Previously relegated to the status of a general "look and feel" presentation consideration, the art/science of User Experience (UX) is quickly migrating from the province of the design engineers to the Executive Suite.
From initial marketing to post purchase support services, the UX is the key consideration. This article from HBR summarizes the state of UX nicely.
Instructive Story #206
Hotel's voice and broadband network services contract is coming up for renewal. Hotel prudently inquires as to whether or not a renewal discount is available for a renewed term commitment. Hotel is informed that current rates are at rock bottom and no discount or rate reduction is possible. "As a matter of fact", the hotel is told, carrier expects rates to go up in the near future so the carrier advises the hotel "sign the renewal right away to lock in the favorable rates".
Hotel obtains a competitive bid for like services from a competitive provider and indicates to the incumbent carrier that a competitive offer is on the table and under consideration.
Incumbent carrier is suddenly able to offer a 13% discount based upon a renewal.
Starbucks: Management Beats Innovation
A couple of months back Fast Company published their annual 50 most Innovative Companies listing. We tend to be suckers for articles about innovation and design because, well, as far as business writing goes innovation and design make for better reading than plain old blocking and tackling associated with “management”. But ever since reading Howard Shultz’s "Onward" we've had the nagging feeling that the managers at Starbuck’s were unfairly playing second banana to the innovators when in fact it was the managers doing the heavy lifting responsible for an impressive revival.
Despite its intentions, the Fast Company article bears us out.
Here are the two critical pieces of the article.
Much of Starbucks’s financial rebound (in 2011, $1.7 billion in income on $11.7 billion in revenue) actually results from domestic cost-cutting--closing underperforming branches and wrenching savings from improvements in efficiency and supply-chain distribution. At the same time, the company has been steadily expanding around the globe, especially in China.
Meanwhile, much of Starbucks’s reputational rebound is the result of Schultz and his company’s efforts to renew a culture of entrepreneurialism and innovation that had fallen by the wayside during a mad rush for growth a few years back. Some of these efforts have taken the form of new products--Blonde lighter roast, or Via instant coffee, which in 2011 reached annual sales of $250 million. Others take the form of community involvement, such as Starbucks’s Jobs for U.S.A. program, a recent endeavor to use wristbands as a way of raising funds for job-creation initiatives in economically hard-hit communities. "I’ve always said there’s not a silver bullet or one single thing that creates a solution," Schultz tells me during a candid conversation one afternoon in his Seattle office.
Well, when it comes to the part about the "reputaitional rebound", we beg to differ.
We would say that the reputational rebound was very much a function of the financial turnaround which was achieved from the fruits of its day to day management. No offense to the Innovators but it’s time to give the managers a little love.
Quick Hit Follow Up(converged Voice Platforms Can Challenge Hotel Call Accounting Systems)
Following up our last post regarding hotel call accounting systems struggling to accommodate call detail records (cdr) from converged Voice and IP platforms such as Cisco and the Mitel 3300....our crack account management team tells me we need to expand our warning.
The potential for problems are not only when these systems are first implemented (as we first pointed out) but also anytime programming changes are made related to call routing or reconfiguration of trunk (PRI, T-1, analog) facilities.
One of our US hotel clients changed out facilities which required a minor programming change at the PABX and as a relt of the change the call accounting system immediately began posting calls improperly causing lost revenue and unhappy guests.
Same advice applies. If you’re a Telemanager.net client. the only thing you need to do is notify us when changes are being made and we’ll let you know if there’s an issue and help you correct if necessary.
If you’re not a Telemanager.net client you can contact us for a test call matrix that will allow you to identify the problem.
Quick Hit Tip: Voice Management
Converged PABX Technology Sometimes Challenge Hotel Call Accounting Systems
1) Call Accounting system providers frequently struggle with converged IP or hybrid PABX technology.
2) With these systems ( such as Cisco Call Managers and Mitel 3300's) the CDR (call detail records) streams that they transmit to the call accounting system tend to be substantially more complicated than what call accounting systems have traditionally received.
Accordingly, when hotels migrate to these new platforms there is a comparatively high instance of improper call processing by the call accounting systems and lost revenues.
3) At cutover, hotels need to make their own test calls to verify proper record processing because improper set ups are often missed by the vendors.
Non-TeleManager clients: Contact us for a no cost test call instruction plan.
TeleManager Program Clients: Don’t worry about it. If there are problems TeleManager will automatically identify
Ready, Fire, Aim….. Remembering to ask that Fourth Question
Regardless of what school of management an enterprise follows, virtually any project or management initiative starts out with three core questions that need to be answered.
