Turning problems into opportunities: Guest response systems provide the data needed to eliminate defects, improve processes and increase guest satisfaction
By Mike Benjamin
Throughout the hotel industry, numerous improvement programs exist that focus an organization on defect reduction, customer service and process alignment. In a previous article I explained the benefits of implementing a guest response call center and technology to improve service delivery and collect data for process improvement. (See: Tired of fighting fires? Proactive hotel managers implement guest call centers to deliver outstanding service, save thousands of dollars.)
In this article I will discuss how hotel managers can use the data collected from guest call centers and other sources of guest feedback to analyze and reduce defects. I also will discuss the benefits of using guest response systems for continuous process improvement without having to invest the time and money in a Six Sigma program.
Unlike factories, where Six Sigma (commonly defined as 3.4 defects per million opportunities) is achievable, the hotel industry average for defects (problems experienced by guests) is more than 20 percent of all guest stays. With more than one in five guests experiencing a problem, the potential for defect reduction is huge. At this defect rate, for every point reduction in “problem experience,” a hotel can eliminate 5 percent of all guest problems.
Hotels are a fast paced, highly variable working environment where things change constantly (oftentimes bordering on chaos). The quantity and type of data collected by a real-time guest response system is far more useful for eliminating defects than data collected from post-visit surveys. When combined with guest defects reported from other sources such as comment cards and surveys, the guest response system helps manage the chaos and creates the foundation of a successful quality management program.
After implementing process improvement with data collected from a real-time guest response system, one hotel saw its problem experience percentage drop from 30 percent to 20 percent in two years. That is equivalent to eliminating one third of all guest problems. Overall guest satisfaction increased dramatically and operating costs decreased because of more efficient operations and reduced guest compensation.
Use data to make good decisions
Managers who rely on information gathered anecdotally run the risk of making process changes or financial decisions that lead to misuse of resources and mediocre results. Those who rely on actual defect data and not gut instincts to make decisions about process improvements will be the most successful at improving guest service and satisfaction. The more relevant data one has, the higher the probability that a good decision will be made.
There are myriad opportunities to collect guest feedback and defect data: when a reservation is made, at check-in, through the hotel call center, via staff who are confronted face-to-face by guests, at check-out, and from comment cards or any other correspondence that a guest might send after a hotel stay. Most guest response systems focus on the time a guest is in a hotel but some do provide components that enable data collection prior to check-in and after check-out.
A real-time guest response system can track the following types of data: the amount of time it takes to respond to a request by staff, request or department; how many requests or problems are successfully responded to within a specified goal period; and the amount of time it takes to dispatch a call. A guest response system also can generate incident reports by department, an overall top 10 incidents report, predict peak request times to optimize staffing and generate work orders for maintenance personnel.
Gain control of maintenance issues
Maintenance issues can be a big cause of guest problems. Rarely is there a set or predefined time to replace aging equipment or furnishings. By using a defect report, one can pinpoint the optimum time to replace an aging product. Two key factors in determining optimum replacement time are impact on the customer and maintenance costs including labor. The following are some additional ways that reports generated from a guest response system can help:
• Isolating the real cause. (Many times it is easy to blame equipment when other less costly solutions can be found with deeper analysis.) A top 10 incidents report generated by one resort helped it identify a door lockout problem. The property was able to reduce the problem’s frequency by 75 percent by revising the front office re-key process rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars on replacing the system. A report generated by another property helped it adjust a simple housekeeping procedure. Guests had contacted the call center to report that their TV remotes were not working. It was determined that the problem was due to housekeepers placing the remotes on the TVs. The batteries drained faster there. The remotes were placed in another convenient location. This may never have been noticed had hotel staff not been looking at their top 10 report.
• Recurring room problems and the 80/20 rule. Having a report available that shows rooms with the same problem repeated two or three times a month can be a huge help. From bath or sink drains to HVAC issues, it is common that 80 percent of all problems occur in just 20 percent of guestrooms. If one can fix the problem rooms faster (by reviewing a report two times per month), one can prevent many problems and possibly avoid spending money to replace an aging system.
• Fixing it the first time. Broken mini-bar locks or running toilets are perfect examples of maintenance issues that recur in the same room. Without this report, it is common for a problem to recur six or seven times before a permanent fix is made. Consider replacement or permanent repair after just two or three complaints. This will reduce guest problems and free up more time for staff to concentrate on other issues.
