It’s true that computers were put on the earth to make all of our lives a bit easier, but for a lot of us it never seems to work out that way.
Just like power tools in our garages, computers are a labour-saving device that can be applied to a task to make it go away more quickly or be done with less effort.
Software is the cutting edge of your computer, the bit that turns the effort into outcome. This begs several questions :
- What is good software?
- What should it do?
- When do I need a better one?
These are questions most of us seem not to have a problem with while walking round our local DIY shop admiring the very latest in shiny multi attachments.
Power tools for your business get a much more cautious approach.
What’s in it for me?
As with any sensible purchase, we need to know what to get out of what we’re buying into.
If you have property management software (PMS), then it will help you do tasks more efficiently than by hand.
The old paper grid on the desk may look reliable, and I have been asked in the past, “What will I do if the power fails?” This is not really a sound basis to prevent a move. Power rarely fails, and if it is a common occurrence it can be overcome with a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply – a black box under the desk that keeps you running when the lights go out.)
Hanging on to a paper system will mean you fall behind your competitors, plain and simple.
The next step would be to evaluate an existing PMS to make sure it’s still performing as it should. There are a few simple questions you can ask yourself to see how it all works.
Does your system work around you or vice versa?
Are you filling in with other jobs as the software can’t do some things you need?
Are you the only one that can use it?
Do you keep it because it’s the only one your fill-in managers can use?
If you’re now telling yourself “Well, yes but……..” then something is not running right!
You may be able to live with this, just like you can get used to other things, but if you buy a product to run your business and it ends up running you, it may be time to take a longer look.
What to look for
By now I may have persuaded you that you have the perfect system or that the one you have may have served you well, but like an old pair of shoes, it’s time to change.
First step, does your existing vendor have a new version that will fix your problems?
Second, why hasn’t he told you about it, or were you ignoring those nasty emails that were probably trying to sell you something?
Check your email. Maybe your next move is covered right there.
What should this marvellous, mythical new product look like?
Make a list of what you do manually. This is a shopping list of what the new system should do. Then consider what you haven’t thought of – here are a few suggestions:
A booking grid that shows you a graphical representation of your reservations; the old paper grid didn’t evolve for no reason. It’s just an easier way to look at things.
Drag and drop grid for easy booking manipulation; this is a must as you often manoeuvre bookings round to fit extras in.
Great reporting – your data input is for you working in your business; reports are for when you need to work on your business. They should detail things like booking-source reports so you know which advertising is working for you, and financial totals so you can see the high and low points of the business and compare them with the same time in previous years. RevPAR is the measure of your business viability – that should be there too.
Just imagine if you were buying the business, what questions would you ask, and therefore how would you answer them.
The next thing to look for is web connectivity. Web bookings are the future; there will always be people knocking on your door looking for a room, but now most of them will be holding a printout in their hand. The software package of your dreams will have connections to the web booking engines that you use and to the ones you will choose in the future.
IF you haven’t already, take a look at the Global Distribution System or GDS, which is used to book plane tickets and also accommodation. Your local Flight Centre will have a connection to this system when looking for a room for clients; if you are on it and others are not, then you stand to benefit. GDS bookings have a higher commission rate, but would you rather have 80 per cent of something or 100 per cent of nothing.
I also see a channel manager in your future. What’s a channel manager? It’s a website that typically will have its own booking engine, but also talks to other booking engines. Your PMS talks to the channel manager and the channel manager updates dozens of other booking engines giving you far more points of sale than you could ever have had before. Some PMSs have their own channel manager, others connect to much larger systems where channel management is all they do. Only you can decide how many channels you “need”. At the end of the day, more IS more!
Self-promotion is another less understood need. The best customers you can attract are the ones you already know. Your PMS is full of contact details for people who have already chosen you once. Marketing to them and convincing them to come back is often much easier than making cold contacts.
Your PMS should have messaging built in – mass emailing to a found set of existing clients telling them if they come back in low season you can offer them a great deal at a place they have already decided they like. Large hotel chains make great use of their client data, how about you? If I asked you to email all the clients who stayed more than 14 nights last year and fewer than five nights this year, could you do it, or even just find their names?
If your system cannot send emails itself, a good plan B is to export the right data, names, email addresses and use a site like www.mailchimp.com to create good-looking marketing emails and send them out to data imported from your PMS.
The value of a back-up system for a PMS cannot be overstated; this comes in several forms. Good phone support is essential. Before you change systems, ask around as to what the support is like. Is the manual up to scratch? How often do updates come out?
Another less recognised feature that a good PMS will have is a business plan – not yours, theirs. A PMS with an annual fee will be a system that will continue to be improved, keeping you up to date with the latest trends. This will save the larger cost of having to change systems again.
Where to next?
The way forward for those that want to thrive and survive in a recessionary time is to sell better than the next guy. That means improving your efficiency and selling your product harder and further than others around you and generally getting your message out.
A good PMS will let you communicate to those you already know, with semi-regular email communication. Add to this a wide network of websites and travel agents selling your property.
The more your name is out in the world, the more people will find you. Combine this with a great website and even a good Facebook presence and you will be found, and then you can sell them a room and that is all you really want!
The bottom line
Communication is the key. Talk to your existing clients and give them new opportunities to come back. Be easily found in many places by your prospects and handle their reservations efficiently. A good PMS will do a lot of it for you, easily.