hospitality technology made simple by kevin sturm Consulting

relax your spa staff with RFID

A few weeks back Chrystal treated herself to a pregnancy massage with another “expecting” friend at Burke Williams Spa in San Jose, CA. The day spa offers a pregnancy package with a lavish milk bath, which Chrystal and Christy thoroughly enjoyed. Chrystal loved it and was definitely more relaxed afterwards. But upon her return from the spa she said that although the guests were becoming more relaxed the staff seemed harried.

When she checked in she did not fill out any paperwork simply signed in and was presented with a key and keychain for her locker. Her schedule was in the computer and on a printout. Throughout her three hour visit she had spa employees pop into the public areas (like the quiet room, sauna or hot tub) and ask, “Do you have an appointment and 2:00 PM?" or "Are you so and so.” If the person was there they informed them of their next appointment time and location. Chrystal had two problems with these very common operations. First, keeping track of a key at a day spa is an inconvenience. At one point Chrystal accidentally grabbed Christy's robe and then could not get in her locker, as her key was in her robe. Second, consistently having employees ask me if I'm someone I'm not does not equate to the experience associated with a high-end spa.

I know Chrystal would go back to Burke Williams Spa if given the opportunity, but the prices may not be in line with the “experience”. We have a place in Santa Barbara where she can get the same massage treatments for 1/3 the price (maybe less) and many spas where she can get exactly the same treatments for the same price. At core a spa must be measured on the value and quality of the services it offers. But if those services are equal to competing spas then what incentive does a customer have to return?

A unique experience.

What if Chrystal's experience instead went like this. After making her spa reservation she had the option to complete the majority of the information online (some HIPPA stuff may be only allowed on a form) and was able to note any preferences, allergies, etc. When arriving at the spa, the information she provided online is complete on the form and she is asked to take a quick profile picture and then sign the form (waiver and legal stuff). She is presented with her schedule of services and a small Breast Cancer Awareness wrist band outfitted with an RFID tag. She is assigned a locker number that can be opened with her wrist band. After relaxingly loosing track of time in the sauna a staff member pops in to let her know it is time for her milk bath. The staff member speaks directly to her and knows her by name, though has never seen her before. This happens throughout her day and both her and the staff are relaxed and enjoying her time.

With the growing number of guests willing to spend money for a unique experience, this story brings customers back. It is not only possible but simple to make a reality. Just about every spa already has a loyalty program and most of them accept a small profile picture to associate with the guest, so that part is done. Implementing location services using RFID is becoming more mainstream with vendors like Motorola, PDC, and Microsoft leading the way. Guest information is linked to the RFID wrist band, which is small, inexpensive, completely waterproof, and even stylish if so desired. The entire staff has access to the guest's picture and knows where each guest is at all time because of RFID scanners at each door. An added benefit is the spa gets automated guest preferances by reporting each room that a guest goes into and the amount of time they spend in it (this has to free up at least one administrative job). This information is also golden when it comes to personalized marketing with solid Business Intelligence data.

If your spa has a restaurant there is an added option to interface Point of Sale (POS) with Loyalty and allow guests to buy food and other items available for sale with their wrist band. LifeTime Fitness, a specialist in the “health and fitness experience” uses photo recognition at the POS as an added security measure. It also means the customer doesn't have to carry anything with them.

Implementing location services with RFID obviously is not free. But balance it against the decreased cost of manual system entry and paying staff to herd customers, and the revenue opportunity of very effective personalized marketing campaigns and I believe you'll find the numbers make sense.

You can call any of the vendors above if you want to look at implementing location services. Or, if you want someone to help you create a memorable guest experience give me a call or send me an email. I'd love to help!

For more information about kevin sturm Consulting please visit my website.

Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

losing business with business automation

Automated customer service emails have their place. But when they are not in line with customer expectation you can end up doing more harm than good.
On Friday Jan, 17 I took a flight on US Airways from San Antonio to Phoenix. I experienced the worst service in my history of flying, which is saying something since I spent the equivalent of one full work month on a plane in 2007 (about 160 hours for those told there would be no math). Never before had I actually sent a letter to an airline as the bar is set pretty low with regard to guest experience and I am generally understanding of the airline plight. Airline employees deal with unhappy and rude customers all the time, and 98% of the time the problem is out of their control like flight delays or being out of Coke cans mid flight.

But attitude and how a job is performed is completely in the control of any employee. The kicker for me was getting off the plane to wait for my carry on bag to be delivered (small plane) and watch our bags get "launched" by an employee three feet up over a railing and fall about three feet to a landing. Thankfully I didn't have anything fragile in mine, but I saw one laptop bag go airborne (as it's owner cringed) and one garment bag get a hammer style throw.

