Since well before the pandemic, hotels have been in the midst of an “operations revolution,” largely by deploying better and better technology to automate mundane tasks so that teams can be more guest-facing and deliver more personalized experiences. Along the way, though, we have created a bit of a monster that has only now reared its head as labor supply issues have been priority number one.
The statistic that best encapsulates this issue comes from a study published in 2019 by the University of California, Irvine, which found that the average office worker switches between different screens or tasks 566 times per day. Not only does all this multitasking prevent “flow” – that is, the time-efficient generation of high-quality output per employee – but each little screen or task switch also induces a morsel of stress, all of which accumulate throughout the workday like a death by a thousand cuts.
We get it. Hotel operations are complex, necessitating lots of systems to render services complete. At the same time, however, your employees are overwhelmed by dashboards, apps, reports, data and all manner of screens they must check on a daily basis. This is undeniably a cause for the high rates of turnover we are seeing in hospitality and perhaps also a supplemental reason for why we cannot even attract good Gen Y+Z (millennials and centennials) talent to the industry in the first place.
Something has to give. But luckily, the most salient answer to the problem of too much tech is yet more tech, or rather smarter tech that consolidates information and actions under one intuitive screen so that teams can get back to monotasking. For this, we have Robert Stevenson, CEO of INTELITY, a next-gen provider of operations and guest-facing technologies, to thank for demoing the company’s brand new INTELITY R5 platform and all the neat tools it has to help your hotel get its teams motivated.
Prioritizing the Employee Experience for Next-Gen Hoteliers
The two of us are keen evangelists of all the latest strides to make wellness a cornerstone of hospitality, both for FOH as a tool to generate more revenues from guests and for BOH as a means of combating the post-pandemic mental health crisis by improving employee wellbeing. It’s this latter point where exceptionally designed operations platforms enter the picture because good tech works to boost the holistic employee experience (EX).
Significantly, younger generations are more attracted to inclusive work environments with robust wellbeing programs in place. So, to attract the next generation of hoteliers, organizations must examine every way possible to make the job more suitable for Gen Y+Z, for which adopting smarter tech is one of the low-hanging fruit.
But why should EX be a top priority right now in Q2 2023? It’s a tough sell in an economic landscape where surpassing a given profitability benchmark is still uncertain and the push for greater efficiency is a foremost goal put forth by C-level executives. We argue that efficiency and profitability are wholly dependent on EX, especially in a workplace culture that increasingly values wellness.
Here are three big-picture challenges that we discussed with Stevenson as they relate to technology:
- Per the aforementioned mental health crisis, lowered employee morale due to tech frustrations translates into more presenteeism (lost productivity, suboptimal onsite performance and more errors made), absenteeism (impacting other costs like overtime payout) and, of course, turnover.
- The ongoing hotel labor shortage is leading to inflationary wages and salaries, meaning that you need every nonwage incentive at your disposal to buttress this cost, including a consolidated tech stack that reduces the mental workload required to wield it.
- As the two digitally fluent generations raised on seamless graphical user interfaces (GUIs), Gen Y+Z employees don’t like going back to outdated GUIs at all, further demotivating them and cajoling them to quit.
As we see it, the inability to retain talent is the core issue holding a hotel back from continuous success, precisely because it creates discontinuity. Without a solid team in place – especially one that fosters the next generation of hoteliers – you end up with service gaps and also leadership gaps as managers leave for competitors offering a better EX, all of which erode profitability and operational efficiency.
Turnover also comes with a sizeable, albeit hidden, replacement cost which includes recruitment costs, more time spent screening candidates, time spent onboarding new hires, sign-on bonuses, offering above-market wage incentives to stay competitive and project stalls due to loss of leadership.
Attention Management Through Good Tech
Especially for the Gen Y+Z that are already eternally distracted by the likes of Instagram, TikTok and WhatsApp, the constant shifting of their cognitive resources amongst the various hotel systems can be a major performance drain and jobsite stressor. Hence, if efficiency boils down to better time management, then integrated tech – like what we saw with INTELITY’s R5 platform – provides better attention management, as encapsulated by three broad utilities.
Working spheres. This is the term that Stevenson offhandedly used to denote software design consolidation where similar tasks are clustered onto a single viewing screen with all nonessential information omitted to focus the mind on what’s important in that very instant. This heightened focus, as enabled by all-in-one platforms, is what will free up your associates’ time to be great hosts for guests or allow managers to make headway on those revenue-generating projects.
Reducing busywork and invisible work. Bringing all the various operations under one roof by integrating, cleaning and structuring the data from departments ranging from front office, housekeeping and maintenance to F&B, spa, retail, golf, valet, concierge, events and meetings will help to diminish the busywork of cross-referencing multiple systems and the invisible work of having to spend extra time behind the scenes getting caught up because there are so many workflow interruptions. Again, this liberates time for more service personalization or working on projects that will add long-term value.
Utility players and flexible hours. In a world of ever-decreasing labor supply, hotels are starting to rotate workers through different roles and across variable shifts depending on where demand is strongest, while also using the prospects of a more dynamic, cross-departmental workplace as a tool to retain talent. All this hinges, though, on the ability to streamline underlying processes so that team members can be “plug and play” wherever they are needed with direct supervision.
The key throughout is that as technology becomes the foundation of smooth service delivery, all the older, siloed tech platforms no longer work because you need your supervisors’ and managers’ attention devoted to other matters impacting the guest experience. In this sense, it’s the strong “no touch” backbone of technology that will enable the next phase of “high touch” hospitality.
The Future of the Front Desk
We close by focusing on one example of how tech will evolve the hotel experience – the front desk – that the two of us discussed with Stevenson in terms of how INTELITY’s customizable hotel app shifts certain tasks away from hotel teams so that there’s more time available for revenue-generating ones.
Currently, the front desk functions primarily to execute transactional conversations including perfunctory actions like authorizing credit cards, verifying passwords, handing out keys, directing guests to facilities and settling folios at check-out. These types of interactions don’t build rapport nor do they endear guests to the brand.
Instead, we can now largely transfer these transactional conversations onto the guest-facing hotel app by allowing the app to do the following:
- Enable mobile check-in with passport verification
- Secure the NFC or BLE mobile keys
- Act as a repository for all property information and available amenities
- Provide instant access for on-demand services
- Cross-sell onsite experiences to amplify a guest’s stay
- Enable mobile checkout with folio settlement
By offloading all this from the day-to-day of the front desk team, said frontline employees can then move – both figuratively and literally – to the front of the desk, assuming the role of a “welcome team” and “hosts” who now have an unrushed, casual chat with guests.
These genuine conversations are the lifeblood of true hospitality because they actually augment the guests’ experiences as well as give the staff a chance to ask about how to further personalize the stay or present additional services the guests may want to purchase. And all the while, the physical front desk might be converted into a complimentary refreshment station, further enhancing the sense of arrival.
Ultimately, hospitality is and will always be about people. But if hotels continue to struggle in attracting and retaining great young hires by not heeding the call for EX innovation, guest service will be what suffers, greatly impacting the bottom line. And because next-gen hoteliers are digitally fluent, so too must your tech stack also keep pace with what these stakeholders demand.