hospitality technology made simple by kevin sturm Consulting

proving me wrong, proving me right

There was an interesting post today on HOTELS that is a good follow up to my post what technology do you expect from your hotel?. Hotel Sax Chicago, apparently dubbed "Hotel Microsoft" (who knew?), has unveiled some current and future technologies from Xbox ready rooms to an entertainment lounge to in-room touch screens that control lighting and temperature.

As I was reading the article I was rethinking my statement that hotels cannot expect to implement better technology than the customer has at home. After all, I don't have an Xbox (or any other video game unit) and most of the frequent travelers I know don't either. I also don't have touch screens to control my home amenities and probably won't for a foreseeable future. Hotel Sax Chicago will most likely have better technology than almost any guest, and their point is they will draw guests because of it (or they hope).

But the reality is the in-room touch screens are only in the presidential suites and more of the hotel's rooms have normal technology for a starting rate of $450/night.When at some point in the future the cost of the "marketing technology" becomes affordable enough to retrofit into every hotel room it will be affordable enough that the clients that pay to stay at Hotel Sax will have it in their own house.

Really what Hotel Sax is doing is marketing. Having these rooms is a marketing technique, and a good one, but really is not an initiative to provide every customer with a technology experience they cannot get at home. And in proving me right the Chicago Tribune said, "...that's why Microsoft is in Hotel Sax -- to let people live with and get used to unfamiliar technology so that they'll want it in their homes."

This post is one of many about the technology at Hotel Sax. If you read the ones from hospitality sites you will find a regular comment....customers want basic amenities and service delivered very well before they want touch screens in the room.

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hotel crm part II and permission marketing

There is a great article on the relationship between hotel CRM, web 2.0/social networking, and permission marketing on eye for travel's website today. It is an interesting follow-up to my post when crm will acheive its potential as it talks directly to the danger of what type of data hotels are collecting, the validity of the data, and which preferences a hotel can and cannot use to market to customers.

This quote by Diane DeWindt, Director of Customer Insight, Starwood I think says it best, “Sending marketing communications based on guests personal preferences expressed during a stay is potentially dangerous – if a guest expresses a preference on-property, you must get that guest's permission to store those data, and for what use. The best thing to do both from a data privacy perspective and from a customer-service perspective is to give the guest a channel to explicitly tell you what they want, where, and how, and deliver for just that instance.”

The reality of a "customer opt-in" approach to hotel CRM (and many other markets) will completely change the way hotels market to their customers.

You can read the article here.

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when crm will achieve its potential

I was in the audience of a CIO panel discussion and finally heard a hotel CIO (Scott Gibson of Best Western) give the real truth on hotel CRM. It cannot currently be as useful as least not with current technology. I was disappointingly not able to get his exact words, but I believe that is what he meant.

Hotel CRM is valuable, desirable, and a reality. But the pie-in-the-sky story often told is not a reality under the current operational requirements for acquiring the data. Talk to any person responsible for aggregating all that data and doing something meaningful with it and the first thing they will tell you is how inaccurate it is (with the possible exception of CRM and BI vendors). Preferences are missing or based on what the system "thinks" preferences are. I heard a story from a Marriott GM where a guest asked why he kept getting a refrigerator in his room. It was because he ordered a refrigerator twice in one month while traveling with his family. Based on those two stays the CRM system updated his profile with refrigerator as a preference.                                                                                                                                        image courtesy of Fergus McIver
A good portion of the guests address, phone, and email data is missing or inaccurate. If a guest does not want the hotel to have information then they don't give it or they provide bogus information. I won't go down the road of the calls hotels receive when an irate guest calls about an email receipt from his hotel stay sent to the email account he and his wife share (I hope you get the picture). Once a hotel does have the information it becomes the responsibility of the front desk staff to ensure it is accurate when a guest checks in, which has proven to be a generally unreliable method for collecting and perfecting data. There is also the problem of all the profiles that frequent travelers have to maintain and the multiple reservation mechanisms that exist (hotel's website, Orbitz, Hotwire, etc.). It's just not realistic to expect every brand and every venue to obtain and update this information accurately. CRM will continue to be at the top of the technology list for hotel executives, but it will continue to be a solution that has great potential.

