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Should Hospitality Providers Replace Front Desk Staff with Mobile Solutions?

There’s been plenty of news about the hospitality sector embracing new innovations in the area of mobile solutions.  From the development of new mobile applications for guests to manage their experience to providing iPads in every guest room, this new horizon will play a major role in allowing hoteliers to offer enhanced services.

One area of advanced mobile solutions recently caught my attention: niche hotels actually replacing their front desk staff with mobile and communications solutions that allow guests to pay in advance, as well as receive correspondence with the security codes to access their rooms.

While this seems like an innovative and cost-saving idea, the reality is that mobile solutions should be used to augment current service offerings.  I don’t believe that larger hoteliers should or ever will fully abandon having staff at the front desk because a guest’s need needs must continually be met and human interaction must always to be an option for a hotelier to assist with unforeseen challenges.  In some cases, a hand-held device could never replace the convenience and personal touch of highly trained front desk staff.

In the past, we have seen similar situations where organizations have tried to supplant people with technology, only to learn the lesson that they instead should have supplemented them.  Some examples that come to mind are automated phone attendants and websites, where some organizations believed they could cut off communication with their customers only to find that they wanted the option of both means to improve their interaction and experience.  The use of mobile technology by hospitality providers will be no different: there will be times when guests will want to do things on their own via the technology and other times when they want to interact with someone.  What hoteliers need to provide is guest-friendly technology that guests want, as well as staff available to assist.

The use of mobile technology to manage a guest’s experience holds great promise, but it brings with it some potential challenges.  For example, does this new frictionless check-in method help these niche hoteliers retain guests?  Without having any measurable goals – or even testing this concept out in one or two properties in advance of a full-scale roll out – hospitality providers can actually run the risk of driving these guests away.  They will need to tread cautiously to ensure they strike the right balance between technology and human interaction that their guests ultimately desire.

The concept of service is the driving differentiator for any hospitality provider.  Many of the largest hoteliers can trace back their overall business success to providing the best services on the market.  And, in today’s competitive landscape, hospitality providers cannot risk losing guests due to service issues.  Information technology should be used to improve the guest experience and the reality is that it will always supplement, and not supplant, the people that ultimately provide service to guests.

Using Data Analytics to Win and Keep Hospitality Guests

We are living in an era where ‘big data’ is driving key decisions and programs for multiple business sectors and even the federal government.  Thanks to new innovations for managing large volumes of data, as well as advances in algorithms and analytics, we are able to gain a complete snapshot of customers and end users.

The hospitality sector is also leading this new analytical approach for differentiating their guest offerings by mining into a deep well of data. Gary Loveman, President, Chairman and CEO of Caesars Entertainment, recently gave the keynote address at HITEC 2012 and discussed how smart customer data analytics drives the success of Caesars’ Total Rewards guest loyalty program.

Loveman said that competing on price alone for online booking engines is a losing bet for hotels. To help Caesars differentiate itself from other hospitality companies, he launched the Total Rewards program in 1998 using data collected on guest behavior to determine the potential value that a guest could be worth to the company. Although it’s important to give great service to all guests, it’s even more important to determine the potential value each guest could be worth to the company.

For example, it might not make sense to spend more on incentives for a customer who visits a casino only once, versus one who comes back again and again. The data analysis methods used in Total Rewards, though, pick up on more subtle cues to determine which customer would make the better investment.

Once Caesars decides to lure a guest, the Total Rewards program is designed to make that task easier by offering rewards that are actually useful to that particular customer.

In addition, offering benefits right away makes Total Rewards more attractive to customers because they will actually see a benefit from signing up. Total Rewards also uses its collected data to tailor offers to individual high-value customers, increasing the chance that they will sign up.

Gary Loveman clearly understands that data analytics can give a full picture on hotel guests. Thanks to his vision, the Total Rewards program has already yielded benefits to Caesars. In fact, over the 2000-2011 period, revenue per available room increased 20 percent, and the company outperformed the competition with +25 percent regional market wins per unit and +28 percent local market wins per unit.

