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Hotel Staffing Shortages

How to Address Hotel Staffing Shortages With Better Wireless Communications (Wireless Communications Explained Podcast)

In this episode of the Wireless Communications Explained Podcast, Chas Elliott, President of EMCI Wireless and Mike Humphress, President of Commsult Consulting Solutions will share their thoughts on addressing hotel staffing shortages with better wireless communications.

Since 2007, Chas has been President of EMCI Wireless (a Motorola channel partner) where he manages day-to-day financial operations and administrative functions of running a Motorola Two-Way Radio Dealer, Motorola Service Shop, and Verizon Wireless cellular retailer.

With 30 years of experience in direct sales, sales management, marketing, business development, and distribution management, Mike Humphress is a recognized innovator in the wireless industry. His employment with Motorola included the positions of Sales Representative, Regional Sales Manager, and Area Business Manager. In addition, he has spent six years in two Motorola dealerships in the capacity of Vice President and General Manager.

Listen to the full episode of the Wireless Communications Explained Podcast to learn about:

  • How hotels use wireless communications and which staff members depend on which aspects of wireless
  • How wireless communications help with staffing shortages currently facing hotel operators
  • The biggest mistake hotel operators make with their wireless communications investments
  • How hotel operators select the right wireless technology to provide a better, safer guest experience
  • How hotel owners or managers improve how their locations use wireless communications
  • How guest experience and social proof/reviews factor into these investments

Watch the Podcast Interview

Chas Elliott, President of EMCI Wireless provided insight on how hotels use wireless technology:

“Hotels can use wireless everywhere — from the front desk clerk to the maintenance staff to the janitorial staff. They can be looking at room availability or checking to see if an issue was fixed. And from an administration standpoint, ensuring the overall guest experience is as smooth as possible such as needing more towels.  At hotel conventions or meetings, they have the perfect opportunity to be able to use wireless communications to traverse a large geographical area on their campus.”

“Being able to do work tickets is a great example. On a two-way radio, you press a button that goes to the front desk clerk and into their software system to show that room 101 is clean now — or that a person is arriving to clean room 101. With one touch of a button, you’re able to send those types of messages back and forth. It’s a lot more efficient than calling someone or writing it up in a software application. This helps you stretch your dollars further.”

“There are times where you’re on the fly and your hands are full. Being able to talk with voice makes all the difference. And there are other times where you need to quickly have some level of data go back and forth, like an instant message, or to record something or take a picture and send it to the front desk. Some of the radios have cameras built-in. A picture’s worth a thousand words!”

Mike Humphress, President of Commsult Consulting Solutions also shared tips on mitigating hotel staffing shortages with better use of wireless communications:

“Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that there are tools out there to help you cope with this kind of situation. We overlook the fact that if you can get every ounce of efficiency out of the small staff you have, maybe that will help you bridge the gap between a shortage of personnel into a time when you can get fully staffed again. Folks have to take that into account as well.”

“When you get into a larger hotel property or a resort that has all of the different departments, including banquet, entertainment, and events, as well as large maintenance, security, and housekeeping staff, then wireless communications certainly scale up dramatically from there.”

Lightly Edited Transcript

Joshua Feinberg:
Welcome to this episode of Wireless Communications Explained. Today, we will be talking all about how to address hotel staffing shortages with better wireless communications. I’m here with Chas Elliott, president of EMCI Wireless, and Mike Humphress, president of Commsult Communications. Glad to see you, Chas and Mike.

Mike Humphress:
Good to see you, too.

Joshua Feinberg:
The whole backdrop here of addressing what’s going on with hotel staffing shortages with better wireless communications came about just a few weeks ago when The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg ran several articles painting a challenging picture of what is happening in the hotel industry. The Wall Street Journal, for example, said staffing shortages pose a threat to hotels’ budding recovery. Hotels say they are struggling to hire enough housekeepers, kitchen staff, and other hourly workers, including those laid off early in the pandemic. And then, just more recently being passed around on LinkedIn News, hospitality staff quitting in droves. The hospitality industry is facing a multitude of challenges. The nation’s rampant labor shortage has been a hot-button topic, and today we see something else. New government data reveals workers in hotels and restaurants are quitting at an alarming rate, with numbers especially acute in food services. In April, 5.6% of workers in the accommodation and food service industry left their jobs, up from 5.4% last month and reaching record territory.

Given all of that, a great place to start would be to talk about how hotels use wireless communications and which staff members, in particular, do you see using wireless communications most often?

