Diminish communication gaps with a hotel operations system

SAN FRANCISCO—Streamlining operations eliminates bottlenecks and increases efficiency—a win for hotels and their guests. And equipping employees with the right tools is essential to improving service throughout a property. But if a hotel is unable to adapt to the times and uses archaic technology, it becomes incumbent upon employees to overcome unnecessary barriers themselves. Looking to improve communication and transparency, Hotel Zephyr, located here, sought out a hotel operations platform to assist with requests across all departments—and it found it in a solution offered by a New York City-based company. 

“Our ownership group, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, introduced us to Alice after they had worked with another one of their hotels, Hotel Zetta,” said James Dannecker, hotel manager at Hotel Zephyr. “We had similar pain points as a hotel: lack of consistent communication and little transparency into the work our staff was doing.”

The Alice platform is a one-stop shop for hotels. It integrates three aspects of the business (three solutions into one suite): concierge services (keeping track of guests’ needs); request management (enabling employees to communicate with each other and process tasks); and guest interaction (giving guests more ways to contact a property when they’re in need). Instead of going with the suite option, properties can individually select Alice solutions, which consist of Alice Staff, Alice Concierge and Alice Guest. Having all three components, however, can significantly reduce uncertainty throughout a property, since the right hand always knows what the left hand is doing. Even using a single solution throughout a property can reduce confusion and diminish communication gaps, allowing employees to focus on other pressing matters. Without a unified solution, workers often have to confirm and reconfirm requests from guests. 

Take, for example, a request from a guest—perhaps the room wasn’t cleaned. The guest calls down to the front desk and notifies the clerk of the issue. The employee will then inform someone from housekeeping. A supervisor will then send someone to clean the room. Then the housekeeper tasked with cleaning the room will have to report back after completing the room. Without an integrated system, the front desk clerk will be unaware of where the request is in the process. “For every time a guest communicates, there are about seven points of interaction on the staff side,” said Alexander Shashou, co-founder and president of Alice. Typically, either the front desk clerk or the concierge is the one responding to and dispatching requests.

“One of the reasons we selected Alice was for its great design and user experience,” Dannecker said. “The system is very intuitive and beautiful. It was easy for our staff to learn and to use, especially the mobile staff application. As our maintenance team is less tech-savvy than our front desk, having such a simple experience on the staff mobile app was key to us successfully adopting and training Alice.”

It took Alice three days to complete the setup at the property: The first day consisted of the actual installation; the second day revolved around training; and on the third day, the Alice team stood by for any additional questions. The property has been using only Alice Staff, the company’s solution dedicated to task management.  

Before adopting Alice, Hotel Zephyr’s employees were communicating via radio, and pen and paper—a limited means of communication as far as workflow is concerned. There was an unneeded back and forth, which limits available resources. “With Alice, we believed we had found a system that would allow us to track and communicate all the work our teams were doing in a very easy manner,” Dannecker said.

Prior to Alice, there was no accountability in the work the property’s employees were doing; there also always needed to be a channel open for staff to communicate via radio. The platform helped change the logistics operationally for the hotel, a property with 355 rooms. “This allows us to track how long it is taking us to finish all jobs and find areas of improvement in our operations,” Dannecker said. 

Hotel Zephyr has been leveraging the hotel operations platform for more than a year, and it’s seeing results, specifically with regard to service time. With the Alice platform, the hotel’s employees can generate custom reports for revenue, productivity and usage; log and audit every action by staff and guests; and use data to assess performance across multiple departments and properties. This includes analyzing how long it takes employees to complete certain tasks and setting up timed goals for requests. “You can’t get down to zero because cleaning a room and fixing a toilet takes a certain amount of time,” Shashou pointed out. However, the hotel operations platform is designed to diminish communication gaps—and that, according to him, is where the ROI is.

“This switch has also given us a new level of understanding of what is going on,” Dannecker said. “Before Alice, we had no reporting on property, but with Alice, everything is done digitally, which means that we now have data on all the work we are doing that we can analyze to improve our ability to deliver a great guest experience.”

With the Alice Staff mobile solution, employees at the property are now able to create new work orders as soon as they see a problem via mobile. Twenty-five percent of all requests now originate via the mobile solution. Since being able to use the app, Zephyr’s staff has been able to communicate in real time on over 11,000 requests for a total of more than 17,000 messages exchanged within the last year. 

“I like that I can communicate with my departments quickly, and there’s a record of it,” said Nina del Piccolo, assistant front office manager at the property. “All the reports we get are very useful, especially for the housekeeping department,” which has seen improved efficiency, even during busier times. Using the Alice platform, guest requests to housekeeping are now resolved, on average, within 11 minutes of initial requests. 

All requests, across all departments, are logged in the same place and dispatched immediately to the correct department. A year after the launch of using the Alice platform, the property improved its response time to guest requests by 40% year over year. Moreover, the property’s TripAdvisor score improved to 49, climbing 81 places. Over the same period, Hotel Zephyr’s five-star service reviews increased 83%. 

The top three requests via Alice over the last year were message, deliver and refill. “Our team is using Alice heavily to communicate internally and message each other about the work that is being done,” Dannecker said. “However, the biggest operational change has not just been to switch from radios to Alice but for the runners on property in delivering and refilling stock around the hotel.” 

Hotel Zephyr is looking into implementing additional features in the future that are guest facing, which it believes will enhance both communication and the guest experience. Guests would be able to contact the property’s staff via app, desktop or SMS.

“Alice has streamlined the process for property issues and guest requests for both housekeeping and engineering, and has ensured everything is being recorded, tracked and monitored,” Dannecker said. “We have the availability to track in real time and provide assistance where/when needed. The escalation notifications are an added element to ensure all messages are taken care of in a timely manner. We can also find patterns with repeat issues in rooms or guest requests to help identify areas of opportunity.”