As a side note I had a mentor that said, "Potential is just a French word for that's too bad". Rather CRM has opportunity which can be achieved when it gathers data based on a "customer opt-in approach". Dream with me for a moment...

What if when I arrive at the hotel my preferences are sent from my mobile device (let's say an iPhone just for fun) to the hotel PMS. Before arriving I tell my iPhone what information I want to share with the hotel. As I arrive I have the option to check into my room from my iPhone (or kiosk or front desk) and receive a message giving me my room number and directions on how to get to my room. I also receive "something" (barcode, security number, insert new technology) that allows me to use my iPhone to access my room. I'm offered a quick preferences and services review which I can bypass or complete. I go to my room where the temperature is preset (technology exists to set my home thermostat from my phone now) and my visual preferences (curtains open or curtains closed) and physical preferences (number of blankets, towels, and pillows) have been taken care of based on my reservation (remember I had the option to change those preferences at check in). If I'm traveling with my family I have the option to add mobile numbers that will also receive the "something" to access the room.

The "something" sent to my iPhone also allows me to pay for items at the restaurant, gift shop, and vending machines for the duration of my stay. If I add other mobile numbers I have the option to activate or reject charge privileges when I provide those number.

From this first interaction the hotel knows what time I entered the hotel, what time I got to the room, if I purchased something before I went to the room and possibly what transpired between all those times (if hotels want to activate elevator and hallway access with the "something" the guests travel path is also tracked). I told the hotel what information I wanted to share (name, phone number, email, address) which is always accurate because it's on my iPhone. There are probably some operational gaps in this scenario and the technology is further out than I would like, but CRM will only leave potential behind and grasp opportunity when data integrity it is driven directly by the "customer opt-in approach".

Kudos to Scott Gibson for having the vision and tenacity to tell it like it is at a technology conference.

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compelling rhetoric about your resume

A few months back I wrote a post about resume writing called care enough to be different. Today I read a post by Seth Godin that moves the ability to be unique and remarkable in your resume to a whole new level. His opinion is to be so bold as to not even have a resume.

Read his post here. It is worth your time to think about his thoughts.

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remember the names

I'm terrible at it. Absolutely horrible. When I meet someone it is almost for certain that 10 seconds later I can't remember their name. I know it is one of my worst traits and I hate it about myself.
Image provided by ArstySF
It is important to remember someone's name for many reasons, but I think the most important is because it shows you care.

As I was trying to find a parking place at Church today I saw my new friend Dave. I rolled the window down to say hello. He came over and said, "Hey Kevin," and then looked in the back and said "Hey Brody, gimme five." Dave had never met my son Brody. He had heard about him during a recent ski trip we both went on, but never met him. He cared enough to not only remember my name but to remember Brody's name. He knew Brody was really important to me and it showed that he cared about that. I immediately felt like I was important to Dave...which made me feel great.

Caring like this translates well into the world of consulting. Consultants are contracted based on experience, knowledge, and skills. But most likely your experience, knowledge, and skills are not completely unique. The client can hire someone else. If experience, knowledge, and skills are equal then what makes you different?

Caring about the success of the project is paramount. But when the project is finished and over, I think it is caring about the people you interacted with that brings additional projects to the table.

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what technology do you expect from your hotel?

I attended the HOT and Green Hospitality Conference this week and was surprised at a statement that was made regularly in the presentations about technology in the hotel room (TV, TV stations, Internet, etc.).

"Guests expect the hotel in-room technology to be as good or better than what they have at home."