How Hotels Use Wireless Communications

Chas Elliott:
They use it everywhere from the front desk clerk to talking to the maintenance staff, talking to the janitorial staff, looking for availability of rooms, checking to see if an issue has been fixed, as well as from an administration standpoint, just trying to ensure the overall guest experience is as smooth as possible. So if you need more towels, they can radio somebody else, right? Conventions and meetings at the hotel give them the perfect opportunity to use wireless communications to traverse a large geographical area there, on the campus.

Mike Humphress:
It’s one of those classic situations where you see these multiple departments with multiple functions that all need to communicate instantaneously for the guest experience, efficiency, and overall control. It does go all the way across the spectrum, as far as the actual facility is concerned.

Joshua Feinberg:
What do you think the staff members would do if they didn’t have wireless communications available? What would be the alternative? Would they just be making phone calls to each other? Would they be running messages around, hunting down people in different parts of the building, different parts of the campus?

Mike Humphress:
My first inclination is to say hide out, but that probably wouldn’t be appropriate. Yeah, I think that they chase people around a lot, use cell phones, or use any method to try to find people in whatever way they can, whether it’s efficient or not. They just try to do the best with what they have.

Joshua Feinberg:
Is this something that you think would go back decades? Is this potentially how hotels always got requests around to different staff members? Or is this something where they’ve more recently started to use two-way radios and wireless more effectively in the last decade or so?

Chas Elliott:
I can let Mike speak to that. He’s got a little more history.

Mike Humphress:
I have more decades to refer to, is what he’s saying. I think that’s what it is. No, that’s been around a while. Radios have been very popular to communicate in hotels for quite some time, probably as soon as they became more prevalent. The prices began to come down to reasonable levels, even going back as far as the ’80s and ’90s, that they got smaller, and they became more palatable, as far as pricing goes, and things of that nature. And of course, that was all pre-cell phone anyway back then, and there was no other way to communicate effectively. I think they’ve been around a long time, but I think that there’s probably been the same misconception as there is everywhere, that smartphones and tablets have replaced the need for two-way radios. So there’s been a landscape shift, as far as that goes.

Joshua Feinberg:
Do you see much of a difference in the usage between small hotels, like 150 rooms, and hotels with hundreds of more resorts or convention centers, small convention business attached, or banquet business attached?

Mike Humphress:
Absolutely. Absolutely, for two reasons. Number one, they don’t have nearly the need to communicate in a small hotel. If you’ve got a four- or a six-story business hotel that may have one maintenance person and a handful of housekeepers running around, and that’s it, the need for communication is not as robust. They may not even have an airport shuttle or anything that they have to communicate with offsite. So the need is there to communicate, but you often see some lower-end products, less expensive products, things that just kind of get them through, as far as being able to talk instantaneously with somebody. Whereas, when you get into a larger hotel property or a resort with all of the different departments, including banquet, entertainment, and events, and large maintenance staff and security staff and large housekeeping staff, it certainly scales up dramatically from there.

Joshua Feinberg:
So given what’s going on now with hotel managers, hotel operators potentially facing the challenges of running their properties with a lot less staff than they’re used to, even with strong demand, what do they do? Is there a silver lining in being able to use two-way radios and wireless communications more effectively?

Chas Elliott:
It’s technology in general, correct? Wireless communications are just one more piece of your technology portfolio that you’re using to run your business more efficiently overall, no matter what the industry is. Certainly, in the hospitality industry, they need to be able to operate as efficiently as possible, so being able to do work tickets, for example, on a radio where you press a button and it goes back to the front desk clerk and their software system to show that, hey, Room 101 is clean now, or I’m arriving to clean Room 101. You can press one touch of a button, and sending those types of messages back and forth makes it a lot more efficient than calling somebody or writing it up in a software application somewhere. You just need to be able to stretch your dollars further.

Joshua Feinberg:
So this sounds like it’s pretty different than just using traditional voice. You’re using apps, software as well to be able to drive productivity.

Chas Elliott:
Yes. You marry up both, right? There are times where you’re on the fly, your hands are full, and being able to just talk with voice makes all the difference in the world. And there are other times where you need to be able to have some level of data quickly, go back and forth to send an instant message there, or record something and have it go back to the front desk. Being able to take a picture of something and send it back to the front desk, and so they can see right there … We have the ability … some of the radios now have cameras built into them, so being able to snap a picture, send it back to the front desk, and show them what you’re looking at puts a whole “the picture’s worth a thousand words” scenario.

Joshua Feinberg:
So it sounds like there are features and some technology that operators may be more aware of than others when ensuring that you have the right tools to drive this efficiency and cover more ground with fewer staff.

Chas Elliott:
Absolutely.