• Justify capital expenditures. Reports generated from a guest response system also can be used by managers to justify capital expenditures. At one ski resort, top 10 incident reports are given to rental unit owners to help them identify where to spend money on upgrades. Hotel owners are more likely to approve replacement of furniture, fixtures and equipment when they see the frequency guests are experiencing problems and efforts made by management to fix the problems.
Manage amenity requests and housekeeping
Although typically not viewed as defects, guest requests collected by guest response systems provide a great opportunity for process improvement. These requests can be ranked by type, frequency and cost. One hotel manager used a top 10 requests report to identify a need for two foam pillows in each guestroom. The decision was based on the cost of delivering more than 100 foam pillows per month versus placing them in every room. The labor savings alone made up for the cost of the pillows in one year and hotel staff had more time and resources to deal with other issues.
A key consideration when examining amenity requests is the impact on staffing levels and meeting service delivery standards. The fewer the number of requests, the easier it is to shorten the response time for other issues and amenities. In larger hotels and resorts, fewer requests (and problems) can reduce the number of runners required to meet the standard delivery times.
Guest response reports also can reveal trends based on variables other than overall request frequency such as day of the week or time of day graphs. One convention hotel’s staff in Orlando discovered that requests for extra towels were much higher for certain groups and on the weekends. Based on the data the decision was made to add guestroom towels during those occasions. The result was an improvement in overall average response times because runners no longer had to address the towel shortage problem. Similar logic can be applied to other amenities based on the season or room type.
GuestWare is a guest response system that enables one to break housekeeping incidents down by section. By analyzing a graph in one such report, a hotel’s manager discovered that housekeepers had been flushing used soap down guestroom toilets. The soap caused flushing problems. The soap disposal process was changed and the problems stopped. Similar reports also can be used to monitor other housekeeping-related issues such as dirty rooms or broken coffee pots. One hotel determined that certain housekeepers were breaking coffee pots during cleaning. The problem was resolved in one meeting and eliminated from the top 10 list altogether.
Measuring and managing response times
In hotels where guest response systems are not used, a measurement such as average response time (for all request delivery and problem resolution) is difficult, if not impossible, to track. If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. Sometimes the simple act of tracking response time can motivate employees to respond more rapidly to requests and problems.
Average response time and goal analysis (percentage of calls within the goal) are each helpful metrics that improve processes. Reviewing these for each request type, by runner, by time of day and by day of week can shed light on problems and inspire potential solutions. A common use of this information is to shift staffing levels (especially during peak periods) to maintain delivery standards.
Analyzing average response time by problem type can provide insight into training and organization improvements. Simple things like creating well positioned storage closets for the top 10 issues can shave 5 percent to 10 percent off response time. Similarly, knowing what tools are needed for each task can prevent an employee from making two separate trips.
Build a team focused on process improvement
No matter what types of reports are generated from a real-time guest response system, they will be ineffective if there is not a formal process to use the information. Assembling a team from key departments to meet every other week to review the information is all that is required. Include those who know how to focus on the problems. The guest response reporting tool is key so managers spend more time managing positive change rather than collecting and tallying data.
Choose the right battle. One cannot expect to ever eliminate the top 10 guest issues. However, if one focuses on two or three issues every meeting, the number of negative guest experiences soon will decline. It is also important to measure results after a process has been changed.
“I read our guest response reports every day and distribute them to the appropriate department,” says the guest services manager of one hotel. “We print out a top 10 incidents report every two weeks. Our goal is to not have a top 10 incidents report.”
Zero defects may be an impossible goal but continuous improvement can produce amazing results. Without detailed defect reports, a hotel manager may never know the true severity of maintenance, housekeeping and other service problems. A guest response system can provide the analysis tools one needs to quickly improve problem resolution processes, make operations more efficient, reduce hotel expenses, justify capital expenditures and increase overall guest satisfaction.
Mike Benjamin is vice president for Diversified Computer Corp., Seattle. Diversified Computer Corp. develops, implements, markets and supports GuestWare, customer relationship management software for the lodging industry. GuestWare software includes: Rapid Response, Guest Recognition, Facilities Maintenance, Comment Card Tracking, Enterprise, Communication Server, Incident Tracking and 12 PMS interfaces. For additional information, call 888-504-8378, write to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.guestware.com.
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