The Next Wave of VoIP: Hotel operators reduce costs and satisfy guests

By Lindsay Elkins • Assistant Editor | June 01, 2006

As Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) begins to shift toward becoming a mainstream technology, hotels are taking advantage of the service in guestrooms and call centers to reduce telecom costs and increase guest service.

Integrated solutions

Over the past few years, Outrigger Hotels and Resorts, the largest locally-owned hospitality chain in Hawaii, has been one of the fastest-growing companies in the Pacific. Now fielding 3,000 inbound phone calls, 1,000 faxes, plus several hundred Internet customer chats each day, the company knew that its customer contact center was in need of an infrastructure upgrade. "While we had always used the latest technology available, each separate channelÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.‚¬Å"Ã.Ã.•¬Ã.‚¬Å"phone calls, email, fax and Web chatÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.‚¬Å"Ã.Ã.•¬Ã.‚¬Å"was isolated both physically and technologically," says Bill Peters, vice president of reservation services for Outrigger Hotels and Resorts. "If call volumes went up, for example, we had to temporarily pull agents from doing another function to handle the calls." Outrigger was in search of a system that would lower its technology and maintenance costs, while integrating inbound customer contact channels and adding new features when needed, which was impossible with the inflexible hardware the hotel chain had been using. "I started thinking out of the box of what we can do, and hosted solutions came up strong," explains Peters. "Because VoIP has really become mainstream, I was able to get all of my multi-media customer touchpoints delivered via VoIP on a skill-based routing system."
In April of last year, Outrigger replaced its automatic call distributor hardware with the Echopass (echopass.com) EchoSystem with Echopass Advanced Contact Center On Demand Service, which produced the efficiency the property had sought out. "We quickly reached the 50 to 60 percentile range for conversion of calls to bookingsÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.‚¬Å"Ã.Ã.•¬Ã.‚¬Å"and thatÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.•.s unusually strong for the hospitality industry," notes Peters. A huge benefit to potential guests is Outrigger is able to give them a quick response time to any questions posed via phone, email, live chat or fax. Now, not only the voice is electronically distributed, but so are faxes, emails and chat, with the majority of Outrigger staff taking a phone call, while at the same time handling a chat email and fax request. Because guests can reach Outrigger through multiple methods and get a quick response, Peters says the customer service level has increased by 50 percent, and possibly more. As important as guest feedback is, employee satisfaction with the service also plays a key role in efficiency. "Employees were originally apprehensive about the new system, but it took an hour to train them on the phones and they were off and running like it was no big deal," says Peters. The Echopass system also gives employees the benefit of being able to work from home. Outrigger call-center staff can now make a decision everyday to stay and work from home or come into the office.

In room advantage

While VoIP is a key asset to a hotel call center, it has increasingly been making its way into guestrooms at hotel and resort properties. Mandarin Oriental was one of the first hotels to deploy VoIP in its Washington, D.C. location in 2003. Mandarin utilized a Sprint (sprint.com) VoIP offering with infrastructure from Cisco (cisco.com) that allowed the property to put its voice and data services on the same network. With this converged network, Mandarin is now able to provide voice and data traffic across all areas of the hotelÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.‚¬Å"Ã.Ã.•¬Ã.‚¬Å"from guestrooms to meeting roomsÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.‚¬Å"Ã.Ã.•¬Ã.‚¬Å"over a single network, which reduces costs and increases efficiency. "Sprint and Cisco understand the role that technology can play in the hospitality industry, from offering value-added in room guest services to improving our operations," says Nick Price, CIO and CTO for Mandarin Oriental. "The combination of Sprint and Cisco not only addresses our current infrastructure and communication needs, but will also grow with our future telecommunications needs." OutriggerÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.•.s Peters has plans to follow in Mandarin OrientalÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.•.s footsteps and offer VoIP in guestrooms, however he is waiting to see a hosted solution for the switchboard within the hotel. "Currently what you have servers being put into hotels that are IP functional, but equipment has to be in the hotel," he says. "The perfect solution that I have is hosted by another company where I donÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.•.t have to put out a couple hundred thousand dollars to purchase."

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