Contributed by Ian Kemp, Director of Client Success, SHR
Most hoteliers already know that fully-functioning distribution channels are must-haves, and that means a strong relationship between the two main technical hubs for your hotel; your PMS and CRS. One topic that hasn’t been discussed very often, though, is how realizing the power of these two core systems relies on a superior level of service and support from your system providers. So, how do you make sure that you experience the best your providers have to offer in systems and service?
In a recent webinar, we joined forces with StayNTouch and their Director of Client Success and Support, Chelsea Madden, to map out how you can truly have it all; fully-functioning distribution channels, seamless integration, plus a reliable level of service and support. The key? Setting expectations and holding providers accountable throughout the entire product life-cycle.
Systems—What Are Your Interfaces Saying to Each Other?
Interestingly, though the majority of our polled audience considered their systems well-integrated, there was still a surprising number who did not feel their systems were integrated at all. To remedy this, first you need to have a firm grip on exactly where and what products are being sold and how.
For example, once a guest makes a reservation, does everything the channel or booking engine collects get passed on to your hotel? Some interfaces are very robust, and some are not and need more manual service and support. Regardless of what system you have, reservations must always take precedence for the PMS/CRS relationship to flourish. “We need each other for everything to work out,” said Chelsea. “Without smooth communications, you’re going to miss out on opportunities to raise your ADR as well as fully-loading and staffing your hotel.” This is why it’s important to regularly look at booking channels through your guests’ eyes, putting yourself in their place to see what they see. Audit your internal systems quarterly to ensure you’re selling as intended, adjusting as necessary. Remember, though your CRS may be your main source of inventory and rates that get pushed out into the world, the two-way integration between your PMS and CRS is still key. I also think it’s important to make sure that your providers give you a spec guide so you know what they expect their system to be able to do for you.
Service—Setting Provider Expectations
Only 10% of our polled audience reported that they felt their service and support levels from their current providers were “well-defined.” Understanding what to expect in the beginning can help bring that number up. What will you have access to? An up-to-date knowledge base with a hub of articles, release notes, and how-to videos can prove invaluable to your integration success. Training and product resource libraries are two of the more common items to expect from any PMS or CRS provider today, but don’t assume. Ask about regular product training webinars including Q&A sessions. And of course, make sure that you have a designated Customer Success Manager (CSM). As Chelsea put it, there can be a lot of cats to corral between your PMS and CRS systems, so this person is crucial as they will be able to fill multiple roles and expectations for you. These include being:
Your Advocate going to bat for you to ensure that that any challenges or bumps in the road are addressed appropriately and quickly. Your Proactive Partner actively engaged in outreach to ensure that changes to the product, roadmap, or organization are effectively communicated to you and your staff. Your Problem Solver addressing issues head-on, taking ownership of the PMS/CRS relationship to ensure your success. Your Resource committed to making your day-to-day job easier and more efficient, passing along best practices, tips, and industry news and trends.
“Great service and support should teach you how to fish, getting you beyond just ‘how,’ and onto planning great strategies and results,” Chelsea explained. So, what are reasonable expectations for specific CSM tasks? Ideally, you want a provider who will respond within the business day to your inquiries. It’s also helpful to schedule weekly or bi-weekly calls with your CSM, as well as setting up quarterly business reviews. Do you have special software ideas or requests? Your CSM should be your point person for submitting enhancement requests to the product team. Also, you may want to prioritize any development-related activities with your CSM that require a monthly release so that you can be updated on the status of custom projects.
Support—Defining Technical Excellence
First of all, your Service Level Agreements (SLAs) should vary for different activities. This is really important so each activity gets the right amount of attention. Also, research of any “unintended functionalities” or things not working as expected that need to be opened with development, plus mapping for GDS, OTAs, and your PMS are must-have functions. Support may also be offered by providers through several channels (online forum, telephone, and live chat for example) to help make sure your bases are covered, along with possible 24/7 tech support availability.
But you need to make your needs known. “To do this, you need tech support that is empathetic, patient, and understanding,” Chelsea reminded us, and I strongly agree. (Chelsea shared a detailed story of an actual client request and how it was smoothly resolved, so make sure to listen for that in the webinar recording, as well as some great live questions from our audience.)
The bottom line? Rather than expecting your provider to simply give you what you need, you need to take the lead by asking the right questions. Figure out what are truly non-negotiable categories for your PMS/CRS interfaces, service and support, and what are simply nice-to-haves. By taking the initiative early on, you’re almost guaranteed to enjoy a more transparent and successful relationship, yielding more bookings, happier guests, and better branding for your hotel business.
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