Optimizing Your Hotel Workplace: Let Technology Do the Hard Lift
By Mark Heymann Chairman & CEO, Unifocus | January 12, 2020
Today's hospitality industry is grappling with challenges that shouldn't come as a surprise to hotel operators and managers. These challenges include a labor shortage that makes it difficult to replace turnover, demanding customers who are concerned about the services they receive during their stay, and profit pressure due to wage rate costs that are rising faster than revenue per unit.
At the center of these issues, managers who oversee the complexities of hotel staffing are tasked with deciding how to schedule employees based on the daily needs of the business and complying with rules and regulations that impact their decisions and seem to grow daily.
For this reason, managers need a support system designed to ensure compliance and full utilization of their labor resource. Without this, all the moving parts can be overwhelming, leading to deterioration of service and the overall profitability of the business. The solution is a technology that not only has the ability to schedule the hotel staff to customer needs, but that also forecasts those needs by time of day and helps to ensure the operation is neither over or under-staffed.
When either condition happens, costs are too high, or revenue is lost coupled with a reduction in engagement amongst staff. When an employee has too little to do during a shift, or service can't be delivered at expected levels due to shortages, individuals become less motivated to meet company expectations and provide the best customer experience possible.
Additionally, many hotels encounter seasonal demands that require different levels of staffing due to changes in customer demands, activities that need to be accomplished and patterns of work that need to be accounted for A hotel that hosts wedding parties and guests throughout the summer season and then has winter activities later in the year, will need to account and plan for the changes that require differing staffing levels and even differing hours of operation. A lot of moving parts to keep perspective of, and this is where technology can not only close the gap but help make the manager "smarter".
Putting the "Optimization" in Workforce
As consumer demand evolves and attitudes change toward expected amenities and attention for service, activities done in the past that drive labor needs might not carry as much value in the hotel experience of today. For example, high-end hotels used to change linens every day, but now that's not necessarily the case with more mindfulness around the environmental costs of doing so. If a hotel were to keep the standard of daily linen changing and washing where the customer no longer valued that service, it would be a missed opportunity for optimization.
Technology also comes into play with changes such as guests not always checking into rooms at a front desk anymore. Rather, hotels are beginning to use the "airline model" as a guide, which is based on optimization and efficiency, allowing for guests to check-in with their cell phones. This makes it easier for guests to check-in for their stay and will become an expected option in the industry.
As people's needs and perceptions change-whether it's linen services, tech-supported check-ins or grab and go food operations-hotels should offer services and amenities that reflect these demands and value changes in the consumer while ensuring it has the labor required to carry out these activities. Optimizing labor and value are synonymous, so hotels need to constantly adapt to guest expectations and the needs of a workforce that supports these expectations.
An example of this is the role of the bellman. In the past, bell staff would meet guests at the check-in counter where customers were escorted with their bags to their room. Today, this is increasingly not the norm as guests have rolling bags that make it easy to transport themselves. And with cell phone-based check-in, the guest will be going directly to the room he/she has selected. Some hotels even offer technology-based service add-ons such as robotic bag checks where, if the room isn't ready, guests can simply drop their bag at a designated area where a robot picks up their bag and stores it, which takes the place of the Bellman of old.
The offering allows the customer to enjoy his or her time while waiting for check-in. As such, for roles like the bellman, hotels need to rethink the value of the check-in process and whether the activities of the "traditional" bellman should evolve, or other employees can be cross-trained to bring guests' bags to their room, if requested. And if bell staff are needed, managers should think about what value-added activities can be accomplished during non-demand times. For example, bell staff could be cross trained to set up or even deliver meal service.
When a hotel provides a service that no longer has value, productivity can improve when it's eliminated or replaced with new tools such as automatic vacuums for rooms (which reduces the time housekeeping spends cleaning each room) or not changing guest linens every day, leading to less laundry to wash which impacts labor and other operating costs. Some of these changes result in having hotel staff do the same activity, but more efficiently or simply overall better productivity per unit serviced based on ensuring these tasks have a clear value component.
As noted previously, every activity should have a value rating in relation to the guest experience and that rating needs to be periodically checked to further efforts of labor optimization.
Using Technology to Do the Heavy Lifting
For managers to ensure staffing levels are where they should be to support business needs and customer service activities, they should look to technology-based tools to help with scheduling and communication functions. Not only does technology allow for more granularity around determining labor needs, but it also makes it easier to schedule staff, request time off, change availabilities, and communicate more effectively.
Managers can use mobile devices to check in with employees and to resolve customer issues quickly, or leverage labor management software to communicate scheduling changes and garner employee feedback. This drives employee engagement and gets managers out of the office, onto the hotel floor, to better communicate with guests and staff and spend less time bogged down with manual processes.
When managers are spending more time with their staff, it leads to improved employee engagement, and when teams are engaged, it directly impacts customer satisfaction as an engaged employee provides better customer service. An engaged employee will also be more productive and careful about using hotel resources, which helps to preserve financial goals.
For example, a line cook who's engaged knows what food they're preparing at any given moment, why they're preparing it, where the food is going and to whom, whereas a disengaged employee isn't always focused on these details of the job. Thus, the engaged line cook ultimately costs less to the business because there's more value output in their role.
Leveraging technology to support labor needs and optimization with components that include accurate forecasting, planning and scheduling staff, and performance evaluation enable a business to operate not only more efficiently but with lower levels of stress. A good plan is key to a smooth-running operation.
1. Accurate short and medium-term forecasting
Customers have differing demands, so managers can set delivery parameters that cater to the unique groups of customers the hotel serves, such as segmenting and forecasting demand for breakfast service. For instance, if a resort has a large group of high school students staying at their hotel, breakfast service may need extra staff on hand to accommodate the influx of the large party, but the hotel bar won't have the same labor needs since the students aren't of drinking age.
Or, perhaps that same group of high school students are out skiing during the day, so the hotel wouldn't need as many staff during lunch service at the hotel since the group is out hitting the slopes during that time. When fluctuations in customer demands such as this happen, managers will need to look closely at group reservations and ensure that these anomalies are accounted for in the projection process.
2. Planning for and scheduling staff
To avoid having too little or too much labor scheduled, technology can effectively match projected demand to labor requirements, These capabilities are reflected in labor scheduling so the right staffing levels are met, and employees can work at a consistent motivation level without being pressed too hard or not having enough work. As an activity to support labor scheduling and motivating staff, managers should also consider cross-training as an engagement tactic.
Not only does cross-training make employees feel like they're making an greater impact on the business while learning valuable skills, but it also allows managers more flexibility in scheduling employees based on business needs; during a shift, an employee that's cross-trained could be scheduled to work at the front desk in the morning, and then move to the hotel restaurant in the afternoon when there's an increase in customers as an example.
3. Evaluation of performance
A key to perpetuating any process is measurement and timely feedback. As part of the optimization process, performance results should be reviewed each day to ensure costs are what they are expected to be, based on the actual volume serviced. These results-coupled with customer perception-should be fed back to the operating team in real time to further performance and engagement. Additionally, hotel operators can be nimble in their labor management practices and keep their fingers on the pulse of employee engagement.
The keys to workforce optimization are to ensure that every task being done-and therefore paid for-has a direct impact on the value that the customer perceives, in light of the market segment experience that they expect. This, in addition to using intuitive but advanced technologies that facilitate accurate staffing and performance assessment will be critical to meet the demands of the coming years.
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