Frictionless internal communication is what creates the “magic” guests feel when entering a well-run hotel. But there are some departments that have an intrinsically high level of miscommunication and misunderstanding that, if not corrected, can lead to open rivalry and blame games between employees whenever things hit the proverbial fan. The traditionally turbulent relationship between the front office and housekeeping department is too often the headline act and, as with any sibling rivalry, is based entirely on the quality of communication between the two.
Understanding the bottlenecks is important and this has only become possible with the rise of the smart PMS that allows for useful software integrations. Dynamic planning, real-time status updates and instant communication can lead to unprecedented cost management for a hotel, let alone reduce heated arguments. For example, when a guest checks out housekeeping could be automatically alerted via a smartphone or device so they don’t need to wait around or manually check at reception if it is ok to prepare the room for the next guest.
Furthermore, excellent housekeeping is all important for guest satisfaction. According to a survey commissioned by cleaning products brand CLR and conducted by TNS, 86 per cent of hotel guests cited cleanliness as the top criteria they look for when reading online hotel or holiday rental reviews. The survey also revealed that eight out of ten guests would rather give up internet access for the duration of their than stay in a dirty hotel or rental.
There have long been interfaces between PMSs and telephone systems that enable housekeepers to dial codes on handsets to confirm to reception that rooms are ready. But in an age when Apple is preparing to launch its most advanced smartphone yet with facial recognition and Amazon has announced it has the technology to automatically enter your home to deliver services, the future of housekeeping management must lie in the ability for tech companies and the hotels themselves to embrace mobile.
In short, this means you should be able to run your hotel with less resources and deliver a higher quality experience for guests.
The future of hotel housekeeping lies in mobile apps
Housekeeping is, arguably, the most inefficient operation in any hotel. Amidst a labyrinth of rooms with enigmatic guests slipping in and out, clipboards and printed reports are too often the only compass housekeepers have to navigate through their daily chores. According to a workflow calculation by productivity management experts d20, the daily work of a maid consists of 18 tasks. Yet it is estimated that housekeepers spend about 10 to 15 per cent of their time just trying to find the next room to clean.
Shockingly, most hotels still use walkie-talkies to communicate between front office and housekeeping but with the technology now available, maids could use a smartphone, potentially their own, to login into the PMS and check which rooms are ready to be cleaned, change the status of the room when they are cleaned and inspected, or even check the guest's name before knocking on the door. Hotels need to be able to rely on their system and know that when a room is inspected it will instantly be returned to the front desk. Having more availability allows receptionists to move bookings around faster without having to interrupt housekeeping workflows with a constant barrage of re-prioritizations.
Yet, as when implementing any new technology, training is key. "Embracing technology in housekeeping is a significantly longer journey than for any department. It’s important that you appoint someone who specifically champions this new culture and who is in charge of the results. Someone who is not afraid of technology and driving change,” says Mews CEO Matthijs Welle.
For example, the Mews PMS issues an informative graphic called the Activity Report, where one can see exactly when rooms are returned as ‘clean’ back to reception. Despite the fact that housekeepers usually start at 8am, the reports often show that the bulk of rooms are still returned back to operations around 3-4pm (see chart below), which also happens to be the time cleaners leave for the day and hand a sheet of paper with the rooms they have inspected back to reception. But if they are arriving so early why are rooms not inspected earlier during the day? The problem lies in the lack of access to the Mews mobile app by the housekeepers and is down to a lack of training of staff. The technical solutions are there but staff are not always using them and we at Mews must help hotels shift into this new age of mobile technology. "We find that, in hotels where they actively use the Mews app, guests check-in significantly earlier,” Matthijs continues.
Mobile solutions have evolved into two types
It appears that the evolution of mobile housekeeping solution has bifurcated into two rough lines:
At the recent Hotel Technology Revolution conference, Jonathan Weizman of RoomChecking described how guests are looking for experiences and exceptional service and that housekeeping has become the front line. “We have seen a drop of 70% of internal phone calls because of our technology. Not to mention the fact that rooms are always ready on time,” he revealed.
Meanwhile, Optii estimates cleaning times by examining guest type and use-pattern and then reliably predicts, manages and optimizes your housekeeping schedules in real-time. They have successfully converted many skeptical housekeeping veterans to use their software and drastically improve their operations.
2) More behavioural management solutions with interactions and communications at their core like HotelKit, an integrated 'Slack-for-hotels’ style system. A hotel's operations team can quickly and pro-actively assign tasks and schedule assignments from the HotelKit app.
Robotics in the hospitality industry
As we wrote about in our focus on the future of the hotel experience, Yotel’s Yobot and Aloft Cupertino’s Botlr are already storing luggage and handing out pool towels respectively while the new terminal at Singapore’s award winning Changi airport has just opened with dozens of smart housekeeping robots to keep it looking pristine.
Fully automated housekeeping robots remain at the bleeding edge of hospitality tech. Although it is early days for this robotics niche, Rosie the robot by Maidbot claims to be the first of its kind for hotels. Maidbot have built a product to address the intrinsic high variable costs of housekeeping, the reality that room attendants have the highest injury rates in the service sector and that current commercial cleaning practices are woefully inconsistent.
Another automatic robotic solution is the TASKI Intellibot range of commercial automated robotic cleaning machines from Diversey Care. The fully-automated commercial floor cleaners should leave any hotel team to focus on other revenue-generating and value-added tasks, although their robots are not necessarily designed for the intricacies of room cleaning.
A housekeeper’s cart is their de facto office. A well-organized and well-stocked housekeeping cart is the key to efficiency. It enables room attendants to avoid wasting time looking for a cleaning item or making trips back to the linen room for more supplies. The specific amounts of items loaded onto a cart will vary according to the types of rooms being cleaned, the amenities offered by the property, and, of course, the size of the cart itself. A room attendant’s cart is generally spacious enough to carry all the supplies needed for a half-day’s room assignments.
Out of necessity, many hotels say they are replacing cumbersome carts with smaller ones akin to golf caddie bags and are extolling their convenience and unobtrusive appearance. So crucial is this organisation that replicating a housekeeping cart at your home is often touted as a cleaning secret to steal from wise and skilled hotel maids.
Maid in a (mobile) Manhattan?
Clipboards, common errors such as cleaning the wrong rooms and an inability to communicate during emergencies should be relics of the past. Although hand holding is important for the transition to digital, hospitality software companies need to build solutions for housekeepers that don’t require days of training and which are affordable for even the smallest of operators. In addition to helping hotels increase productivity, mobile solutions can aid in the elimination of paper waste created by the multiple printouts in many housekeeping departments. The digitising of data also makes it easier for managers to compile and pull reports in real time for overall operations status.
With the rise of disruptive platforms like AirBnB, new formats of hospitality are emerging consisting of clusters of apartments across multiple locations that still need to be managed like a traditional hotel. Hotels may soon stretch their business models to include cleaning properties outside of the hotel or even use tools and sites like Staffmatch to outsource parts of their operations. In any case, mobile technology will be particularly crucial for future-proofing housekeeping operations as accommodation becomes more complex and disparate.
The drawbacks of adopting such a system? There is an academic argument to be made that, had a cloud based housekeeping app been integrated into the operations of the fictional Beresford Hotel in the romantic comedy Maid in Manhattan, then Jennifer Lopez may well have been alerted to the presence of a room guest and would never have met Ralph Fiennes and lived happily ever after…but that harrowing example aside, the future of housekeeping appears mobile and cloud based.
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