1. What are we planning to do?
2. What are the anticipated benefits (outcome)?
Guest satisfaction? ...ROI?...Labor reduction? ...Other
3. How will we do what we’re proposing to do?
Methodology... Timing... Costs-Investment
Ready, fire, aim? (The Fourth Question)
The trouble of course is that there is always one more core question that is too often overlooked or if not overlooked then inadequately emphasized:
4. “How are we going to manage this” once its implemented?
That question is a deep one in that it addresses the on-going value proposition:
• how will we measure performance and the satisfaction of objectives?
• what kind of performance intelligence can we create in a timely manner to ensure that we are capable of identifying and then correcting less than optimal performance of the initiative?
So..Rule # 1 is don't forget question # 4....
If I Were a General Manager.....#1
With the myriad of management issues that a GM needs to oversee and and control you would think that matters of voice, internet and technology management in general are best left to designated, specialized managers. However...paying attention to just a few fundamentals can ensure that you’re directing your managers toward good guest scores and financial optimization..
...Bandwidth is as good a starting point as any, so,
Know thy Bandwidth (!)…….With the unrelenting growth in bandwidth demand many hotels are finding themselves simultaneously in need of more capacity while faced with some long lead times. Major US carriers are often quoting 90 to 120 day lead times for Ethernet based circuits. That’s a long time to wait for a performance solution particularly in light of the impact that lousy internet has on guest service scores.
Get your IT Team to provide regular (monthly) reports that provide use and capacity data and trends. The key is to order more before the problem.
Invoice Cramming a Continuing Problem for US Hotels Too
As the Federal Communications Commission tries to figure out how to address the problem of consumer invoice "cramming" (better than 20 million American consumers bilked out of billions of dollars each year for Telco invoiced services never ordered or provided for that matter), US businesses in general and hotels in particular need to address the problem on their own.
Telemanager.net's own account management/auditing team provided "hard" information illustrating that are virtually no first time invoice audits performed by the team where some instance of the "unauthorized charges" or "cramming" problem isn't found.
Some of the most frequent cramming items tend to be invoice line items such as:
The rule of thumb is to challenge anything that isn’t clear. When you use consultants to perform invoice reviews, one of the primary things they should be doing for you is providing enough intelligence or support to eliminate these charges and or ensure the hotel knows exactly how to handle them.
What's Left Behind
There have been thousands or, by now, tens of thousands of tributes to Steve Jobs since his passing and we don't have much to add. Except for what we think we've learned.......
The vision built upon a near maniacal commitment to provide customers with something incredible is everything. Not stock price, not exit strategy, not company size, not the number of developers and not even cool technology.
It's true in the software business and it's true in any business. If you find a company honestly dedicated to providing customers with an incredible experience, you'll find a company worth doing business with.
In the video below, shortly after reassuming the reins at Apple, Mr. Jobs passionately declares his "customer experience above all" commitment as it relates to product decisions. (It's also a pretty good blueprint for how one should react when one is told that he or she doesn't know what he or she is talking about.)
Managing Your Outcomes and avoiding the Nonsense
Hotel needs more internet bandwidth, guests are complaining about slowness.
Hotel orders more bandwidth from their incumbent, world class carrier.
After two months, hotel is provided with a due date that will make the cutover, or in this case the solution to the business problem, about five months from the date the circuit was ordered.
Hotel (understandably) loses mind.
Carrier is bewildered at customer mind loss. “It’s an Ethernet circuit” they offer as explanation. “Why would you have assumed that you would get an earlier due date?”
When asked why the carrier did not communicate the potential for the five month solution up front, the world class carrier responds that they’re sure that they must have because their representatives are very good about letting the customer know that new circuit delivery, particularly Ethernet circuits, can take several months.
Carrier is asked for order acknowledgement documentation that says something like:
“We appreciate your order, you have ordered a type of facility that takes a minimum of four months to install, if that lead time is not satisfactory please let us know and we will discuss interim solutions with you.”
Carrier says. (Sigh) Actually I don’t even want to tell you what the carrier said, but it was nonsense and didn’t have anything to do with providing reasonable customer service communication, (and of course there was no such documentation).
Carriers will fudge all over the place when it comes to bandwidth facilities because (in fairness), there is a lot that is outside their control (performance of underlying network providers, access issues etc.). If you have time considerations (and who doesn’t) address them head-on with the carrier prior to ordering. There aren’t many businesses that can take five months to solve a customer facing problem.