I agree this is the way it used to be. It may even be true for some of the current guests from a higher age demographic (over 60). But based on my experience the hotel industry is catering to the 25 to 55 crowd, and the chance that it will have better technology than what that traveler has at home is slim...most likely none. The general population is more affluent and technologically advanced than ever before and will continue to be (even with our pending recession). The reality is many household
s already have a flat screen 32" TV (or bigger) and maybe an LCD flat panel. They have home theater with surround sound. They have a DVR. They have over 100 channels. They have a iPod docking station or component cables that connect their iPod to their surround sound. They have wireless Internet on 802.11b if not 802.11g and hard connect rates of 6Mbps to 30Mbps. When at home they check email, download from iTunes, listen to music, and watch TV (sometimes all at the same time).

For many (at least me) when they do stay in a hotel that has a cool new technology the first action after arriving home is to go buy one of equal or better quality (welcome to GenX and GenY). After all, if you can't keep up with a hotel you sure are not keeping up with the Jones. ;-)

But again and again I heard this statement and how hard it was to manage this problem. I have a solution...stop trying to manage the problem. It should not be a problem because hotels are not going to be able to surpass home technology in the room anymore. And besides, when I travel is it really an iPod docking station with movie surround sound that I want? No.

I think a good question is "What do you expect from your hotel?" For some the answer may be better technology, but the majority want something else.

As a self proclaimed technology evangelist here are the top 10 things I would like from my hotel room.

power outlets...lots of them
I want power...all over the place. I want four outlets next to the bed with at least two available for me. Oh, and th
ey can't be in the lamp because sometimes my power supply won't fit (with the possible exception of on the top of the lamp base). I want four available outlets at the desk, and not so far under the desk that I have to be on my hands and knees to get to it. Better yet, stick a surge protector at the desk so my equipment is protected as well. I want absolute power...but absolute access to power will do.

FREE wireless Internet
Please give me FREE wireless Internet. This is quite possibly my biggest pet peeve when staying at a hotel. I get this feeling the hotel is yelling at me, "WE WILL MAKE YOU PAY!" I understand the plight of hotels that wireless In
ternet is expensive, especially if you already ran CAT5 to every room. But, I don't literally mean I want it free. I just want it included in my nightly rate. The perceived value of FREE cannot be understated. FREE Internet makes me feel like I'm getting something free even though I'm paying for it as a room rate. It makes me feel valued and that the hotel understands my desires. If you can't give me FREE wireless Internet then at least give me FREE Internet. Oh, and in that case I want a 20 foot CAT5 cable so I can wander all over the room (this was actually provided by Adam's Mark this week). The speed of the Internet is really lesser of an issue than getting it FREE. (I'll cover that topic in a post in the near future.)

a remote control that works

I want a TV remote control that works. It needs to work when I hit the power button, when I hit the volume button, and when I hit the channel button. I should not have to point it at crazy angles to turn the TV off and on. It should work exactly like my universal remote at home, which is a basic remote but it works every time.

let me see the TV
I want to see the TV from the bed or the desk. If Chrystal is traveling with me then I want her to be able see it from the bed and me from the desk. The room should be arranged so I don't have to drag the desk over in order to work and watch ESPN at the same time.

good lighting

I want to see at the desk and see in the bathroom. The switch to more energy efficient lighting is awesome and I'm all for it. But if it means my wife has to turn on every light in the room while standing near the window in the morning to put on her makeup then we have kind of defeated the point. Give me good lighting in those two areas and I'm ha is Chrystal.

iron and ironing board

What's with the new trend of having to ask to have an iron and ironing board delivered to the room? I want and need an iron, and it is usually at the last minute. If I have to wait 10 minutes for it to be delivered then I'm late for my meeting. "I thought I had an iron" is worse than "The dog ate my homework."

odor free room
I do not want my room to smell like an ash tray, a restaurant kitchen, my high school locker room, or an industrial cleaning product. I want an odor free room. It should smell like a clean room (read no smells).

hot water
I want hot water. Not "hot enough" water, but real hot water. I like to take a really hot shower so I want really hot water. And while I'm on that I want the same water pressure I have at home. I have flow control faucets but I still get enough water pressure to enjoy it.