Mike Humphress:
No doubt.

Mike Humphress:
Now, we used to be in the communications industry, and particularly the land mobile radio side of it, we always had the joke that we were a recession-proof industry. And we used to say that jokingly because when times are robust, things are going well, and everybody is rolling in money. They’re very busy; they look for ways to communicate more effectively and kind of control all of that activity. But on the other side, and it’s kind of what the hospitality world is facing right now when you’re short-staffed, and when things are tight and tough, but you still have to respond to your customers, it’s almost more critical to look at effective communications right now than it is when times are great and robust, and you’re going wide open.

And I think sometimes we lose sight of the fact that there are tools out there to help you cope with just this kind of situation, and that we overlook the fact that if you can get every ounce of efficiency out of the small staff that you have, maybe that’ll help you bridge the gap between a shortage of personnel until the time when you can get fully staffed again. So I think that folks have to take that into account, as well.

Joshua Feinberg:
When I think, too, about the attrition and the difficulty of retaining staff at hotels, I’m wondering if trying to get more productivity out of them; the normal reaction probably is to manage more vigorously, keep tabs on what they’re doing, making sure that people aren’t taking excessive breaks, goofing off, whatever, but is part of the solution just giving them better technology so you can get more done without burning out your team?

Mike Humphress:
Yeah. It’s getting more work out of them and making it easier for them to get more effective work. That way, it’s not a burden on the employee. It’s a tool to help them.

Biggest Wireless Communications Mistakes of Hotel Operators

Joshua Feinberg:
So when you think about hotel operators, what do you see as the biggest mistake they’re making regarding how they use wireless communications?

Chas Elliott:
Holistically, there are several solutions out there. You need somebody that can act as a technology consultant on your behalf. Technology isn’t necessarily everyone’s thing, right? And to be able to have access to resources that you can lean on, that can talk about what other folks in similar industries are doing and how they’re accomplishing specific tasks, and have somebody that you can ask, “Hey, I’ve got this hurdle. How do I overcome it?” — being able to have a consultant that you can lean on goes a long way. Having a trusted advisor to talk to you about the technological solutions that are out there makes all the difference in the world because you can be way over on one side of the spectrum or way over on the other, and the truth is, maybe you need to be somewhere in between.

Mike Humphress:
Yeah. Most of these solutions have a place, whether it’s smartphones, tablets, land mobile radios, two-way radios, or whatever the case may be. They all have a specific function that they can fulfill. And I think that, to Chas’s point, it’s just having somebody to help you navigate when is the right time to use which of those tools and how they integrate and work together most effectively. I think that’s the key right there.

Joshua Feinberg:
So understanding the team’s actual needs, where the bottlenecks are, what they’re struggling with the most, and then making sure that they understand the pros and cons of different levels of investment in technology?

Mike Humphress:
Right. Then they can decide in an informed way and not based on a bias one way or the other. But they have all the information; now they can make their own choice.

Joshua Feinberg:
When you think about hotel operators as a whole, do you think they have the right technology to provide a better guest experience and provide a safer guest experience? Or do you feel there are certain gaps that they need to fill that are standing in the way of achieving that?

Chas Elliott:
I’ll let you take that one, Mike.

Mike Humphress:
I think it’s situational. There certainly are many places out there with advanced technology that are taking full advantage of it, no question about it. But I think, by and large, there is a tremendous amount of technology that people could take advantage of that they either aren’t aware of, because we haven’t done a great job of educating them about that fact, or they’re convinced that what they’re using now is the latest, greatest, and the highest level of technology evolution that they can get, and they don’t look further.

So I think some mistakes and errors are made in that regard, and it’s probably an industry problem because we allow marketing to take over. And whatever that message … and I say that Joshua, so you’ll appreciate that, right? … whatever that message happens to be that one entity wants to promote seems to be the truth of the day. And if they do a better job of marketing it to somebody else, you may not necessarily get the right impression. So I think from an educational standpoint, I think we have to do a better job.

Joshua Feinberg:
It’s proven to be an endemic problem within the hotel industry, probably going back ten years, that so many of the websites and so much of the digital marketing struggles to stand out. And one of the tiebreakers is what other people say about the experience of staying at the hotel or doing business with the hotel. It all comes back to the guest experience.

Mike Humphress:
Absolutely. They pay the bills, right?

Improving Wireless Communications for Hotels

Joshua Feinberg:
Absolutely. So what advice would you offer to a hotel manager or owner who wants to improve how the location(s) they’re overseeing use wireless communications as a whole? Do you think they see the big picture, or do they still see this as a discrete piece of hardware they’re purchasing?