 

NetLink Resource Group Sponsors Adoptions Together Golf Tournament

At NetLink Resource Group, we are involved in a number of organizations for both professional and personal reasons. From one employee’s involvement in the Washington Master Chorale to our support of organizations like the Northern Virginia Tech Council, the Chesapeake Regional Tech Council and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, we are a very diverse group of individuals who believe in the value of community.

As such, I am excited to announce that we are part-sponsors for the “Swing Into Action for Kids Golf Tournament” fundraiser hosted by Adoptions Together. Adoptions Together is a non-profit organization that supports children and families formed through adoption, guardianship, foster care and kinship care. This is an amazing group of people that helps both adults and children realize the dream of having a stable and loving family environment.

Sponsoring this event carries special meaning for me because my wife and I adopted our two children through the domestic infant program at Adoptions Together. In addition, my oldest son is participating in the NetLink foursome at the tournament.

Whether you run a foundation or are an individual donor, I highly recommend you learn more about Adoptions Together and support this great organization that has had a tremendous impact on my life. Click here to learn more.

Posted by: Steve Short, President, NetLink Resource Group

NetLink’s Director of Business Development Named Chair of CRTC’S Ambassador Committee

NetLink Resource Group, Inc., a leading provider of custom web application solutions, today announced that Diann Turner, Director, Business Development, has been named Chair of the Chesapeake Regional Tech Council’s (CRTC) Ambassador Committee.

In this role, she will be helping the Ambassador Committee ensure that CRTC members are fully connected to the organization and are reaping the benefit of their membership. The CRTC Ambassador Committee’s mission is to enhance recruitment and retention of CRTC members, and provide opportunities for members to be fully connected with the organization and other members.

“Our region is full of many forward-thinking companies that are breaking the bounds of innovation and the CRTC serves as the hub for this vibrant business community,” said Turner. “ I am very excited about my new role in the CRTC and I look forward to helping advance the mission of this great organization.”

The CRTC Ambassador Committee is comprised of 13 executives from multiple business disciplines who meet monthly to develop programs for both growing membership and expanding opportunities for current members. The CRTC also recently announced the winners of its TechAwards 2012, which honored the region’s rising tech companies, outstanding innovators and regional tech leaders.

About Chesapeake Regional Tech Council

Founded in 1992, the Chesapeake Regional Tech Council (CRTC) energizes and propels the advancement of technologies with the exchange of ideas, expertise and business and partnership opportunities. The CRTC is a resource for visibility, connections, knowledge and education for technology companies in and around the Annapolis-Washington-Baltimore area, attracting new technology companies to the region and helping emerging technology companies grow and prosper in this increasingly dynamic environment. The CRTC is a non-profit membership organization supported by a grant from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (MD DBED) and a grant from the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation (AAEDC) and enabled by membership and annual sustaining sponsorship. More than 250 businesses from the Annapolis-Washington-Baltimore area are members of the council, including many of the area’s well-known leading technology companies. For more information go to http://www.chesapeaketech.org.

About NetLink Resource Group

At NetLink, we work with businesses to analyze opportunities, recommend technology strategies, and execute digital / mobile / web solutions that improve customer engagement, revenues, and operational efficiencies. We dissect complex business challenges, develop quick-to-market platforms that overcome them, and provide ongoing, professional support that allows you to focus on your business rather than managing multiple vendors. Our team delivers solutions that address hospitality, financial, workflow automation, and marketing needs. We serve a wide range of organizations, from SMBs to large companies in the private sector, as well as government and non-profits.

 

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HFTP Promotes Innovative IT Approaches for Enhancing Guest Experiences

 

Recently, the DC Chapter of Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals (HFTP) hosted a roundtable that highlighted new innovations in the area of guestroom technologies. Industry leaders gathered to share their perspectives on technology as it relates to the “guest” experience, as well as what leading edge hotels are doing to improve this experience.