room to room privacy

I don't want to hear what the guest in the next room is watching on TV or what deal he is trying to close on the speaker phone. I don't care and it invades my privacy. I expect privacy way before I expect a flat panel TV that is bigger and better then mine at home.

clean sheets and a fluffy towel
If I need fresh bed linens or towels I want the service staff to recognize it when they are cleaning the room. I'm fine if the standard is to change the bed every other day and that I reuse a towel. I use a towel probably 5 times at home and change the sheets when it seems reasonable (or Chrystal changes the sheets really). And my towel should not scratch me when drying off out of the shower. It should be soft and feel like a towel should feel.

extra pillows
I want extra pillows in the closet. I may never use them but I want extra pillows.

FREE coffee with real cream and sugar

"Again with the FREE," you say! I want FREE coffee with real creamer and sugar. Provide Mini Moos (half-and-half that does not need to be refrigerated) as it is way way way way better than powdered-non-dairy-gross-creamer. Oh and I'm a coffee snob so I don't want Folgers. I doesn't have to be Peet's but give me something in the middle. The perception that I'm getting good coffee FREE makes me feel great. Don't you love feeling great?!

clean room
I want a clean room and bathroom. I want it to look like it was vacuumed and scrubbed just for me. I don't want toe nails in the bathroom corner. I don't want candy wrappers under the bed. I don't want someone else's used tissue in the trash can. And I never again want someone's underwear between the bed sheets (yes that really happened).

The reality is I want the same normal comforts I have at home but be taken care of like I'm special. Eating out and having someone pick up after me is a luxury, so do that really really well.

alarm clock that works in the dark
I want to see the alarm clock. Oh, and yes especially when the room is dark. I'm impressed if the clock is sleek, artsy, and black. I'm unimpressed if I can't see it when I need to. If I want to know what time it is when I'm up and around I'll look at my watch or my phone. I don't want to search for my watch or phone in the dark. I want to see the glow-in-the-dark-big-huge-glowing-digital-clock.

attentive staff
I want better service. Pick up the phone at the front desk after no more than three rings. Have a concierge service that knows about local restaurants and which ones are good.

Do this better than everyone else and I may stay at your hotel (so will many many others). And if you have technology better than mine bonus for me. But the next time I stay most likely my technology will be better than yours.

The hotel-room-of-the-future project may disagree with me, but I'm betting my home technology will better in 2010.

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thanks to Lodging Hospitality for a great event

Lodging Hospitality and Penton Media put on a great conference for hotels and technologists yesterday and today at Hilton Anatole in Dallas. I've been to quite a few conferences and shows and the discussion topics and guest speakers for this show were top notch. Unfortunately it was not very well attended. This offered for a very personal interaction with everyone but also meant some great conversations and ideas got shared with a very small group of people.

It was great for me personally since my company is newer as I got to chat with some of the bigger names in HT consulting like Jon Inge and John Burns, both hall-of-famers (yes there is a hall of fame for hospitality technology).

Thank you LH and Penton Media for a wonderful conference! If you planned on attending this year and did not you definitely missed out. But there is always next year!

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a room full of stangers

I'm currently in Dallas at the Hospitality Operations & Technology (HOT) Conference and will be speaking tomorrow on Business Intelligence. Tonight we had the welcome reception and I knew no one...literally I had never met a single person in the room. I know they say more people are afraid of public speaking than being burned alive (or something crazy like that).

I however have no problem standing in front of a bunch of people (friends or strangers) and talking about almost anything and could probably go on for hours (I can tend to be long winded at times). I think it is great fun. But being in a room full of people I don't know and starting up a conversation is roughly equivalent to being stabbed in eyes with red-hot pokers. I have flash backs of being at the jr. high dance with that deathly fear of being rejected, but knowing I had to ask in order to dance (which is a whole other story for another post). Why is that?!I know it is part of being a consultant. You have to network. So here is a question to my small group of readers and smaller group of commenters.

