Outsourcing some front-desk operations can be a major cost-saver for a hotel, and potentially better serve guests, too.
Long before COVID-19 shattered normal hotel operations, every prudent senior manager already knew that technology and outsourcing could both be deployed to cut costs. But why were we so often resistant when it came to implementation?
The current thrust of the industry is focused on enabling remote work conditions and maintaining each department with a far leaner team than before the pandemic. But, from the perspective of front-desk operations, there is a profound way to save on expenses that hoteliers may be overlooking.
I don’t mean to besmirch any manager in this mission-critical department, but roadblocks often stem from individual ego and a defensive need for control.
Of course, the psychology behind this requires thorough examination so we can see how our own best interests may be getting in the way of a property’s overall success.
First, however, let’s focus on the proposed cut-costing solution itself—farming out the reservation team to a call center that specializes in the hotel industry.
Working as an asset manager through the early stages of this tumultuous shutdown, one of the main concerns brought up by our front office manager was the ongoing need for associates to cover the phone lines in case guests called to inquire about the reopening or to move an existing reservation.
But maintaining those wages with zero revenue on the books simply didn’t fit with the primary objective of stopping the bleeding in order to prevent the hotel itself going heavily into arrears. Hence, we had a conflict of interests between front office and finance. A hotel call center offered an amiable compromise because of its pure commission-based compensation model.
We received 24-hour coverage for our voice channel and only reimbursed the provider whenever a booking was completed. On top of that, all calls were recorded for quality assurance and the agents had access to our CRS, so no guest data was lost.
Another problem addressed was mitigating abandoned calls. The implementation of a rolling switchboard meant guests could reach a live agent within a couple rings.
The front office’s perspective
Despite the clear advantages, the pushback from our front office manager always fell back to how outsourced reservationists would never know the property as intrinsically as a homegrown team. Even after showing us concurrent success stories, as well as assurances that the call center agents would undergo extensive training and be capable of upselling, this became a die-on-a-sword type of situation.
There had to be more to it, with the resistance guided principally by underlying emotions manifested in logical concerns that were rationalized to justify not changing to this new system.
Putting myself in the front office manager’s shoes, I saw that it boiled down to a fear over a lack of career advancement. Many in this position are groomed to become general managers, in part because the number of people under their direct control teaches good delegation and personal relationship skills. Ergo, having fewer team members implies a loss of power within the organizational structure, potentially threatening their chances for a raise or promotion.
Knowing this core reason, I resolved the manager’s opposition by guaranteeing they would be the key point of contact between the hotel and the outsourced intake team. This manager would still be responsible for all reservations and would be instrumental to our success in handling the surge of new booking inquiries once travel resumed.
Where we’re headed
Guests don’t care where a reservationist is located as long as this agent is able to politely answer questions and finish the transaction in a timely manner. Your owners probably feel the same way, especially if there’s an apples-to-apples cost savings that arises from switching to a hotel call center.
Now, COVID-19 offers two additional benefits for outsourcing. First, it’s safer because fewer onsite employees means less potential for viral spread. Second, the compensation structure means there are no staffing hiccups during a ramp up or any forecasted “second wave,” which may bring us all back into a lockdown situation once again.
In this sense, it is best to view the pandemic as a grand reset button for your hotel operations with which any new process should be given your due consideration. As it relates to the front office, once you assuage the egos of your managers, you will see there are seldom reasons not to implement such outsourcing ventures that can drastically cut costs to help you prosper in the new normal.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.