A Well-Connected Workforce

By Lisa Terry | December 10, 2008

Seamless. Effortless. Attentive but not intrusive... this is how hotels would like their guests to perceive their level of service. But the reality is, requests get lost. Messages get mis-communicated. Cackling two-way radios disturb the peace.

Hoteliers are fighting back with a new generation of workforce communication systems that enable quieter and more efficient communication among staff. Paired with backend software such as workflow and customer relationship management tools, these solutions are helping properties enhance the guest experience and improve workforce productivity, satisfaction and retention.

Six trends to watch

These six trends in workforce communication are already helping hotel operators streamline operations and improve the guest's experience.

1. New form factors: Pagers and walkie-talkies are giving way to a wide range of form factors, from handsets to badges to Blackberry-type devices and even Apple iPods. Many of these types of units enable both voice and data messaging in a more sophisticated, feature-rich package and use unified communications solutions.

2. New communication networks: Hotels are migrating to cellular/ push-to-talk or WiFi/wireless VoIP-based solutions to ensure reliable and discrete communication. Some devices automatically switch between cellular and WiFi according to availability, and PBX/IP telephony integration allows links to on-premise communications devices to and from outside phones.

Some of Joie de Vivre Hotels' (www.jdvhotels.com) California properties, such as Hotel Vitale, enjoy strong cellular signals throughout the premises. Those locations are using M-Tech's HotSOS (www.m-tech.com) with AT&T/Motorola V365 cellular handsets(www.wireless.att.com/businesscenter, www.motorola.com), while those lacking such coverage will likely use a WiFi-based solution, says Michael Stano, vice president of technology for the 30-hotel company.

3. Reducing voice:
Hotels seeking to limit guests' encounters with inter-staff communication are promoting use of data messaging via mobile devices. With the first of six planned North American hotels opening in Vancouver in January, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts (www.shangrila.com) seeks to emphasize tranquility, serenity and Asian hospitality. Staff will use Blackberry-type devices or Nortel (www.nortel.com) hand-sets to communicate via data messaging when possible rather than voice, says Stephen Darling, vice president, North America and general manager for Shangri-La Vancouver. Text messaging also enables communication with backend software.

4. Linking to CRM: Enhancing communications is step one. Next is using that content to make service better. At Shangri-La, integration of a unified communications solution from Nortel and channel partner TELUS (www.telus.com) will integrate voice, data and mobility services with Triton Guest Service System software (www.knowcross.com) and Gold Key Solutions' (www.goldkeysolutions.com) Concierge Assistant. This allows staff to quietly and quickly record, communicate and reference everything from guest requests and preferences to maintenance requirements unobtrusively as the staff go about their jobs.

5. Use of a central call center: At The  Hilton Dallas Fort Worth Lakes Executive Conference Center, the GuestWare (www.guestware.com) workflow system is integrated with Vocera (www.vocera.com) staff badges. Guest calls are routed to the Center, where staff can dispatch and track messages sent out to staff by voice or text message according to business rules and protocols, ensuring that no request is dropped. Staff can also report property needs via the badges. "Our [guest satisfaction] scores are way up, our response time is up and we've been able to reduce headcount," says Craig Garmon, the hotel's director of IT. The hotel also moved up from 70 to 19 in chain-wide guest satisfaction ratings.

6. Extension of classic phone system features: In addition to enabling communication with outside phones, hotels are seeking services such as call forwarding and conferencing via on-premise mobile communication devices. At the Hilton Dallas Fort Worth, supervisors felt they were missing a macro view of staff activity when they could no longer monitor walkie-talkie chatter. The engineering staff turned on conferencing, and now all communication is shared among members of the department.

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