Leveraging Technology to Mitigate the Impact of Staffing Shortages
As hotels scramble to uphold service standards in the midst of a global labor crisis, many are turning to technology to offset staffing shortages. This doesn’t mean replacing staff with robots, it means implementing tools to augment the work of employees and automate internal processes and simple, repetitive tasks.
A Concerning Trend: Negative Mentions of Staff in Reviews
It should come as no surprise to hoteliers that staffing shortages are negatively impacting the guest experience. Hotel employees, despite their best efforts, are bearing the brunt of the backlash. After an exodus of hospitality workers to other industries during the pandemic, the employees who stayed behind often find themselves pulled in many directions.
But what does the data tell us? Recently, ReviewPro conducted an analysis of over 9 million online reviews of 12,541 hotels across the globe, comparing year-to-date 2021 with the same period in 2020.
“Unfortunately, we found a global negative trend regarding staff mentions in reviews,” said Danica Smith, ReviewPro’s director of product engagement, during a recent webinar. “Over 15 percent of staff mentions were negative in 2021, an increase of 1.4% from the previous year. Upon looking closer at reviews, we found that guests specifically referenced hotels being under-resourced and understaffed.”
To buck the trend, hoteliers will have to prioritize tasks, be flexible, ramp up guest communications, and lean in to technology more than ever, Smith said. She shared her tips for leveraging technology to mitigate the impact of staffing shortages.
Prioritize Your Time
“Whether you operate a hotel, hostel, serviced apartment or other type of accommodation, it’s more critical than ever to prioritize your time,” Smith said. “In the context of staffing shortages, all the strategies you put into place prior to the pandemic are probably not realistic under today’s conditions. You need to prioritize guest intelligence in order to secure and protect the guest experience.”
She added, “These days, hoteliers are running around like headless chickens, taking orders at the bar, cleaning rooms, in the back of house trying to do inventory. It’s chaotic. As a business, you want to make sure you’ve got processes and workflows in place so everybody knows what they have to do and important tasks aren’t overlooked. Technology can help. That’s going to make your staff extremely motivated and happy and will help with your staff retention.”
Smith recommended focusing on the following areas:
Innovative Ideas to Drive Guest Satisfaction
“First Covid and now staffing shortages—the times are challenging,” Smith said. “Fortunately, we work in one of the most resilient and creative industries. So think about innovative ideas that will drive guest satisfaction with less staff at your disposal.”
One area with the strong potential for improvement is guest communications. Hoteliers have opportunities to create memorable touch points with guests that will have a direct impact on guest satisfaction. “This is no longer a matter of blasting promotional emails to your guests,” Smith said.
She identified three areas to focus on:
1. Pre-stay Communication
With operating hours, safety protocols and other aspects of the guest stay changing frequently, it’s critical to manage guest expectations with pre-stay communications.
For example, if your hotel bar closes earlier than usual these days, don’t wait for guests to arrive to find out. Include the information in a pre-arrival email or send a message by SMS or WhatsApp with suggestions for alternatives such as room service or local bars.
2. In-stay Communication
With staffing shortages, hotels must sometimes make operational changes on the fly. For example, what if you’re down to one room service attendant and that person calls in sick? Do you wait for guests to find out that room service is closed when they try to order dinner, or do you take a more proactive approach? Rather than call every guestroom or slip a note under every door, you could send an in-stay message to guests by text or messaging app,
“One of the biggest frustrations we see in reviews today is queues at the front desk,” Smith said. “Usually, the questions guests line up for are more or less the same. What time is checkout? How far is the airport? In fact, a ReviewPro analysis of a hotel chain of 32 hotels in Europe found that 63 percent of guest queries involved the same eight questions. Why not use a chatbot that can immediately answer frequently asked questions, freeing up staff to handle more complex queries? A chatbot can also handle queries for reservations, the restaurant and bar, sales, the spa, the pool and recreational facilities.”
With more properties making daily housekeeping services optional, hotels can take a proactive approach by sending a pre-stay or in-stay message to ask guests their preferences. With ReviewPro’s PMS filters, you can ensure that only guests staying multiple nights receive the message. This will not only alleviate the pressure on housekeeping, it will reduce costs and show support for sustainability initiatives. “Just remember to put the right workflows in place to ensure that housekeeping knows not to clean rooms for guests who opt out,” Smith added.
How can you use post-stay communication to close the loop? This is where management response strategies are key, Smith said. “At ReviewPro, we frequently stress the importance of management response strategies because we see the positive impact of an organized, thorough approach in our data. It’s important to respond to reviews to set expectations for future guests.”
In the past, hoteliers have been hesitant to give excuses for lapses in services, but today it may be appropriate to mention staffing shortages. “If you’re honest and authentic, guests will be more understanding,” Smith said. “Set expectations for incoming guests by explaining temporary measures like closed outlets or reduced hours.”
With ReviewPro’s ORM and GSS tools, responding to reviews is easy. Use saved templates and pre-written sentences to speed up responses and ensure consistency in replies. For example, if your bar will close early for the next six weeks, create a sentence template for use in responses.
Get a Head Start in 2022
With labor shortages expected to continue well into 2022, now is the time for hoteliers to leverage the power of technology to ease staffing pressures and ensure that the needs and expectations of guests are met.