Since my iPhone does not have video capability (one of its major limitations) I tried to get my camera out to take video but was too slow (I think it would have made an interesting YouTube upload). I sent a note to US Airways, but not an "angry customer" note. I told them the story of my experience and ended it saying I did not want anything in return but hoped customer service would be a higher priority.

The following day I got an automated response from US Airways apologizing for my "travel difficulties" and a $75 non-transferable travel voucher. I suppose I could have just accepted this as the reality of things, but I felt a bit insulted. US Airways could have quickly validated if I had a frequent flier number (which I do) and found my Star Alliance status. My guess is they could have also discovered I spent over $2200 in airfare since January 1, 2008 (30 times the voucher amount).

I sent a response email to customer service saying I did not want the voucher I just wanted better service the next time I flew. They sent another email apologizing for offending me with the voucher and that my concerns had been delivered to the appropriate management. I ended feeling again like my experience stunk.

US Airways could have righted my experience one of two ways. Picking up the phone after the second email would have been ideal. It would have made me feel appreciated and ensured they understood I was not angry but disappointed. Obviously they cannot do this with everyone, but the reason for loyalty programs is so you know who a customer is and what losing them may mean. Second, though I did not want anything, a full fare voucher would have told me they really wanted me to fly with them.

The point of business automation should be to improve the guest experience, not the other way around.

Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

goals for 2008

In business (and life) I think it is important to set goals. But for consultants and entrepreneurs goals are the only way I know of to create a path to success. Clients often hire me to make sure their projects run smooth with the outcome of success. I have a solid track record of executing on projects because I am passionate about what I do, I break the project down into achievable and measurable milestones, document what those are, and then work to make sure that each one is achieved. It is the same for my business. On September 26, 2007 on a flight from Dallas to Charlotte I set the goals for kevin sturm Consulting (note that kevin sturm Consulting did not truly exist then as I was still gainfully and somewhat unhappily employed).

Here are those goals shared with my limited readership as my path to success. Hold me accountable to them and help me achieve them.

  • Q4 2007
    • Establish my niche in consulting, hotel ideally
    • Bill 20 hours per week
    • Start posting meaningful content on this blog every two weeks
  • Q1 2008
    • Bill 20 hours per week
    • Post meaningful content on this blog every two weeks
    • Speak in some capacity at an industry conference
    • Have kevin sturm Consulting website complete - working on this now
  • Q2 2008
    • Bill 16 hours per week
    • Hire first employee for kevin sturm Consulting billing 20 hours per week
    • Speak at some capacity at major industry conference
  • Q3 2008
    • Bill 16 hours per week
    • Give Keynote Session presentation at any conference related to hospitality technology
  • Q4 2008
    • Bill 16 hours per week
    • Hire second employee for kevin sturm Consulting billing 20 hours per week
    • Speak at a major industry conference
If you have not set your goals for 2008 take some time this week to write them down. Then put a path in place to achieve them.

Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

set goals instead of resolutions

I've been meaning to do this post for a while, but have been lazy on the post front. It's now almost February, but my post for the 2008 new year is don't set resolutions. In stead set goals. Not widely outrageous goals, but goals that are achievable and broken down into increments. They should be challenging, but also attainable.

On September 26, 2007 on a flight from DFW to Charlotte I made a list of my two year goals. I was reviewing it this week. I've done well in some areas and not so well in others.

Q4 2007

  • Establish my niche in consulting where ever it may be, hotel ideally
  • Bill 20 hours per week
  • Start posting meaningful content on hospitality technology made simple every two weeks
  • Read my bible every morning for at least 15 minutes - have not done
  • Get out of the rat race and keeping up with what we think is the requirements of success
  • Run every 3 days at least - sometimes yes, right now no
  • Read one book per month on something and keep doing it
  • Finish house - not even close
  • Post to k.sturm blog at least every 3 days - not quite there
Q1 2008
  • Bill 20 hours per week
  • Post meaningful content on hospitality technology made simple every two weeks
  • Speak in some capacity at an industry conference
  • Have business plan for new company idea complete with market analysis, 1 year, 3 year, 5 year revenue forecast, and mocked up design
  • Have a plan to live “below” our means allowing us the financial freedom to take trips and live free
  • Begin taking a one week trip per quarter with Chrystal and Brody somewhere fun where we don’t work at all
Q2 2008
  • Bill 16 hours per week and increase hourly rate
  • Hire first employee/subcontractor for kevin sturm Consulting billing 20 hrs/week
  • Speak in some capacity at major industry conference
  • Have a second draft of business plan in place and start moving forward
  • Find a developer that will “drink the cool-aid” or get venture capital funding…drink the cool-aid is way better
  • Go on Potter’s Clay construction team (not sure if this will be possible with baby due)
  • Be training for Marathon or Triathlon
Q3 2008
  • Give Keynote Session presentation at industry conference
  • Be at least one quarter into v1.0 of new business
  • Visit Opportunity International bank in Mexico or Africa
  • Run a Marathon or do a Triathlon
Q4 2008
  • Hire second employee/subcontractor for kevin sturm Consulting billing 20 hrs/week
  • Speak at hospitality technology industry conference
  • Sign up early adopter customers for v1.0 release
Q1 2009
  • Speak at hospitality technology industry conference
  • Release v1.0 of new business venture
  • Attend industry conference on new business venture
Q2 2009
  • Speak at hospitality technology industry conference
  • Release v2.0 of software
  • Speak at industry conference on new company venture

Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

project at la cantera resort

I do not think there are many things worse then flying with a cold! I'm waiting for someone to invent a travel accessory that unplugs your ears after you land. I landed seven hours ago and I still can't hear out of my right ear and my sinuses still feel pressurized!

I flew to San Antonio today to meet with Gaylord Entertainment tomorrow. They recently purchased the La Cantera Resort, which is a really beautiful property just outside of San Antonio. I'll do a tour of the property tomorrow and discuss logistics of the project and what the overall plan is. It is a fast turn around project from the technology side with lots of contingencies, so it will be a fun challenge.

This is also a fun project because I'll be working with a friend and great guy that used to work for me in a former life. Cameron Ahler is a Senior Systems Analyst with Gaylord, but since he is crazy busy with the opening of Gaylord National on the Potomac called me to help out with the La Cantera takeover. I was thrilled and am excited to reconnect with the Gaylord team. Gaylord refers to their employees as STARS, and everyone I've ever worked with at there has always lived up to that acronym.

I still can't believe my job is to travel to a super nice resort, reconnect with great people, and help venues implement technology solutions to meet the needs of the guest. And to boot I have a beautiful view and get to sleep in a Heavenly Bed tonight! Here are a few shots from the balcony of my room. Having this much fun can hardly be considered work.

For more information about kevin sturm Consulting please visit my website.

Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

i love my job

I flew down to San Antonio today for a consulting gig at the Westin La Cantera. I have a really bad cold so flying was brutal. My ears are still plugged up. This place is uber nice and I got a sweet room with a view of the property and surrounding hills (photos below). It was really nice to relax for a bit in a nice room with a spectacular view. How great is it that get to come stay at a nice hotel for work! I love my job!Now I'm off to have dinner with my father-in-law.

Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

enterprise software, hoax or holy grail – part three

This is the third post in a three part series on enterprise software solutions.
Read part one here and part two here.

Document features under development.
Okay, you have your lab in place and it is setup to mimic what you want for your live enterprise system. All the vendors you want are interfacing to the fullest capabilities of their individual solutions. The reality is that through this process you have found features that do not exist or do not work as you expected. These features are either currently under development, scheduled for a future release, or no plan exists to develop these features.

Do not leave your vendor(s) responsible for documenting these features, and do not expect they truly understand your business requirements. When you have the complete list of required features that are not working or missing, document both the requirements and use case of how these features will be used. This is an important point, as generally the requirements for these features are loosely worded. The vendor will interpret them and develop something that may not be what you want or need. You want to avoid this by getting a very detailed use case documented for each feature. Recognize if you get something you do not want, it is both your fault and the vendors as neither party did due diligence.

The other big reason you want all of these features documented in detail is for contract negotiation and success criteria.

Get beta feature requirements and dates in the contract.

If you have required features that do not yet exist (and you will, specifically with interfaces from vendor to vendor), these features need to be outlined in your vendor contract(s) with commitment to dates and software versions. Many vendors will attempt to avoid this completely, and some may simple refuse. It will be a negotiation and some of your required features will get negotiated off the table. Set your expectations low so you are pleasantly surprised when you get more than you expected.

It is important that the contract point to the use cases that you created in the previous step. You want no ambiguity on what is delivered by the vendor. Now, you may be saying to yourself this is all great but you have vendors who defaulted on their contractual commitments in the past. If you are concerned about this, the best option is to create payment stipulations in your contract tied to each feature. But this must be a win-win situation. Generally vendors invoice you at the end of the project and you pay them upon project completion You can create incentives to complete contractual features by tying delivery of features to progress payments for services and/or software provided. Adding these stipulations to the contract means you may be paying your vendor earlier than normal (win for them), but it also adds the stipulation that you will not pay them some portion at all if they do not deliver (win for you). I may do a separate post on this subject at a future date, as it warrants a more detailed discussion.

Prioritize order of software implementation.

