Think of the many times you’ve seen the maid lurking in the corridor looking for empty rooms for a while just so she could go in and do her daily cleaning.
It’s a hard life when you look at the sheer number of rooms a housekeeping attendant has to clean daily – and one made more so by the lack of clarity and an effective communication channel between the numerous service staff.
The daily morning meeting can take well over two hours for larger properties as supervisors first allocate rooms to clean, provide a check list of service standards and directions on cleaning different kinds of rooms even as attendants furiously scribble instructions.
It’s a hotbed of activity. After the briefing is over, chambermaids and attendants rush around the hotel, wheeling trolleys stacked with linen, amenities, papers, notebooks and registers, water bottles, and numerous other items. They go in and out of rooms, not just mopping, cleaning and making beds, but also taking scrupulous notes as they create a record of their work to be inspected later and scribble various other nitty-gritty’s related to all aspects of room cleaning.
Their work is punctuated with incessant telephone calls to and from the front office, their supervisors, butlers, maintenance and other members of staff – most of this time spent in coordinating and relaying information just so defects are fixed, the rooms cleaned, inspected, customised for every guest and ready by the time they arrive, made absolutely picture perfect. Cleaning and turning around rooms has to be completed in double-quick time, of course, and in adherence to some very high standards. It’s all part of the job description.
Especially for high-end hotel brands, any slip-up in service can not only be a potentially costly affair but it could also affect their reputation and standing – an important point in the hospitality business.
“For a hotel like ours,” says Monika Moser, Director of Rooms & Spa at the five-star Hôètel Fouquet’s Barrière in Paris, “we want to be able to make our staff available to interact with our guests, spend time with them and talk with them to make them feel comfortable.” But for a busy luxury hotel that runs at over 75% occupancy levels, that’s easier said than done.
With personalised service being the buzzword today in the hospitality industry, it’s no wonder hoteliers across the world are trying to raise their game.
Ratna Steden, Assistant Director of Rooms, Andaz 5th Avenue New York, echoes similar sentiments. “Intermingling with our guests is a better way to connect with them instead of talking over the phone, sitting behind a desk.”
Thanks to some novel technology, both Moser and Steden are able to do just that.
In fact, the technologies are so new there are barely only a couple of expert providers of such applications. One such vendor is New Delhi based Knowcross whose KNOW Housekeeping application is used by both the Hotel Fouquet’s Barrière and Andaz 5th Avenue New York.
Says Steden, “If I’m able to see in real-time how much longer a maid is going to take to finish cleaning a room based on her historical data, I can plan ahead and ask the restaurant to send the fruit basket to the room 15 minutes before she is due to finish. There’s no need for manual communication either with the attendant or the restaurant and I can plan my time better and attend to guests personally.”
For the attendant, she can look into her smart-phone and move on to the next room allotted to her dynamically by the application without wasting time on having to manually call up Steden and report. She just touches her screen once and the room status which is ‘ready for inspection’ is now visible to her supervisor.
“In any case,” says Moser, “technology adoption is increasing in the hotels business, and we pay a lot of attention to the small things.” In the service industry where appearances are everything, Moser makes an important point. “For example, we don’t want our staff to be coordinating on phones in front of guests,” she says.
Combining technology with the traditions of a hotel like The Ritz Paris, Joerg Boehler, Director of Rooms at the hotel says, “The technology we use will not be at the sight or in contact of our guests. Our staff will be enabled with the latest technology to give the best and most personal service to our guests, which in itself is already a tradition at the Ritz.”
It’s also financially unviable to maintain large teams for a single department as labour-intensive as housekeeping, not only in the developed markets in the US, Europe and Australia where labour is scarce and expensive, but also increasingly in Asia, says Stephen Darling, Principal at Stephen Darling Hospitality Consulting.
“Unfortunately, the concept is new and most general managers are going to look at a technology like this as an expense rather than as a tool to improve quality and increase productivity,” says Darling. He should know. With 40 years of experience in the industry across three countries, he was most recently the Regional Vice President and General Manager for Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts in North America. He cites a simple example of an increase in productivity. “If a chambermaid finds a fused bulb, or even something as simple as a broken chair, she can use her handheld device to engage the maintenance department and have the room ready immediately instead of making several calls to the repairmen. If a room isn’t ready when it’s required, it’s a loss in revenue,” Darling emphasizes. “By ensuring a quick turn-around time from problems and defects, the application maximises productivity by minimising the down-time of the room,” he explains.
“What Knowcross’ application also does very well,” he adds, “is it puts the onus on the front line staff and makes them responsible and accountable unlike before.”
No wonder then, the best brands in the business have been among the early adopters as they try to create new efficiencies and raise their overall productivity and levels of service.
