We recently spoke with Alexander Shashou, founder and President of ALICE, to hear his thoughts on the latest industry trends.
ALEXANDER SHASHOU: We’re seeing, in some respects, what we’ve been seeing for 3 years – which is when the industry started thinking about mobility as part of guest experience, they took it from the very microscopic lens which is the marketing side. What is the booking experience? What is the marketing experience? Other industries were able to recreate themselves from scratch. They were able to look at the infrastructure and ask ‘what is our core business?” So for Uber, it’s delivering cars and driving from A to B. So when we look at mobility from a consumer experience – it’s not about pressing a button, it’s about delivering a driver to the consumer. Then consumer has the transparency to see where is the car, and time it right. You see the same with Amazon with books and Netflix with movies, where the two experiences you’re enabling are a closed platform you have access to it. At any point in the moment you can see the progress from point of request to which allows you from a consumer standpoint to become very self-sufficient. You’ve got access, you’ve got transparency, you’ve got control. So when you think about the hotel experience, none of that exists. You’ve no idea when they’re cleaning your room, no idea when the food’s arriving, you’re not on the same platform but unlike these new technology ones hotels have an existing infrastructure they’re not running differently, they’re not running departments and shifts, services and nights and weekends, so when you look at this – the industry, and what the innovation has been, it has always been department specific on systems, front office systems, concierge systems and we’ve tied it all together through analogue means, such as radio and sticky notes which makes mobility of the infrastructure virtually impossible. You can’t connect the guest to the actual service.
So we’re tackling that, through building a staff platform that crosses every department and allows each department to do their own work and have their own access point into Alice – but because it’s tied together a guest can phone through to housekeeping or room service and can understand from a mobility perspective where they are in their stay. So you’ve created that two-sided platform that gives the guest back that experience they’ve come to expect today.
To do that you’ve got two options, you can either integrate with technologies start working with the technologies that do more for you. So you can work with less providers and with simple infrastructure. From a vendor perspective we’re starting to see companies that are doing more and breaking out form the boundaries that restricted them before to their departments and doing more and more for their guests.
Companies like Alice were able to take it on earlier as we have the infrastructure in place, but other companies are starting to think about their existing infrastructure and how they can adapt it to do more for the hotel, more for the clients so their clients can work with less vendors. So we’re starting to see either two things, either everyone’s opening up their API which is fantastic that allows us to work together and we’d like to see the PMS systems be a bit more proactive about it – because they’re the barrier to it. So you’ve seen the technology companies do that and get smarter about APIs, the other thing you’ve seen them do is grow their actual functionality set, so through that API or functionality set so you can achieve that holistic approach to managing service delivery. So that’s where we think consumer experience has been improved, simply by improving the operational infrastructure on the staff sides.
Then of course, with that comes messaging, everyone’s messaging today. What we’ve seen is the challenge with messaging is it’s completely situational and there’s so many messaging platforms. Facebook to What’sApp to Text messaging to in-person to in the hotel referring to apps, so your seeing consolidated messaging – allow the guest to choose how they’re messaged, they’re simplifying it for staff so they can navigate it all into one centralised system and dispatch the app.
As a result of these two trends the guest understanding is becoming critical. So we’re starting to see great CRMs and I believe this will be the year we will see CRMs taking a bit more front of stage – even maybe demoting the PMS to be more of a backend which allows it to do what it always did – inventory management, so the CRM can sit on top of it and be the data aggregator. Companies like Alice interface data into a CRM and feed the guest understanding of not only their booking preference, not only how their review and how their stay was but actually the black box between booking and the trip so you can understand the entire gust journey.
It’s all about understanding the guest journey, connecting the guest, connecting your operations, we think this is why we’re seeing CRMs popup and companies like Alice do more for their clients – ultimately building more of a guest-centric infrastructure for the industry.
We’re focussed on taking away the mundane form the staff experience – taking away all the logging and duplication through three different systems – allowing the team to work in one place, and for communication to flow through the hotel. In some respects we’re freeing the team from the desk and taking them to the guest – like Apple did. It’s not about reducing staff, there are certain jobs that can be reduced but only in certain places.
eHotelier: Today the focus is on building relationships with customers and fulfilling their needs – treating each guest as individual. How do you achieve this?
We’re seeing marketing look a little bit more at operations than they’ve ever done before. If you think about marketing – for the first time, consumers are now selling to consumers, businesses are not selling to consumers – consumers are selling an experience. Marketing can no longer worry just about the booking, they need to worry about the actual experience and that transcends into the stay. If you go on TripAdvisor and you read a review, no one’s saying ‘my booking experience was amazing’ they’re saying the service was amazing. So if they need to say the service was amazing whether it’s on TripAdviser or their to friends or Instagram – then the service needs to be amazing. Marketing is going to start playing a larger role in the experience – not just be solely focused on that booking process, but realising the transaction begins at the booking, the customer relationship begins at booking and it’s going to be a lot cheaper to retain your existing customer than it is to fight for a new one.
Lets talk further about new ways to retain existing customers?
Rather than walking past the front desk and saying “can you clean my room – or can you book me this Italian restaurant?” Through messaging and apps you get a total picture of the guests stay and because you’re building a CRM into your infrastructure you now know and understand the guests at multiple stays. For example, you know they’ve been to France, or America and you knew they ate Italian, you know their kid’s names so you could say “Would you like another Italian restaurant?”, not just “Would you like a restaurant?” because you’re enabling them to engage more with you, you get more engagement.
I like to relate it to the airline industry, the more you engage with the hotel, the higher perceived level of service you have – very different from airlines. The more you speak to an airline the more you dislike the airline. That’s a transactional business. In terms of an experiential business, the more you can get the guest to experience the more you can tell them and the more they’ll want to come back.
Do you think that changes the role of a staff member then? From being process to service driven?
It brings out their humansing factor – is takes away a lot of the process. Let the technology run the process. I think Virtuoso said – “Automate the mundane, so you can humanise the exceptional”. If you can give yourself more autonomy, more contacts, through technology they can answerwhat is the guest request, where did it come from, how long has it been outstanding and they can go out and be that human layer that sits in front of the guests. The last 10 years has been about building technology, processes transactions that removes humans, The next 10 years is about building technology that enables humans to have provide better service element.
So employing more people to service customers is going to improve your bottom line?
Yes. Think about a convention centre – a convention hotel, why when the convention ends and everyone is at the bar are there 5 people at the front desk? Maybe they’re not trained for the bar – but train them and go get them to serve drinks! No one is checking at night. One person at the front desk – 7 people at the bar. That’s where the service is.
Or sharing staff? You have two hotels in the one city – through technology you can share a maintenance team between them. Let’s ignore unions for now as that’s only impacting a few cities and recognise that we can work together to service across the business and because it’s all cloud, because it’s data driven you can actually understand what’s happening across your business, across all your properties – it’s not filling out data from 7 different systems and aggregating it.
What’s the future hold for Alice?
We’re just going to keep powering our service. We’re building out more and more on the back end, we’re noticing where guests and staff maybe need to turn to and keep building out the structure so we can continue to provide better service for the guest and ultimately empower the staff to do that.
We’ve been lucky to be working for 3 years with our amazing clients and building up the products – the product is ready, now we focussed on delivering Alice to hoteliers who really want to start pushing their boundaries, owning their operating costs and delighting their customers – it’s more expensive to run old technology that’s clunky and not integrated, we’re here to provide an efficiency model.