Upgraded Version Available: How to Renovate A Broken Technology Vendor Relationship

By Bernard Ellis President & Founder, Lodgital Insights LLC | April 08, 2018

You don't need to talk to many hotels to learn that more of them have broken relationships with their technology vendors than ever before.  Meanwhile, according to Hospitality Technology's 2018 Lodging Technology Study, 61% of hotels are set to increase their IT budgets this year, primarily to respond to "shifting competitive pressures that drive hotel IT investments in digital and data to forge stronger links to guests." Even as more hoteliers recognize technology's crucial role in building stronger relationships with their guests, it can still be a difficult leap for them to source that technology from vendors who seem to care less about their customers with each new day. 

Please note from the outset that this article is not meant to be a dog-whistle to Oracle-haters.  Plenty of other traditional vendors have followed suit.  And the wave of innovation promised by a blue ocean of startups has in many cases receded with the tide, exposing a beach full of crabby users who are not only fried but feel quite burned by their sunny startups, and now look past them as they scan the horizon for the next solution.

Not that the relationship with technology vendors has ever been a terribly rosy one. It's doubtful that any hotelier reading this has ever called their vendor just to thank them for, say, the great support, or the rapid response to enhancement requests, or the quick installation dates, or the low prices.  But still, what a difference a couple of decades makes. When I was a young PMS salesman, I recall one of my first corporate customers calling and apologizing profusely for having stood me up for a scheduled call earlier that day. In a well-intentioned attempt to make him feel better, I said "please, don't worry about it, things come up. In fact, I'm thrilled to have the coupon in my pocket in case I ever do the same thing to you." 

I shouldn't have said that. 

A tough-love lecture ensued, that drove home the point that, no matter how much our brochures may talk about "partnership" and "collaboration," that this was not an equation.  He was the customer; I was the supplier.  I doubt many customers would take that approach today.  But how do you keep from always being at the back of the proverbial queue?

It used to be possible to "get in good" with an individual employee over time, to get you faster access to tech support, or an installation date, or a new feature, or whatever else you wanted that other hotels wanted at the same time.  But people don't stay in their jobs long enough for that any more, and that kind of relationship never could scale for either party as they grew.  Moreover, we are now in an age where not only do Uber drivers rate their riders, but riders actually care about their rating!  In a similar vein, when it comes to their broken relationships with tech suppliers, it's time for hoteliers at all levels to cast aside their feelings of indignation or sheer helplessness, and take a proactive approach to fixing them. 

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.