At the DoubleTree by Hilton-Tower of London which has recently deployed KNOW Housekeeping, the hotel’s manager Grant Campbell says the efficiency of supervisors and turn-around times of rooms have already increased. “In a 582-room hotel with long corridors, it has been a great help for supervisors to keep track of attendants in real time. There is also a potential monetary benefit as supervisors are able to inspect rooms quicker and we can probably save one supervisor shift per day which is quite substantial,” he adds.
Automating such a labour-intensive process also provides other benefits such as helping to save paper. By Knowcross’ own calculations, using the app for a 200-room property helps save four trees a year. Besides, there are green cleaning features included in the app which help attendants to pull data from PMS or record a guest preference based on a tent card in the room and then ensure that the linen is changed every two or three days. The resulting cost savings per room can be in the $5-$10 per room per day range. For a 500 room hotel in London with 25% of guests opting for a green clean, the daily savings on linen alone are about £300 a day – that’s over £100,000 a year – straight to the bottom-line. Earlier, this would have been communicated manually.
Boehler says, “Our staff will spend much less time in paper checklists, excel sheets and outdated reports. Of course we will consume less paper and our environment will profit, too.”
The app also solves all other operational challenges such as room status discrepancies, lost and found reporting and outdated information on attendants’ task sheets, besides eliminating literally hundreds of phone calls between the housekeeping desk, floor staff and front office.
Riaz Ladha, MD, Omni Facilities Management, says chamber-maids in the U.K. have already “maxed out on productivity as they do about 17 rooms in a seven-and-a-half-hour shift. You can’t expect them to do more without compromising on the quality of their work. This is where technology can help,” he says. Omni, which uses Knowcross’ housekeeping application, is a major provider of outsourced housekeeping services to a number of marquee names in the hospitality industry such as InterContinental Hotels Group, Hilton, Marriott, Raffles and many others.
Back home in India, R Ramesh, VP-Household & Maintenance at The Oberoi Hotels & Resorts says they are also looking at using Knowcross’housekeeping application. “From what we’ve seen, it’s a fully automated system and will reduce all manual interruption. With this kind of an application, it’s possible to do things like time-and-motion study, or data analytics,” he explains. Ramesh was a part of Knowcross’ customer advisory board that helped the software vendor in the early stages of developing the application.
This is the new paradigm. Gone are the days of buzzers, paper checklists, clipboard and radios. KNOW Housekeeping is among a new breed of enterprise-wide mobility software products, rated among the top seven in its category across sectors by Frost & Sullivan in partnership with India’s apex IT body NASSCOM.
Nikhil Nath, Founder & CEO, Knowcross, says the industry has been quick to recognize the advantages of their technology. “Hotels in western countries and increasingly in Asia need to improve productivity and optimise costs. Even though the current application seems like a huge paradigm shift, I reckon we are still in the silent movie era of this type of technology! There’s plenty more to come and in ten years you won’t recognize the way housekeeping is managed in hotels.” He estimates a 250-room luxury property in a first world country achieves a return on investment in about five weeks.
No wonder then, Knowcross counts among their clients some of the most exclusive brands in the business –Grand Hyatt properties in Dubai, Guangzhou and São Paolo, St. James Court London-a Taj Hotel, Kempinski Hotel & Residences-Palm Jumeirah Dubai, Dusit, Andaz, Park Hyatt Washington, Rosewood London, Ritz Paris – and many others. Knowcross is also in talks to sign up with hotels in Las Vegas which have “huge room inventory,” he says without revealing names.
Edward Riches, Hotel Manager, St. James’ Court London, says “Taj seeks to improve the guest experience in any way possible…Knowcross provides effective tools for providing exemplary guest services, the kind of system that truly raises the bar for our already strong dedication to the guest experience.”
For those interested in number-crunching, Nath explains while the dollar-benefit is obviously greater to larger hotels, boutique hotels too benefit from improved levels of service, productivity and efficiency, all resulting in better guest satisfaction and loyalty. Knowcross’ smallest customer is a 55-room ultra-luxury resort in Nurai Island by UAE-based Zaya Retreats. Nath’s biggest customer is the earlier-mentioned Grand Hyatt Dubai with 674 luxury rooms and suites in addition to 186 residential apartments.
Based on feedback from their clients, Knowcross is still developing more features. In the near future, watch out for 24-hr check-in and check-out timings. Currently, only airport hotels offer this to cater to round-the-clock arrivals and departures.
Perhaps it’s fitting the last word should go to Darling who says the housekeeping staff are to be “cherished as they treat every guest as a guest in their own homes. We should do everything to help them, and give them whatever they need so they can serve our guests with a smile,” says Darling.
Suffice to say in an industry that prides itself in setting new benchmarks in service excellence, the journey towards perfection is an ongoing one. And while it’s still far too early to talk about robotic butlers with any conviction, what’s increasingly certain is that technology will continue to demonstrate its usefulness in ways we don’t know about yet.