Some of the emerging trends that were discussed included:

  • The ability to check-in to a room prior to arrival by using a smartphone, tablet or guest loyalty card
  • Interacting with guests via multiple channels including email, text, in person or an app
  • Knowing guest room preferences — including the temperature of the room, the number of towels, food and beverages, movies that were rented — and having the room ready upon arrival
  • Using a smartphone or tablet to control the TV

It is exciting to see the hospitality sector embracing new forms of customer service that will enhance profit during a time when leisure travel is down. It would seem that hotels could achieve a competitive advantage by implementing these types of solutions.

And, kudos to HFTP for promoting these innovative solutions. As the hospitality sector continues to embrace new innovations that enhance customer loyalty, we will continue to shine a light on hoteliers that are moving the needle when it comes to implementing IT solutions that provide true business value.

 

Posted by: Diann Turner, Director, Business Development, NetLink Resource Group

AH&LA Legislative Action Summit Brings Value of Customer Service to Light

This year, I had the privilege of attending the AH&LA’s Legislative Action Summit (LAS), which brought together key leadership from the lodging sector to make the industry’s voice heard on Capitol Hill.

Some of the major issues tackled at the LAS were the ability to foster growth and job creation in the lodging arena, the need to have online travel companies pay their fair share of taxes from online bookings, as well as removing burdensome visa processes that keep international travelers from coming to the U.S.

These are all serious issues that have major implications on the growth of the lodging sector. It was incredibly enlightening to be in the same room as the brightest legislative affairs executives who play a major role in providing an environment for true business growth for the hospitality industry.

Not only is the hospitality industry tied to the economic growth of the nation, it is also the mainstay of many local communities around the country. By easing some restrictions for travelers coming into the country, the hospitality industry has the potential to add 1.3 million jobs in 2012.

I did have one major epiphany during the LAS, and ironically, it did not come from participating in the sessions and networking events. Each night, when I went back to my hotel (JW Marriott), I was greeted with an unprecedented level of customer service. And, when I was leaving — and had to keep my bags with the bellman because of an 8 a.m. check out – I had five Marriot employees taking care of me. From loading my luggage into my 11-year-old SUV and beyond, it was a prime example of how the lodging industry needs to continue focusing on one thing: making the guests happy.

Clearly, attending the LAS was an illuminating experience for me, but I was really reminded that customer service is the cornerstone of business success by the JW Marriott employees themselves. When that belief trickles down to all staff positions, hoteliers can’t help but attract and retain more guests!

 

Posted by: Diann Turner, Director, Business Development, NetLink Resource Group

 

NetLink Proud to Sponsor CRTC’s TechAwards 2012

As we have highlighted before, we see tremendous value in taking advantage of pretty much every business-networking event in the region. For NetLink Resource Group, this extends beyond just showing up at the events. We actually show our support by sponsoring numerous events and awards programs, including the Chesapeake Regional Tech Council’s (CRTC) TechAwards 2012.

The CRTC’s TechAwards 2012 will showcase the region’s rising technology companies, innovators and leaders. The CRTC received nearly 40 submissions in five categories from a variety of accomplished technology businesses throughout the Annapolis-Washington-Baltimore region that demonstrated impressive growth, innovation and community service. And, this year’s finalists are clearly some of the true movers-and-shakers and up-and-comers in our region.

Be sure to mark you calendars for the CRTC “Meet the Finalists” InfoMixer, as well as the main event: the actual award ceremony.

See you all then and congratulations to all the CRTC TechAwards finalists!

Posted by: Diann Turner, Director, Business Development, NetLink Resource Group

Greatness Verified: A/B Testing Provides True Validation

The idea of greatness is purely subjective. When it comes to developing an online property that generates revenue, businesses can never really know if their efforts will produce greatness unless they undertake A/B testing.

A/B testing is simply comparing two versions of a landing page and seeing which version was more effective in attracting/retaining key traffic and ultimately leading to sales conversions. Clearly the highest performing version should be the one developed, launched and further tested.

Part of the challenge is that A/B testing often takes a backseat to more buzz-worthy marketing efforts like SEO, web analytics and usability. While not diminishing the power of SEO and analytics, A/B testing should be as much of a priority for sales and marketing as it validates the effectiveness of any new online effort prior to launch.

So, what should be tested? A/B testing extends well beyond just the aesthetics of a site. Of course each testing situation is unique, but core elements that should be covered include the ability to capture sales leads and generate revenue, the site’s call to action, headline/products descriptions, promotional offers, product pricing and much more.

As many companies and organizations invest a tremendous amount of money in their web sites, there needs to be methods for ensuring the best return-on-investment (ROI), beyond validating and tracking analytics.

A/B testing actually improves ROI and allows for the development of incremental improvements, which is critical in building a successful web property. This is an ongoing process that allows for the refining of all efforts and provides sales and marketing executives with the knowledge needed to gauge success.

Most businesses simply need to attract customers online and entice them to make a sale. Though businesses will never actually know if they have missed opportunities to capture sales leads unless they have actually tested and validated their web properties. Other wise, you are just taking shots in the dark.

Stay tuned for more posts about A/B testing on the NetLink blog. As we believe in the power of building out IT solutions that only provide true business value, the concept of A/B testing is very important. We intend to dive much further into this vital topic in the coming weeks and months.

Posted by: Myles Henderson, Developer at NetLink Resource Group

NetLink Supports “Telework Week” Again in 2012

Productivity is paramount to the success of any business. For many area workers, a big part of the day is often spent commuting to and from work –causing a drain on productivity and even sapping their creativity.

On top of this, having so many cars on the Beltway is causing undue stress on the environment. This is why NetLink Resource Group is an avid participant in Telework Week, hosted by the Telework Exchange.

Telework Week is a national effort to get companies and organizations to telework during the week of March 5th. Since we are already a distributed organization with many working from home, we decided to do the online savings and environmental calculations provided by Telework Exchange, and here’s what we found:

During Telework Week, NetLink employees will save:

  • $1,030.95 – Total amount saved
  • 1,370 – Number of pounds of pollutants saved
  • 0.653 – Number of tons of pollutants saved

And, since our employees telework essentially all the time, each year we collectively save:

  • $51,547.50 – Total amount saved
  • 68,513 – Number of pounds of pollutants saved
  • 32.625 – Number of tons of pollutants saved

Saving money and helping the environment is certainly laudable. But, let’s not forget about how teleworking will aid in employee wellbeing and productivity. Along those lines, we did a blog post last year about technology being the true enabler for distributed organizations to be truly productive – no matter where employees, clients and partners are located.

With the Washington DC region often being ranked #1 for worst traffic, it is time for local companies to consider a new, more progressive way of doing business. We need to re-think the whole “clocking in” for work at a centralized office and focus on giving employees the flexibility they need to get things done.

Kudos to the Telework Exchange for all if its great efforts. We urge all businesses to embrace teleworking. It could only lead to happier and more productive employees, which will enhance the bottom-line.

Fort Meade Alliance Chooses NetLink to Participate in Business Mentor Program

We are excited to announce that Fort Meade Alliance’s Meade Business Connect (MBC) has selected NetLink Resource Group to be a part of its MBC Mentorship Program, which will help us expand business opportunities in the unique Fort Meade government-contracting environment.

The 12-session mentorship program with experienced executives will broaden our footprint in the defense contracting sector in the region. We will also present our capabilities to experienced contractors, as well as enjoy the benefit of networking opportunities and events, business forums and capability matching sessions.

Thirteen other companies were chosen to participate, which include: Alpha Omega Technologies, Inc., AttivaSoft, LLC, Bluemont Technology & Research, Inc., Columbia Technology Partners, Inc., Computer Essentials Quick, Inc., Delta Resources, Inc., Envision Innovative Solutions, Inc., ITIC Corporation, Jovian Concepts, Inc., Miller, Moll and Associates, PathSensors, Inc., System & Software Designers, Inc., and The Nasir Group, Inc.

It goes without saying that we are very excited about this opportunity. The Fort Meade Alliance is a catalyst for business opportunities in the region and this further expands NetLink as a key provider of IT solutions to the defense sector.

We would like to thank the Fort Meade Business Alliance for choosing us!

 

 

Posted by: Diann Turner, Director, Business Development, NetLink Resource Group