Chas Elliott:
It’s a little bit of a mixed bag. You have some folks who remember how they did it 20 years ago, with just two-way radio voice. And you have other folks that are thinking that maybe a cellphone or a tablet is the way to go. Having somebody that can help you navigate those technology waters, if you will, makes all the difference in the world because you may look at a tablet or a cell phone and say, “Hey, great, you can put that smartphone application on there, and we could.” That’s a simple thing that everybody does, putting an application on their device, but the minute that you have one of your guests that’s checking in at the front desk, and they’re watching your front desk clerk type on a tablet or a smartphone, the immediate perception is that maybe they’re using it for personal use. Whereas, when you’ve got a purpose-built device, like some of the products that we offer, as far as two-way radio, land mobile devices, having an application on that, gives the perception that this is a business-oriented solution; it’s not a personal device.

Mike Humphress:
A lot of mistakes happen because people don’t take into account the actual cost of ownership. When you get into this type of conversation, the first thing that people want to take a look at is, “Wait a minute, so I have to buy all of this hardware and all of this equipment and all of this infrastructure for this two-way radio or the land mobile radio type of solution, when I can just get a monthly bill from a carrier, and they’ll wrap the product into it, and it’s simple and easy, and I just write a check every month for the equipment?” And by not looking at the big picture and not having all of the information, there’s the assumption that it’s cheaper and more cost-effective. I get a better return on my investment because I know precisely, on the month, what it’s going to cost, and I’m not writing a big check on the front end, right? And they may not know about other options that they can look at, from a hardware standpoint, whether it’s leasing or other ways that they can massage and work that. But without comparing the actual business case or the cost justification example of both of those, or the pros and cons of both, they do not see the whole picture again. And I think that that is one of the mistakes that happens regularly.

Joshua Feinberg:
That brings up some related thoughts, too, on the pros and cons of a purpose-built device for wireless communications versus the default option that probably people would think of, of just using a smartphone or using a tablet.

Mike Humphress:
No question.

Joshua Feinberg:
Do they think about security? Do they think about battery life? Are there any other big-picture concerns that an IT professional would be asking about if they were looped into this conversation?

Chas Elliott:
I don’t know that a lot of folks are going to be honest with you. Suppose you’ve got a large hotel corporation that’s running a lot of facilities. In that case, they probably have their dedicated technology group looking at security concerns, applications, bandwidth utilization, and all these things. But a lot of what we see, day to day, are decisions being made by a hotel general manager, which may or may not be their forte. So there’s a lot that has to be considered — everything from, obviously, the guest experience to how well the solution works. So it’s a wide breadth of options that are out there.

Joshua Feinberg:
Like a typical small business owner wearing half a dozen different hats — at times, they’re probably expected to be an expert on why the cardio equipment in the gym isn’t working, or why the pool heater broke for the 14th time this year, or why there’s a roof leak.

Chas Elliott:
Absolutely.

Joshua Feinberg:
Labor issues, zoning issues. Yeah, IT is another one of their hats. So the final area that I wanted to dive into today is in an area where everyone seems to be asking: popular review websites, like Tripadvisor, Hotels.com, Expedia, or just a Google review or Facebook review, all factors into people deciding where to stay. How do the guest experience and social proofs and reviews factor into these kinds of wireless investments? And is there a marketing component or potentially a marketing and sales ROI that should be considered along with just the IT infrastructure?

Mike Humphress:
Yeah, I think that that’s the thing that matters, is the guest experience component, and then relating that to whether it’s a rapid response, whether it is, to Chas’s earlier point, about the fact that they see employees and staff using technology that is a business tool, and see them using that in front of them to get answers to questions or to get responses to issues. That’s going to play over into all of the different social proof, into all of the different reviews, and all the different situations where they’re going to comment, “It wasn’t just the great, friendly staff. I didn’t just enjoy the interactions with the staff, but they responded immediately; they had technology that helped them solve problems quickly.” And they may not speak that directly, in a review, that they had the technology, but they will have recognized and noticed it. And I think that right now –always, but particularly right now when there’s a heavy amount of competition to get these folks that are starting to travel again to your hotel or your resort or to your property — that that’s going to become a big selling point. And I think that’s going to have a marketing component to it, as well.

Chas Elliott:
Yeah, absolutely. I think everything boils down to the overall guest experience, right? And that’s what they’re leaving that rating based on. If I walk into a hotel, no matter how nice it is, I walk in there, and I see a 32-inch TV that’s an old tube-style TV, I’m immediately going to have an impression that, hey, maybe they’re not up to snuff on their technology there.