CNN Web Site Article Spanks Hotels for Guest Internet Charges: AHLA President Stumbles (badly) with Response
The lead travel article at CNN's Web Site this weekend is "Internet Fee Irritates Hotel Guests"
The CNN article highlights the traveling public's growing sentiment that those hotels charging internet fees are unfairly "nickel and diming" their guests.
Obviously this isn't very good press for the upper end of the hotel industry that typically charges guests for in-room internet. Hotels continue to suffer from the guest perception that internet service is easy and inexpensive to provide....so the charges seem gratuitous.
As these types of articles go, this one is reasonably even handed and concludes that the issue is only a medium level irritant. If there can be good news in bad press..That’s it.
The bad news is the quality of American Hotel and Lodging Association's response. AHLA President and CEO Joe McInerny does a generally terrible job of representing the interests of his constituents with his responses.
Mr.McInerney is quoted with such gems as:
"I understand the frustration, but it's what the market will bear," McInerney said.
and the equally offensive:
"This is an entrepreneurial society and if the market will bear it, the properties are going to charge for it."
Really? Is this what you've got for your industry Joe? Because this sounds an awful lot like "we know we're ripping you off, but until you force us to do something about it...too bad". (This is one time that a "no comment" would have been a better response.)
Look, Joseph, the fact is that the challenge of providing high quality, in-room Internet services is becoming a more expensive and management intensive proposition all the time.
1) Bandwidth consumption and the corresponding cost to the hotel is growing nearly exponentially.
2) Automated network access and provisioning technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated and expensive.
3) Hotel IT pro's are spending a good portion of their energies just keeping up with the burgeoning network demands created by tablets and hand held devices (not to mention sling boxes).
4) Ensuring the on-going security of guest internet communications has become a major ongoing management requirement at the brand and at the property level.
In consideration of the costs and the perpetual management intensity required, it’s entirely reasonable for a hotel to seek a fair return on investment on internet services.
Mobile Communications:....(Or perhaps I should just be quiet?)
Maybe it's the pre-occupied kids at the mall, the distracted parents in the stands at little league games, or fellow business travelers with not enough to say to each other. Whatever it is, I must objectively admit to having developed a bit of an attitude when it comes to listening to people talk about their cell phones.
I may have been overheard, on more than one occassion, saying something like "if one more person tries to speak to me about their cell phone, I will kill myself".
Ok, the reference to suicide borders on the hyperbolic but, c'mon, you know what I'm saying! If America quit talking about the topics of weight loss and cell phones we might go a period of weeks without orally engaging each other, which is not altogether a bad thing. Whenever possible, I want to be the first to tell anyone expressing excitement about their new phone ..that ...I.... don't..... care.
I was entirely, and perhaps a tad smugly, comfortable in my "cell phone talk bores me" universe until Business Week publishes this, eye opening article about how women in Afghanistan are willing to endure beatings from their husbands just to obtain and keep their cell phones.
When one views the cell phone and communications mobility as instruments of freedom, creativity and essential community not readily available to the underprivileged of the world, then one might feel a bit over-privileged and petty for any less than generous remarks one may have made.
So, today's "just be quiet" award goes to.....me.
Compliments to the FCC: Only 20 Million Americans being Ripped Off?
The USA Today's recent article about the practice of "cramming" (the unauthorized charging for services you didn't order and probably didn't get) on consumer telephone bills sets a new high on the corporate creepy meter.
According to that paper, the FCC estimates that as many as 20 million Americans may have unauthorized charges on their telephone bills. These charges range from $1.99 per month to $19.99 per month.
If we pick a number half way in between the $1.99 and the $19.99 and multiply that number times the 20 million we come up with $219,800,000!
A good portion of those dollars are billed on a recurring basis which takes the number up well over the billion dollar figure. That's with a "b".
The fact that the FCC is handing out fines of less than $12 million is not very impressive. They're late, they're inadequate and they've let some very bad people get very rich.
....Network Providers Behaving Badly: Carrier "Out of Contract" Creepiness continues. It's almost 2012 and certain well known, big deal voice and data network providers continue to employ an onerous practice of drastically ( how about 400%) jacking up customers' service rates for facilities and transmission services upon contract expiration.
These practices are extremely effective in terms of discouraging competition (if you stay with us we'll waive some or all of the excess fees.....if you leave, you're liable).
Put together a plan that makes sure that you don't find yourself out of contract.
That means: know your expiration terms, renegotiate a new agreement or be prepared to move services come expiration. Hint: Quest is a particularly big offender.