"What is the best way to start an interesting conversation in professional a trade conference?"

Oh, and "So what do you do?" cannot be an answer. I'm looking for something more interesting and original.

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i will be speaking at the "HOT Conference"

This week (March 14th and 15th) I will be speaking as a panelist on Business Intelligence at the Hospitality Operations and Technology (HOT) Conference in Dallas, TX. I was thrilled when Jon Inge asked if I would be willing to participate (like shock and awe thrilled) and am looking forward to the event. I have never attended the HOT show but I hear it is always a wonderful event!
If by a very random chance you read this blog and will be there make sure to flag me down and say hello. I would love to meet you!

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apathy = a problem technology cannot solve

I am a big believer that technology can solve many business and operational problems. There is POS for tracking product mix, streamlining order flow, and revenue reporting; Inventory Management for getting accurate food costs, purchasing cycles, and inventory control; Reservations for managing guest reservations, table turn, and wait times; and a slew of other systems depending on the venue. But for hospitality venues there is a problem that technology solutions cannot solve - mainly apathy or the trait of "learned helplessness."

Last night my family and some friends went out to dinner at El Paseo restaurant in Santa Barbara. We were doing an early dinner (we had two toddlers in tow) and were glad to see the restaurant was not too busy. We really like El Paseo because of the atmosphere (retractable roof) and good food (our opinion). We LOVE the table-side made guacamole and fresh made warm tortillas, and they usually have a pretty solid margarita. We go enough we know what is good and what is not, so we stick to what is good (like the fajitas). Also an important point is I go there because they are a former customer and I am a firm believer in supporting your customers.

But our experience last night ranks in my top 5 worst at any hospitality venue. I point the cause to apathy on the part of the manager and service staff. I will set the stage as it was immediately apparent El Paseo was understaffed for the night. We were all sensitive to this as my wife and friend both waited tables for years and I have spent hours on end helping restaurant staff work through system technology issues (I bused tables in a suit once at a customer site because that was where I could help ensure the guest's experience stayed positive).
From the moment we walked in the door at El Paseo we were an annoyance versus a guest. I had to find someone to seat us, and once we were seated had to flag down the manager after 15 minutes. We asked the manager if he could bring us water and napkins (napkins came half way through the meal...recall we had two toddlers with us) and requested a waiter to come over. He declined to get us water and replied, "I will find someone to get your drink order." No apology for the wait or a comment that things might be a little slow.

When our waiter arrived (visibly annoyed we had him summoned) we ordered our drinks, our food (with a one special request), and asked for silverware and napkins. We got three deep sighs and at least four eye rolls. We had been given a kids menu and ordered two kids meals with a lemonade. When our drinks arrived the waiter set a foot-tall-cone-shaped-three-pound-bar-glass filled to top with lemonade in front of our friends 2 year old (no exaggeration!) We asked for kids cup to which he responded they have none (kids menu, kids meals, no kids cup?). We asked if they had a smaller cup, and he came back to the table with a plastic Budweiser cup and no lid (a Bud cup for
a toddler?).

We arrived at the restaurant before 6:00 pm and received our food at about 7:00 pm. In that one hour we saw our server once to place our order and once to receive our drinks. We called the manager over twice to ask for more water and napkins, and never once got an apology or a comment on better service. I helped implement El Paseo's technology solutions so I know their systems cannot be to blame for what we experienced last night. I also know the ownership group and have eaten at their other restaurants in Santa Barbara, so I do not believe it is part of the ownership group. Our experience last night was 100% caused by apathetic management and wait staff. But our experience could have been 100% different with the same staff and same poor service. Here's how...

roll out the welcome mat
Greet your customer with a smile and welcome them to your venue. Even if the service is going to be below standard you should still make your customer want to be there.

when required set a low expectation
When as a manager or server you know you cannot deliver the best service, be up front with customers and set that expectation. Offer that you will check in as often as possible, but that service may be slower than normal. That way if it is slow the guest expected it, but if it is not you over achieved. Most customers will be accepting of this.