Joshua Feinberg:
Wi-Fi, you know?

Mike Humphress:
Yeah, Wi-Fi. Yeah, as soon as you try to use it, right?

Chas Elliott:
Exactly.

Joshua Feinberg:
Get the dial-up going.

Mike Humphress:
Yeah.

Chas Elliott:
Especially in this day and age, when you’re trying to do a video call or what have you, bandwidth concerns are real. There’s a lot that needs to be considered when they’re looking at the guest experience.

Mike Humphress:
And I think that comes down to their spending. When you start talking to a property manager or a hotel owner management company about spending their budget money, they have to relate and equate the organization’s responsiveness and technical capabilities to that guest experience. Otherwise, other things are going to compete more robustly with budget dollars. So I think that that’s all part of it, that it has to be very well explained, precisely what it does give them, from a return standpoint, so that they can then justify the investment in the kind of technology that they need to improve that guest experience and improve those reviews and get more people staying there.

Joshua Feinberg:
Would you say a significant driver in being able to use this technology to more rapidly get tickets done, whether it’s a ticket where somebody realizes that they need more towels, whether it’s a bathroom issue that needs to be addressed, whether there’s something wrong with the pool, whether somebody needs help with bags, whether it’s the hotel airport shuttle — all of these things. And I think it’s not so much that guests expect perfection. It’s that if they catch anything short of perfection, they generally want to know that it’s going to be resolved quickly. That seems to be a key to improving the communication to get the resolution time dramatically improved.

Mike Humphress:
Well, listen. We all know things are going to go wrong, right? That’s never the issue. We know things are going to break. We know things will happen that aren’t necessarily within the procedural parameters of how you want it to go. But it’s how people fix it that matters. It’s how fast they respond; it’s how fast they fix things that it comes down to. And remember, we’re not just talking about voice. When you are inclusive of all the pieces of technology that go into these things, whether it’s video, voice, data, access control — all of the different pieces and parts that go into wireless technology, and the one solution that might be able to bring all of those to bear at the same time — those are all going to have a significant impact on the safety, the security, the satisfaction of the overall guest experience.

Joshua Feinberg:
Yeah, that single device seems to be a huge issue, of somebody carrying around a different work device for two-way radio, a different device that they use for closing out tickets, the likelihood of them forgetting or losing a device or one breaking seems to be a huge, huge, potential time savings, efficiency savings, and just driving up and improving the guest experience. What about security safety applications? Given what the world just went through with the pandemic and just physical security concerns as a whole, what do you think hotel operators should be thinking of with improving the perception and the actuality of guest safety on their properties?

Chas Elliott:
There are undoubtedly several things when you’re looking at security overall. To Mike’s point, when you’re talking about video and voice, the voice allows you to relay the incident, but you’ve got to have actionable intelligence, as well. So when you’re looking at video, I look at the COVID-19 situation, right? Being able to do thermal cameras, what a difference, right? Instead of having to put a thermometer to everybody’s head, being able to sit there and put multiple cameras in a huge entryway. People come and go, and it’s way less intrusive, but at the same time, you’re able to identify the folks that had a high temperature. So there are several things like that.

And being able to get that actionable intelligence, when you talk about being more efficient, it’s one thing to have 500 cameras at your hotel. It’s another thing to have 500 cameras with workflow triggers so that, if a guest leaves a bag sitting idle for too long, it’s captured on the video, a box is drawn around it to draw somebody’s attention, in the control room, to it. And then maybe an alert is sent to a radio that lets that security officer that’s closest to that know that, hey, there’s a bag sitting in this area that’s been sitting there idle for two minutes.

Or if you’ve got somebody that’s been trespassed from the property, being able to do facial recognition and the artificial intelligence that goes with that, and being able to say, “Hey, this person has trespassed from the property, and now they’ve shown up. This camera caught them here.” So you take a snapshot of it, and you send that to the device of the security officer that’s responding, and now they have a picture. They don’t just have a name. They have a picture of the person they’re looking for. It’s very powerful.

Joshua Feinberg:
All of this helps address the staffing shortages in hotels and helps people get more work done, cover more ground with less, and improve the guest experience and safety. This has been terrific. I’m so glad we got a chance to sit down and talk about this today. I know our viewers, listeners, and readers that are operating and managing hotels should find a lot of value in this, as well—and speaking with Chas Elliott from EMCI Wireless and Mike Humphress from Commsult Communications, so glad that you tuned in today to the Wireless Communications Explained Podcast.

Mike Humphress:
Thank you.

Chas Elliott:
Thank you.