The most successful hotel leaders started at the bottom and worked their way up. When you talk to the CEOs of the largest hotel brands or management companies, you’ll learn that many of them started as a dishwasher in a hotel, or as a bellman.
Maybe one or both of their parents worked in hospitality and they moved around a lot – spending a lot of time in hotel rooms and hotel lobbies. By the time it was their turn to choose a career path, the ins and outs of the business were ingrained. Taking care of guests was already second nature.
Outsiders can find it difficult to fit in, and we see this often with technology startups. Many incredibly smart and innovative technology founders have recognized the need for a digital transformation in hospitality, but they don’t understand the deep complexities of the business.
Great products have been introduced with the intention of transforming hospitality, only to fail within the first few years because the founders did not understand the critical inner workings of hotel operations.
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I’m very fortunate to have found my calling in hotels at an early age and launch my career with an incredible hospitality company that truly values their employees. I started as a front-desk manager at 21 years old with Reneson Hotels, and two decades later I’m now chief operating officer, overseeing seven properties. In today’s workforce, where loyalty is hard to come by from employer or employee, I consider myself incredibly lucky to have built my career within Reneson.
From day one, Reneson instilled in me the importance of putting the guest first. Our rule is that 100% of the guests leave happy and every employee is empowered to make sure that happens, from the front-desk agents to maintenance workers to the housekeepers. Because of that, today, six of our seven hotels are in the top 10% of their respective brand family in terms of guest satisfaction scores.
All of this experience and work ethic is what led me to build and launch GuestEQ, a guest experience platform that marries contactless guest communication with back-of-house workflow management. As I worked my way into a leadership position with Reneson, I saw first-hand the areas where we were falling short. I saw general managers struggling to communicate with their staff in real time, and I picked up on the little things that led to guest frustrations.
I brought the idea of GuestEQ to Reneson and was fortunate to have their complete support in developing a tool to simplify many of our daily operations. Today, GuestEQ is revolutionizing the way staff at our hotels communicate with guests and with each other.
Below, I outline three key areas that were important to focus on when building a technology product based on real-world hospitality experience.
1. Put the guest experience at the heart of everything you do.
My favorite part of the hotel business is the guest. Today, I have friends from all over the world that I met at the front desk when they were a guest at one of my properties. I love hearing about where they’re from and their stories while on vacation.
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has given us hoteliers a strong reminder of the importance of customer service. Even when we come out of this, we’ll all have a renewed focus on getting things right for the guest.
I built GuestEQ to make sure our hotels have the best tools possible to keep every customer happy. The main focus here is to improve the response time for guest requests and to reduce or eliminate the number of discounts we have to offer unsatisfied guests.
We’re making sure our hotels are always running at their peak. In many markets, we’re figuring out how to do more with less.
2. Simplifying processes so staff can stay focused on the most important tasks.
Prior to rolling out GuestEQ, we were using three different pieces of technology to communicate with guests while they were on property, assign tasks to housekeeping and maintenance and keep leadership informed of daily activity. It was critical for me to simplify this and find a way to make my GMs' jobs easier. With GuestEQ, they don’t have to wonder whether certain tasks were completed.
And, at a leadership level, I wanted our executives to have one place where they could get a snapshot of daily activities and ensure things were getting done. Our managers are now able to monitor activity without being intrusive – they can interject where needed but they always have a good sense of how operations are running.
3. Place an increased importance on guest and staff safety.
Guest and staff communication was critical before COVID, but the pandemic has forced many of us to think about how we can automate more of our operations. For example, before COVID, when a guest needed more towels, they were visiting the front desk with the request and we were delivering the towels directly to them.
Now, the guest can request anything they need from their own devices and we drop it off in front of the guest room door, and the guest confirms they received it.
When COVID hit our region in March of 2020, keeping my employees safe was the first thing I thought about when I woke up and the last thing I thought about before I went to bed. I felt a remarkable responsibility – I was the one asking them to continue coming to work, so it was my job to keep them as safe as possible.
Early on, we decided we were going to temperature check every employee before they started their shift. Naturally, I built into GuestEQ an easy way to track which employees had been tested to eliminate the need for management or leadership to call the hotel and check.
Without 20 years of daily experience in hotels, I am confident the rollout of GuestEQ would not have been as successful as it was. The responsibility I feel for my employees led me to develop a tool to truly make their jobs easier and keep them safer, while helping management to better monitor operations and reduce costs.
At the end of the day, our staff communicates more effectively and efficiently within and between departments, guest satisfaction has improved and discounts and comps have been dramatically reduced.
Developing this tool has been the most fun I’ve had in my career, I’m thankful for the support ownership has provided throughout and I’m proud to be delivering them incredible results.