How Automation and Back Office Software Streamlines Communication and Collaboration

Hotel operators are intensely focused on implementing efficiencies, and back office software to increase collaboration is a critical component to a successful strategy.
How Automation and Back Office Software Streamlines Communication and Collaboration

With smaller hotel teams handling more responsibility, improving back-office communication and collaboration is fundamental to efficient operations within your properties and organization as a whole. By better communicating among each other and collaborating with each other, hoteliers can streamline operations and ensure no task goes unperformed. 

There are a wide variety of ways to approach better collaboration, and key to each is relying on new, digital capabilities to automate as many time-consuming and repetitive tasks as possible. Automation will help to reduce errors and improve accuracy, as well as provide better visibility into operations. 

Automating the way your staff communicates – between shifts, between departments and with corporate – helps reduce the amount of time spent on mundane tasks, freeing up staff to focus on more valuable functions. Automating the way they collaborate – by sharing daily reports and centralizing critical information like performance metrics and goals – aligns departments and team members on the same priorities. 

Everything from simple tasks like copy-pasting data for reports or sending update emails to very complicated tasks like rate-loading or new hotel onboarding can be largely left to bots, suggests longtime hospitality evangelist Kelly McGuire, Managing Principal at ZS. 

“Familiarize yourself with the potential of automation techniques, such as robotic process automation, that replicate the routine actions of humans in a workflow or process,” McGuire writes. “Advocate for bringing these types of solutions into your organization. You’d be surprised to learn how many of even the most complex tasks such as reading emails or tagging images can be accomplished with artificial intelligence-infused process automation.”

Communicating Across Shifts

What makes the hotel industry different from most other industries is that it’s a 24-hour business divided usually by three shifts: an early shift, a late shift, and an overnight shift. Employees working these different shifts don’t spend much time interacting with each other, and therefore staff-wide communication, while critical for the guest experience and more efficient operations, can be challenging.

“There's not a whole lot of time in between those shifts – maybe 10 or 15 minutes – you’re just essentially passing each other,” says Scott Curran, COO at Reneson Hotels, which owns and operates eight hotels in California. “So it's important to keep and share notes about what's happening during your shift.”

In the early days, hotels kept a Red Book at the front desk, in which team members could add and share notes. Over time, that cross-shift communication gradually moved toward  email… until inboxes became unwieldy and tough to organize. Today, there are digital tools that keep these notes and records in a centralized, cloud-based location, which increases accountability by ensuring everyone on the team can easily view and access them.

In addition to sharing guest notes, many of the critical reports needed to run a smooth daily operation are generated by an employee working third shift – the Night Auditor. The Night Auditor will run all of the reports from the previous day and use that information to prepare the team for the following day. 

“There’s a lot the Night Auditor can do to set up the next day for success,” says Eduardo Burkard, industry thought leader. “The problem is: the Night Auditor is usually sleeping during the day, so communicating with them can be challenging. This is why it’s important to be able to share the exact report with notes in a system.”

Before digital tools were available, team leaders would arrive at the hotel in the morning and find a stack of papers from the Night Auditor in their mailboxes to review. Mailboxes were lined up from General Manager to Assistant GM to Front Office Manager to Housekeeping Manager, and so on, and critical reports would get initialed and passed down the list.

With today’s digital staff collaboration tools, the Night Auditor can drop critical documents and reports directly into a centralized location, and from there they enter the same workflow as above, but through a more efficient, accessible and secure platform. 

For example, part of that night audit packet is a redemption rewards report that shows how many guests redeemed points for a free or partial night stay, which is sent to the brand loyalty program for reconciliation. There is also often a rate differential report, which shows any discounts or changes that were applied and why. 

Now, if questions about the data on these reports arise, there is a more clear and easily accessible channel to communicate than email, where conversations with multiple people can get convoluted or overlooked entirely. Indexing this information is critical because it allows your team to go back and view past reports, such as guest charges or specific incidents, at any time.

Communicating with Corporate

While all of the information from the property level mentioned above is critical to improve daily operations, these reports are informing more high-level discussions at the corporate level as well. Corporate leaders often want to see the information in easily digestible, visual format, but don't necessarily need all the details. 

“When you go above property, you’re not writing a long-winded email and copy-pasting reports,” Burkhard says. 

As COO, Curran says he needs information in such a way that he can quickly scan through it and understand what's happening across all the hotels in Reneson’s portfolio.

“I have eight hotels, soon to be 10, I can't spend 30 minutes a day looking through each one of these reports, or else I just won't have time to do anything else,” he says. “I want to see my General Manager having a conversation with the Night Auditor and asking why something's off, and then I don't have to ask the General Manager.

“I want to know that my team members have seen it and are doing something about it.”

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