Interview with a customer: on managing hospitality standards and going digital

Interview with a customer: on managing hospitality standards and going digital

Kristin Ingram is a senior executive in the hospitality industry, with extensive experience managing hotel operations. She is sharing her thoughts on the best ways to ensure consistently excellent standards, no matter the type of property. She has implemented Goaudits at two hospitality organizations over the past 3 years.

Kristin, tell us a bit more about your past experiences in hospitality management?

“Sure thing! I have worked in the hotel and timeshare industry over the last 25 years, in various operational and leadership positions, including at Hilton, Bluegreen Vacations and LaTour Hotels & Resorts. As a General Manager of a 600-unit resort, I oversaw full-blown operations including food & beverage, retail or safety and security. Later as a Regional Director of Operations at LaTour Hotels I was in charge of creating the baseline for Standard Operating Procedures, and then metrics to audit those SOPs throughout the portfolio.

More recently I decided to start a vacation rental business Welcome Y’all Vacation Rentals here in Florida. I created my own Standard Operating Procedures, so a lot of what I’ve learned is useful to me today.”

So would you agree that monitoring SOPs and standards is crucial in any kind of hospitality and accommodation setting, not just in luxury properties?

Absolutely. I think that you can be a five-star operation if you set and document the standards properly, you’re managing expectations, and really “inspecting what you expect”. Even if it’s not the newest type of accommodation or property, most importantly everything has to be safe and clean.

How did you decide GoAudits was the right hotel auditing software for you?

At LaTour Hotels I was on the road quite a bit, performing Quality Assurance audits. One of the “interesting” things was all the manual work afterwards! I enjoyed discussions with General Managers, housekeeping, maintenance or security teams, but at the end of the day you have to pull all that information together. At that time I was using an Excel spreadsheet with 15 different tabs, lots of items and tasks on each tab. I was also taking photos, later having to remember where each photo was taken etc.

So I started searching for a tool to simplify this. I found a few different hotel auditing software solutions, did several demos and ended up choosing GoAudits. A lot of systems may have many “bells and whistles” or take lots of programming. But I needed something quick and easy, a technology that was customizable and with someone who would pick up the phone when needed. That’s why I chose GoAudits. Little did I know that I would also be presented with all kinds of charts and dashboard analytics, which I loved!

Tell us more about the implementation process of the GoAudits inspection app?

The GoAudits team was simply wonderful to work with. I sent them my different spreadsheets and we worked together to upload them on the app, tweaking some things as we went. Overall it was a pretty easy process and didn’t take very long. I would say probably around three months from start to finish, including everything: setting up modified checklists, custom reports, tasks and action plans.

So was GoAudits rolled out to all the properties and staff members as well?

We learned a lot during the initial implementation process, I could create and modify my own checklists anytime. Soon we were able to expand beyond the quality assurance audits. At the end of the two-year period where I was managing this at LaTour, we had over 25 different digital checklists for the General Managers of all the properties, so around 30-40 users. The checklists covered everything from maintenance to safety and security, to self-audits for brand quality assurance etc.

GoAudits was very helpful and responsive during all this time. Not only for the initial setup, but also supporting me as the Admin of the system.

What was the reaction from the staff and General Managers? Did they immediately adopt the auditing app?

Whenever you make a change like that in a company, there’s bound to be some resistance to change. The ability to see audits and track data in real time, with GPS and signature, really increases visibility and accountability. I think at first there were some reactions such as “Big brother is watching!” (laughs) 

But once the GMs saw how much money they were saving in supplies and payroll, it caught on like wildfire. I think after 2 years we had over 30,000 audits completed.

Once the GMs saw how much money they were saving in supplies and payroll, it caught on like wildfire. After 2 years we had over 30,000 audits completed!

Kristin Ingram

How to ensure that such self-audits are objective?

I mentioned the GPS and signatures which help hold everyone accountable. I also think that it’s important to have the ability to upload pictures for each line item, showing the before and after. Of course to some extent the integrity of the self-audit depends on the individual, on how observant or honest they are. But really it’s in their best interest to be as objective as possible, then fix the concern.

There is a saying “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”. Do you think it applies to audits and operational standards?

Yes, absolutely! I think this statement is very similar to “Inspect what you expect”. If you’re not out there building a solid knowledge foundation, training and re-training staff, taking action and following up, then you’re going to keep getting the same result – which is not a positive one.

Beyond brand standards compliance, what else did you use GoAudits for?

I currently manage vacation rentals, so we use GoAudits for checks both before the guest arrival and departure. We have a room sweep checklist to make sure there are no damages to the property, only then we release the security deposit. If any issues are found, we record them with pictures and timestamps, so we have systematic documentation of that sweep, which can be utilized in case of disputes. This provides extra peace of mind to the property owners.

Another important use case is Maintenance checks. At LaTour we used to perform systematic pre-arrival maintenance inspections. I like to call that “the dirty dozen”, the key things customers will notice: the remote control has to be working, the door needs to lock, the light bulbs should all function… We also conducted full quarterly preventative maintenance inspections. This was especially useful to see trends in each property, so that the GMs had the data to request extra budget, for example for appliance replacements the following year. So in this sense, the collected data came in really useful to help make the right business decisions.

Training is one of the most important things for hospitality managers in order to maintain a certain consistency and excellence of services. How could a digital inspections app like GoAudits help in terms of training?

I definitely think that using checklists adapted for the position that you’re training for, can be a great “textbook digital tool”. Checklists can outline the daily routines, how to go through the process step by step. It’s a great tool to document those steps, and especially convenient since you can modify the digital checklists anytime.

That’s an interesting point – nothing is really set in stone. Processes may need to change, with Covid-19 for example. Did you have any experience in terms of having to change procedures or policies due to Covid?

Yes indeed, like many businesses, we had to create from scratch our “standard operating procedures for a pandemic”! GoAudits came in really useful, because we were able to “pause” our usual checks and roll out completely new standard operating procedures for the company, with updated digital checklists. And whenever needed, we can switch back to the usual procedures. And we can retain the data and all the reports for later. So yes absolutely, GoAudits was a pretty critical tool for us during the pandemic.

Are there any particular solutions that you have implemented as a result of trends spotted on these reports from GoAudits?

One thing that was pretty easy to do is to compare inspection reports from GoAudits and the data from post-stay customer surveys. For example reports from Preventive Maintenance or Pre-arrival Maintenance, or even Pool and Safety daily checks. Whether the customer feedback was positive or negative, comparing that data to inspection scores could be really telling. It helped us resolve personnel issues, understand who may need retraining etc. It’s really easy to run those reports and do a deeper dive into the data.

Again, it sounds like GoAudits digital checklists help as a training tool, not only for  onboarding of staff but also to retrain?

That’s right. Another example at LaTour was how we used GoAudits for our Daily Huddles. That’s the start-of-day process when staff from every department get together to discuss the day’s activities: group or VIP arrivals, late departures, who’s on fire watch, the manager on duty etc. That’s also the moment to review customer service scores and our Service Philosophies. So we implemented a Daily Huddle Form on the GoAudits app, on the front desk iPad where everyone is signing in. It’s GPS-driven, records who is there or not, helps remind the key procedures. Overall it was a great tool to give everybody a good pulse on what’s going on for the day.

Thank you Kristin, great to hear how GoAudits helps hospitality managers like yourself!

Click here for more information on the GoAudits hotel auditing software.