hospitality sector where a lot depends on customer experience and making the customer happy and satisfied, technology can provide an efficient means of serving the customer. A personalised and efficient customer service can make a lot of difference to the hotel industry in terms of adding new customers and retaining the old ones. Aval Sethi, Founder & Chief Executive, Protaiga explains how automation can take hotel industry to next level.
With technology gaining momentum, hospitality, which is one of the fastest growing sectors, is also witnessing rapid transformation in terms of automation. Technology and all its manifestations in the forms of artificial intelligence, machine learning and interactive devices are fast entering into mundane tasks that take place in hotels on everyday basis.
“Hotels have been positively responding to automation because it provides a unique mix of the best available options to customer experience and improves the hotel operations tremendously. From front desk operation to room service and room reservations, adept technology is the key to ensuring a seamless customer service. Automation enables integrating inefficient processes into simplified and numbered tasks that can be completed within a stipulated time. It enhances efficiency and improves reliability and quality of the services provided. All these factors help improving and enhancing the quality of stay for the customers or guests.
Rather than standing in line to be checked in by the front desk staff, guests prefer automated check-in at hotels indicating that automation has literally over taken human interaction for routine tasks. Guests can even check-out at their convenience. The cancellations are automatic and changes can be made according to the guest’s need. An on-site kiosk or mobile devices can be used for faster processing of such changes. An efficient and quick internal system can help the front desk to clear bookings that are cancelled and can subsequently help the other guests in queue.
Housekeeping services are the essential operations in a hotel that can make or break its image. It is also one of the most difficult. With multiple rooms and guests entering and exiting, the service staff find it difficult to find the next room to clean and spend about 10-15 per cent of their time in locating the next room to clean. According to productivity management experts, a housekeeper work consists of 18 tasks that need to be undertaken daily. Technology can be put to use through smartphones that can be used by them for intercommunication and for logging into their online systems to quickly check the status of unclean or untidy rooms and even check the guest’s name before knocking the door of the room.
However, all these can be made possible only when the right training is imparted for putting the available technology to the best use. As compared to other departments, inclusion and embracing of technology takes a longer time in housekeeping.
Automating housekeeping and procurement processes
Housekeeping is perhaps the function which is least impacted by the technological revolution. It is a core activity that can make or break a hotel’s business. However, it is mainly dependent on humanled processes and style of work. It is estimated that on an average, a housekeeping personnel does anywhere from 15-30 tasks on a daily basis.
It is natural to have a drop-in productivity when a staff works on the same stuff over a long period of time, and it is not that easy to quantify the dips.
In my view, several housekeeping tasks can be improved with the help of technology. It is surprising to see that most hotels, including the large ones, still use devices like walky-talky to communicate with each other. So typically, the housekeeping staff starts with cleaning and replenishing the room one-by-one on each floor. They carry a paper checklist and make sure each activity is performed. This can easily be done with the use of a mobile app. The staff just needs to check all that needs to be done in the room, change the status and update the online account so that the supervisor and management is updated in real time.
There is another significant angle to using technology in housekeeping and that is procurement. When all the information about the supplies and consumption is updated in an online system, it automatically updates the inventory. The procurement team, therefore, does not have to face the challenge of tracking and updating their inventory in hand. They can easily take stock of the situation and place orders for new materials without hassles that are otherwise usual in manual processes.
All of these could help save the environment, reducing the usage of paper by several notches.
Room for further automation
It is a must that housekeeping carts act as de-facto offices which are well-stocked and well-organised so that housekeepers don’t have to waste their time looking for the cleaning supplies or items or any such required materials and can work efficiently. The housekeeping cart needs to be arranged with the specific materials for cleaning, washing and post-cleaning services. The carts also vary according to the size and type of rooms. The supplies should be neatly kept so that the entire cleaning and clearing schedule is completed on time. In order to save time and make the carts move around quickly and conveniently, such carts are being replaced by smaller carts that look like caddie bags. These are also unobtrusive in appearance.
Digital transformation and automation can help hotel management to make quick and error-free decisions and improve customer service thereby enabling the team to increase profits and generate goodwill. Technological transformation can only come about by hand-holding support in the initial phases. It is also important to note that such digital embracement can happen if technologies are easier and conveniently developed in such a manner that even the keepers in the lower rung of the staff can easily afford them and understand them in a matter of time.
There are also allied benefits like saving of paper. Paper can be saved if hotels increase their productivity through mobile receipts instead of printouts. The overall operation status can be gauged in real-time by hotel managers if the entire database in online and digitised properly. It is important that hotels have a proper back-up to access such information even in power cuts or power faults.
Considering that there are new formats of hospitality and platforms like AirBnB (which offers clusters of apartments across locations that require management like conventional hotels) that are disruptive owing to their offerings and emerging soon, there could be prominent changes to the housekeeping domain. Soon, cleaning of properties could go outside the purview of hotel management or cleaning activities may be outsourced to online sites such as Staffmatch. These are some of the specific instances where mobile technology can play a crucial role as accommodation and housekeeping become more and more complex and nuanced.