We have a bit of a joke in the office as one of the first videos that we ever produced started with my droning voice and the above phrase. We were talking about all of the aspects that guests and receptionists find annoying and how we wanted to make it all better, and make the admin and data entry process as effortless as possible. Well, fast forward 3 years, and I feel we’re a little closer to a perfect system which makes work a joy. However, it’s a good thing that progress is a process, no matter how frustrating it may be not to move at a faster pace, sometimes.
A lot of people out of the industry don’t quite acknowledge the stress that comes with being a good hotelier. Most of the time, working in a hotel is a pretty daunting exercise, especially at the front desk. You’re sitting/standing there, mostly alone, when you see a horde of annoyed travellers bearing down on you wanting a smooth and pleasant welcome. All this while you’ll be smiling, and frantically remembering that you have another 5 things you have to tell each person before they leave your immediate vicinity, and hoping that you’ve input all the information correctly. Therefore, if we want to help that move along, we have to make sure that we’re not the link in this chain which slows everything down.
So, we think about speed. But not just processor speed, but more the speed of processing a request, and the speed of thought and its accompanying speed of input. From check-in to taking reservations, you have to think about what is the most efficient way of collecting the correct information without making anyone spend a second more interacting with technology than is necessary (or healthy for the nerves…), and for that, you need to think about the design of the system. (Back in the day you needed shortcut keys, nowadays the system should be designed so well that it finds the fastest route automatically)
I think most people think of “design” as something looks “nice”. Well, sure, it’s usually better to look at something pretty than something horrendous (and the PMS world is a great hunting ground for that adjective), but that’s not the point. For something to be designed well, it needs to serve its function, work smoothly, and usually the aesthetics arise out of that well-oiled form. The “prettiness” then is as much defined by the ease of your continued usage as it is by the initial form. In the words of Johnny Ive: “Simplicity is not the absence of clutter, that’s a consequence of simplicity. Simplicity is somehow essentially describing the purpose and place of an object and product. The absence of clutter is just a clutter-free product. That’s not simple.”
Instead, we see our “prettiness” as a deceptively prosaic form, which you can either admire for its clarity and simplicity, or spend hours exploring every complex detail.
For that reason, we try and create the system in order for it to be as interactive, intuitive, inclusive and instructive as possible, revealing its complexity when called upon, rather than trying to overwhelm the user/viewer with complexity that they have to digest once they have mastered all manner of arcane knowledge.
How do we do this? Well, we start with what processes and information one needs to see and what the quickest way of entering/showing that information is. Sometimes it is by trying to connect with outside sources (for example, for completing guest addresses, we’ve integrated Google Maps), sometimes it is by cutting out certain internal processes (for example, by using an automatic batch check-out feature, hoteliers don’t need to check out all balanced bills individually), sometimes by removing a standard feature altogether (such as the Night Audit) or other times, by adding in a feature which drastically cuts friction (for example, by building in a payment gateway which can charge payment cards automatically depending on the cancellation rules associated with rate types). Of course, to us, we’re still not where we would like to be, but then that’s why we see ourselves as a perpetual start-up. We’ll only start to relax once we feel we have come up with something resembling a good mix of simplicity (in a perfect world, you’d just have a contextual search box) and usability (why get rid of quick-links which speed up processes or remind users of their responsibilities if the screen can handle it).
At the end of the day, for us, it’s about keeping the user informed and alert, and making sure that the information is at his fingertips whenever he needs it. As we grow, we get to know our users better and improve the system more, we hope we can get closer to striking that kind of balance.
Seriously, every day we wait for this message on the support desk.