The timeline of your contract negotiation may have some affect on the order of software implementation, but this is a topic that needs careful consideration. This is an easy decision if you are only implementing one enterprise solution. But if your enterprise project has multiple solutions the order they are installed is important. In my experience there is always a right order, and there will be dependencies. You should have a good idea of the order based on your lab setup experience as well as the interface diagrams that you created. But if not my rule for implementation order is based on a single question.

Is the solution primarily used for finance, operations, or reporting?

This is an important question as finance solutions generally should be installed first. A solution may be used in all three areas, but it's primary purpose is the point. The reason finance software should be installed first is the setup will trickle down to the setup of operational systems. Defining financial standards in operational systems may lead to limited functionality of your financial systems. Also, reconfiguring your operational systems creates a mess of problems you want to avoid.

Here are some examples of how I categorize some standard hospitality technology solutions.
  • Banquet & Catering – Operational
  • Business Intelligence – Reporting
  • In Room Services – Operational
  • Loyalty & CRM – Operational
  • MRP& ERP – Financial
  • Point of Sale – Operational
  • Property Management System – Financial
  • Purchasing & Inventory Control – Financial
  • Reservations – Operational
  • Security & Surveillance – Operational
Prioritize order of site implementation.
Again, this may be an easy decision if you have only a few sites. But for companies with many locations this decision can either positively impact or kill your project. The tendency is to have the first site either closest to corporate or the site with the most experienced/tenured staff. In reality these are poor qualifications for the site that will define your initial success. Very experienced/tenured staff can be very reticent to change, which you want to avoid. Venues in close proximity to the corporate office generally have extra pressure because of consistent visits and tours, and creating additional pressure with a new technology system is not fair to the staff. My experience is any problem at a site already under the microscope of corporate is just exemplified. With a new technology system you will have problems that need time to resolve. Install sites close to corporate once you know things work. It will be easier on everyone.

Really it is only the early phase of the project where the order of implementation is important. Look for locations that meet these qualifications.
  • You want a site where employees are accepting of technology and proficient at it. Generally this means you need to look at a location that is within close proximity to a major university. But you do not want a transient staff. Continuous training at your pilot location is especially troublesome when trying to define operations.
  • Chose a site that is easy and affordable to get to. Your staff and vendors need to be able to reach the location quickly without breaking your budget.
  • It is important to have as staff that experienced with your current operations. But as previously mentioned the most tenured staff is not necessarily best.
  • Choose a site where the infrastructure can be updated if required. Older properties can make getting a new cable run almost impossible. Newer locations have been designed to accommodate newer technology.
  • The property should be low season during implementations. A really busy property will mean the staff is really busy with other things, which means your technology solution implementation is not the most important thing. For much of the staff in needs to be the most important thing.
The most important order of implementation decision is which location will be your pilot site. This site will define the process for future implementations and ideally be the standard for implementations moving forward. It should meet each of the above qualifications.

Install pilot location.
Now that you have your pilot site chosen it is time to move into implementation phase. However, my advice is to have your lab installation setup with the software versions and features that you are going to install at the pilot location. The lab should be used as the template for installing the pilot location. Implementing a handful of new features during the pilot is a dangerous gamble that can create major problems. Management from locations communicate with each other, and any significant problems encountered at the pilot site will be passed around the management community. From a momentum standpoint you need the pilot to have minimal problems.

Your pilot site should have three major goals. First is a technical proof of concept in the production environment. This means that you should not move past the pilot project until all software solutions are installed successfully. Second is documenting installation standards and procedures, and third is confirming operational corporate standards that were documented in the first step of this process.

Document standard installation procedures.

Documenting standard installation procedures is worth a more in depth conversation because it will save you time, money, headaches, and heartache. Whether you, a contractor, or your vendor completes this is up to you, but it is vital to your project success. It will cost time and money to do, but is worth doing. The main reason is that resources on your project will change. Knowledge transfer is simple when it is written down. You will most likely have standards document for each technology solution that you install.

This document should read like a manual for someone that knows nothing about you business or your technology decisions (this is probably not possible but a good goal). Here is what the table of contents would look like to give you a head start.
  • Project Overview
  • Business Case and ROI (if exists)
  • Project Stakeholder Contact List
  • Project Team Contact List
  • Project Communication and Escalation Procedures
  • Architecture Diagram (including interfaces)
  • Planned Installation Timeline
  • Installation Prerequisites and Milestones
  • Configuration Standards (may reference a template database)
  • Standard System Files
  • FAQ (list of commonly found problems with resolution)
If you have additional questions that were not addressed in this series feel free to send me an email or post a comment. Good luck with your technology decisions!

For more information about kevin sturm Consulting please visit my website.

Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo