Thursday, September 26, 2013

Rethinking Hotel Lost and Found

Today I'm pleased to present another guest post from Sarah Simon.

Background
Earlier this year, over the course of two weeks and two business trips, I managed to leave nearly identical articles behind in two different hotel rooms on opposite coasts.  The realization that you’ve left something behind on a trip comes slowly; days later, you wonder “Where is my sweater?  What happened to that pair of jeans?” A mental inventory quickly revealed that I had left a pair of jeans and a sweater in Miami, and done exactly the same in Oakland.

The Customer Experience student in me promptly recognized the opportunity to compare the “article recovery” process of each hotel.  Sadly, my experiences were both depressingly negative.  First, I called each front desk and was promised – with little confidence – that the head of housekeeping should be in touch with me.  It took at least one follow-up call from me to actually reach that housekeeping team lead. In each case, this individual had rather poor professional communication skills and limited English proficiency.  (Note: As a sometimes struggling student of Spanish, I sympathize with those learning an additional language.)  I had to repeat the description of my belongings several times to multiple staff members (which was a bit embarrassing as I had in one instance left behind intimate underthings along with my jeans and sweater).  I also had to repeat my name, date of stay, and room number over and over.  Both hotels required me to recite my credit card information to the head of housekeeping in order to pay for shipping.  I found it a bit odd to have housekeeping staff handling financial information and would have felt more comfortable with the front desk assisting with this matter.

Within a week or so, both packages arrived containing all expected contents.  I was strangely – thankfully – relieved that my forgotten clothing had found its way home.  Looking at these twin experiences through customer service eyes, however, I was determined to think of a way to improve this process.

What Could Be Improved?
For the sake of discussion, let’s assume a hotel that is part of a large chain frequented by business travelers (e.g., Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott).  I envision the process unfolding like this:
  • Guest checks out of room.
  • Housekeeping enters room and discovers left-behind articles.
  • Housekeeping staff uses handheld device used to track room status to indicate found articles.  A form enables this staff member to document the number and type of articles, including a brief description.  
  • All of this “lost item” information is instantly linked to the guest room and guest account.  In this case, the guest is a member of the frequent traveler program with a credit card linked to her account.
  • An email is automatically generated to the address on file notifying the guest that a lost article was uncovered in her room*.  A follow-up telephone call may be placed within 5 business days if the guest does not reply.
  • When the guest claims the items and expresses a desire to have the items shipped to her residence (or other address of her choice), she is presented the option to have the card on file in her frequent guest account charged.  This step can be executed electronically or over the phone, per customer preference.
  • A shipping label is generated, and the items are retrieved from storage, packaged and sent to the guest’s address.
*One caveat is that this program would require guest opt-in to protect privacy.

Benefits
A program like this is truly win-win and would benefit the customer, the business, and the employees.

Guest
  • Feels cared for by hotel
  • Rewarded for loyalty by value-added service
  • Easy retrieval of goods
Hotel
  • Less stuff sitting around unclaimed in storage
  • Positive reflections upon brand (looking out for customers’ best interests, easy to do business with)
  • Improved process efficiency
Staff
  • Fewer distractions
  • Able to focus on core competencies
  • Less frustration

My Challenge
In the spirit of Stan PhelpsWhat’s Your Purple Goldfish, I challenge a major hotel chain to make this lost item recovery their lagniappe for their frequent travelers.

Sarah Simon is a career insights professional with 16 years of experience in the feedback industry. Specialties include VoC architecture, journey mapping, developing linkages to business performance, reduction of customer defection, results analysis and communication, with expert survey design skills.  She is the survivor of a botched early-generation "big data mining" operation and is happy to live to tell about it. 

9 comments:

  1. I have left behind countless things behind in hotel rooms. Recently, I checked out of the Renaissance in Downtown Phoenix (where I am/was a regular guest due to a work project). When I realized on the plane that I was missing my Kindle, I called the front desk, the front desk clerk forwarded me to Security, who then took down the item information, confirmed the details the hotel already had from my folio and from my Marriott Rewards account, and promised a call back.

    By the time I landed in Seattle two hours later, I had a voicemail from the same security guy letting me know he had worked with Housekeeping to locate the item and that it would be sent - at no charge to me - to the address I confirmed via overnight shipping. He then provided the tracking number, let me know he would provide the same details by email, wished me safe travels and said he hoped to see me at the hotel again soon.

    It was an incredibly painless process. Beyond confirming details for security purposes, I did not need to repeat myself, nor did I need to keep track of the hotel's lost and found process and various points of contact along the way. It's great customer experiences like these that make me an even more loyal member to that specific hotel and to the chain.

    -Rachel

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    1. Rachel,

      Kudos to Marriott for their seamless, professional handling of your lost Kindle in Phoenix. I agree THIS would have made a very positive impression on me as a loyal guest.

      Regards,
      Sarah

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  2. Hotels never return items proactively. For reasons that should be more or less obvious--it's a business that sells beds and privacy.

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    1. Hence the reason I included this statement: *One caveat is that this program would require guest opt-in to protect privacy.

      Thanks for reading!
      Sarah

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  3. Unfortunately everything might be different with some training and knowledge. We do have in my hotel a system where we log everythiung left by the guest. We are located inb the Caribbean so most of the guest are not willing to assume the shipment charge and we cannot afford it. Shipping a paper from Jamaica to New York is 80$ which is exactly the rate per person that one american tour operator is paying us??? Imagine the shipment charge for a jeans and a sweater!!!

    However everything unless claimed, is kept for 3 months and than in case of clothing and shoes, cosmetics, shampoo and creams it is then donated to orphanage and home for abused women. Electronic appliances such as cameras , cell phone are given to the employee that retrieved the article after the 3 months period. Other things are mostly un-useable and therefore thrown away.

    Cheers

    Alain

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    1. Thank you for the perspective from the Caribbean. I am pleased to hear that clothing/shoes, toiletries, etc., left behind at your hotel are donated to a women's shelter.

      It seems your policy for distribution of electronics (cameras, cell phones, etc) is a good one, as well, as it supports/encourages honesty among the employees who find these items.

      Great feedback! Thanks!

      Sarah

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  4. Fast-forward a few years since this post was created and now there are several web-based systems available to handle guest lost and found at a hotel. At SOVA Systems we've incorporated many of the same concepts you mention Sarah. Guests seem to enjoy it. Other systems like Chargerback and ileftmystuff offer similar services.

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    1. I love this. Greatest source of innovation... customer problems and painpoints. Excellent outcome of listening to customers.

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