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Resources & Development - Reservation Systems

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Reservations about Reservation Software

By Skip Williams

Have you ever watched Computerized reservation systems in other industries? Last time I was at the Airline reservation counter, I noticed the Reservations person made eye contact with me exactly twice and both times for only a fraction of a second, yet I spent about 6-8 minutes conducting business with this person. I have experienced similar episodes at Car Rental Counters, Hotel Front Desks, and my local D.M.V. I am not sure how you feel about this treatment, I know that I am not "insulted" by these experiences, but they do make me feel more like a number not a person.

Conversely in Food Service, when a Waiter or Waitress takes my order with that little pad of paper or order slip, I feel far more concern for "my needs". Their eyes make contact with each person at the table, they jot the notes and make check marks on the slip, and I feel like a real person.

Both the Airlines and the Restaurants may be very different types of business (although both are computerized); yet I feel they send a very different message to its customers. I draw this parallel to our own industry, and wonder how our clients feel when our eyes rarely leave a computer screen.

This is not a reflection on the quality of programming or ease of use of the various software packages that we have all seen and some of us use. Quite the contrary, being a bit of a techno-geek myself I am continually amazed by how well these software manufactures incorporate all those great features into a fairly easy to learn/use package.

As Managers we all love the reports, the cash register control, and the "Real Time" aspects. I just wonder how much we may have sacrificed the "personal customer interaction" for better management reports.

This does not mean I put no importance on the computerized controls that must be put in place, instead I think this is a great example of the balance between "proper controls" and "customers needs", between "customer service" and "management needs", between "technology" and "impersonal service".

In this industry more than others we sell a "customer experience". If we have the best systems in the world and cheapen our service then what have we gained?

With all that said, should we computerize our Spa/Salon? The answer is "yes, but".

We all need to track several things in our facility that the accounting system alone will not track here are a few examples:

  • Client Info
  • Marketing
  • Technical
  • Retention
  • Services Used
  • Retail Purchases
  • Preferences
  • Gift Certificates
  • Facility Utilization
  • Employee Info
  • Time
  • Commissions
  • Tips
  • Efficiency
  • Retail Inventory
  • Discounts
  • Cash Drawer

Tracking all of these, and you can probably think of a few more, are critical to managing the business and a computer system makes this a simple task. We should all take advantage of computer systems to perform all these tasks.

Where I have a problem with these systems is allowing them to do our scheduling. In many larger operations we do not have a choice there is no practical way to have two or three Front Desk Agents, a Reservations Agent (in a back room somewhere), and a Spa Director (booking a Group in his/her office) to share a single "paper book". In these larger operations additional terminals for Providers to "clock in/out" and check their schedule, pager systems and bar code readers can be very useful as well.

In small and medium size Spas/Salons where generally there is not more than one or two people utilizing "the book" at any given time, I would caution against using an electronic scheduling system. Personal service and personal attention is one of the major advantages a small facility has over the larger Spas/Salons and by giving this up you may be tossing out one of the reasons your clients choose you.

Where possible I recommend using these great computer systems to there fullest potential but NOT in front of the customer. When the computer is driving the transaction, I feel the Front Desk Agent’s focus is in the wrong place. If you are not convinced, please watch next time you are at an airline or hotel desk, you will see the focus on the computer first and the client second.

Most software vendors tell me that this problem is minimized or non-existent in "their software" because of the special ease of use and simplicity of their scheduling system. Indeed most vendors have worked very hard and use ingenious methods to make this task as simple as possible and I applauded their programming skills. The problem however is NOT the software, nor is it the computer skills of the Front Desk Agents, it is the system we have put in place for the sake of those great reports. We have certainly made the life of the Manager better, but we may have complicated the lives of the Client and Front Desk Agent.

Simply using these systems as a point of sale system, may be the answer. If we wait until the Client has left the desk before we enter anything into the computer then a lot of these problems go away. Of course this would require maintaining the old "paper book" with all its problems for scheduling, or coming up with some "hybrid" way of taking the info on a paper slip. Then entering it into the computer later, similar to the way a waiter or waitress takes our dinner order.

Whether you use a computer and to what degree you use it, never underestimate the value of extensive training at the front desk. We want to give our Spa/Salon a great first impression, and let the Client know we have nothing more important to do than to serve his/her immediate needs right now!

On top of training toward immediate needs of the Client, the next most important to do is to remove all distractions from the Client – Front Desk interaction wherever possible. While not always practical, any distraction such as the computer system, telephone, other Providers, Retail sales, or even other Clients should be removed or at least minimized. This is accomplished by always having adequate Front Desk Staff available, possibly having a reservations room or separate retail staff if your operation is large enough, and always work toward simplifying the check-in check-out process.

When I have consulted in Spas/Salons around the country I have noticed an unfortunate lack of adequate time available for the Front Desk Agent to do his/her job properly. When things get a little busy, that Client that does not quite know what services he/she wants and is looking for guidance, gets left to figure it out on their own while the Front Desk Agent takes a phone call or completes a different transaction. Could you imagine a Car Sales Person being distracted by such things as they were trying to "close the sale"?

You have heard me preach in other articles about the importance of controlling labor costs, so I must be careful here. However, we sometimes look at a vacant front desk at various times during the day and ask ourselves why we have X amount of people working at the front desk that day. When assigning the amount of labor we need at the front desk for any given day we must look at the busy periods not the slow periods. We must have adequate help, or at least a plan to draw it from another part of the facility, if we are going to give our Clients the type of service they deserve.

If we expect a Computerized Reservation System to make these problems go away, then we are buying a system for the wrong reason. On that I believe most reputable software manufactures and I will agree, but let me take it one step further, I believe that Computer System may even exacerbate the problems. Adding computers to make Management life easier is not necessarily the answer. We must make the processes better and more efficient for our Clients and Front Desk. Each time we add a new step to the process it is like adding toll booths to a highway, while the accountability is nice, the bottle necks, congestion, and slow downs are counter productive.

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