Image credit to Julianfoto
cater to your customer
If you offer a separate kids menu families will come to your restaurant. Parents expect kid cups to be available if you have a kids menu. Not having kids cups is saying you don't want kids in the restaurant.

apologize when you know you should
You know when you need to apologize for crummy service, even when it's not your fault. An apology can go a long long way. Everybody has bad days at the office. Apologizing when you flat out do not deliver means you care enough to want to deliver.

If only I could invent a technology solution that solved the apathetic employee problem...

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

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posting a bit late

If you are wondering where the normal Thursday post is, I am enjoying
some snow and sun in Mammoth.

I'll get two posts up next week to make up for it. Thanks for reading.

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they finally fixed the bug

As with all software companies there are bugs, or "undocumented features" to my fellow product management type in the software world. For a long time I had put up with a "stretch layout" bug in blogger that made my custom header shrink to the standard 640px wide size. But as you can see by looking at my new header, as of this week blogger must have fixed it. HOORAY!

Thanks blogger for finally taking care of this!

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"perfectionists are loser" by pamela slim

Here is a great post by Pamela Slim on not being perfect. If you are thinking about starting your own company you should be reading her blog.

After talking with a couple different friends who had made the leap I came to the realization that you have to build a company to have a company. And to have a company you have to start somewhere. kevin sturm Consulting is in no way ultra successful, but I enjoy my work now more than ever and have more time to spend with Chrystal and Brody.

There are tons and tons of things I need to do to make the company better, but if it would never have been if the goal was for it to be perfect.

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grab your integrity and hold on tight!

Picture courtesy of Ian David

After quitting my job and starting my own company I thought it was time to look into a financial adviser. It was not that my company was ultra successful so I needed somewhere to put the money (far far from it), it just seemed that someone who new more about how to grow wealth than me was needed. I have almost no interest...okay, no day trading or monitoring the stock market to plan my next stock purchase. But there are people who love it and make a living at it...oh the beauty of capitalism. So why not pay them?

One seemingly opportunistic day while working at Starbucks I struck up a conversation with a really nice person that ended up being someone that could possibly help me with this. Chrystal and I met with them a few times and discussed our financial goals. We reviewed how we should roll over our 401K, what our risk acceptance and aversion was, and all the options of where our money could go. After three meetings we were heading towards investment in a VUL and rolling our 401K into a traditional IRA.

We put our trust in this person and I liked him. I felt we had a bond in being young entrepreneurs, expecting parents, and Christians. In our last meeting to sign papers I was advised to answer a question on the application untruthfully. I questioned the advice and said I would prefer to answer the question truthfully. But I left the meeting feeling very unsettled. In order to not make a short story boring, I'll get the point that today I let the person know we would not be investing our money with him or his company.

The point of this post is this.

Never ever ever do anything that brings your integrity, honesty, or character into question with your customer.

I believe the person we met with is honest, has a high character, and values integrity. But this one thing made me call into question the advice we were being given. And since we were talking about our financial future, I was not willing to take even a small risk.

From a letter I received from the person we met with this was a learning experience for both of us. I took five points from this experience.
  1. When deciding on who you are going to work with to invest money, I think it is best to talk with the actual person that is going to be investing your money. Seems somewhat like common sense now. ;-)
  2. Before you meet with someone about your finances, do your own research on what you think the best options may be. Have a basic understanding of options so you can talk the talk.
  3. Find out exactly how fees are paid and who is paid. Ask for a detailed example of if you invest X, and have a return of Y, what will be paid by you in Z. This will most likely be a hard question to get answers to. It is worth it.
  4. Entering a partnership like this is a bit like getting married. The first meeting is informal and soon you are talking about long term plans. There is a cost to get in and a larger cost with penalties to get out. And more important, even a small amount of perceived dishonesty can ruin the entire relationship.
  5. Last but most important was the confirmation that the most important thing you can be to your customer is honest, always!

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