How digital lost-and-found tools empower hotel guests

Losing an item while on the road can be infuriating—and it could even result in lower guest satisfaction scores. Photo credit: Getty Images/MrIncredible

As anyone who has left his or her phone on a plane can attest, nothing sours a travel experience like losing something along the way. From a guest’s perspective, recovering misplaced items can make or break a trip, and the process of returning lost items—and the levels of its success—often feels arbitrary. Thanks to new technology, however, this no longer must be the case.

Hotel operators unsatisfied with lost-and-found practices of the past have switched to digital methodologies, such as Holiday Inn Club Vacations’ use of lost-and-found software by Chargerback. This web-based system acts as a ledger that keeps track of guest items left at a hotel, and also allows for interactions between guests and hotels as both parties seek to reunite lost items with their owners.

Betsy Lemus, manager, brand performance at Holiday Inn Club Vacations, prefers digital systems like these because they put the responsibility of recovering lost items on the guest, not the hotel.

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“Guests put in the information on their lost item, and can even provide pictures of the item, which helps us locate it,” Lemus said. “We note the service on our hotels’ welcome packets, and we do everything through email so there is an information trail to follow.”

Tools like Chargerback use drop-down menus to streamline the lost-and-found process, and also log all requests as they are added. Photo credit: Chargerback

Al Zaccario, VP of information technology at New Castle Hotels & Resorts, said that in the past lost-and-found requests often were logged by one employee, then followed up on by another. This process can introduce errors and confusion, leading to misplaced records and unsatisfied guests.

“If you are able to log a request online so that everyone can see the guest has this need, and you are able to use different assets to recover items quickly, that makes everything so much easier,” Zaccario said. “The takeaway is that it’s a program, not a process. That's what makes it effective.”

In order to facilitate as much communication between the property and guest as possible, Zaccario recommends hotels invest in lost-and-found programs that are multiplatform because they must be able to interact with tablets, phones and personal computers. He also recommends programs that allow for text-based guest interaction, which will allow hoteliers to narrow down search locations for lost items and stay in contact with guests.

However, he also cautioned against relying too heavily on text-based communication because its use is largely a generational preference for guests.

“This is the challenge in taking on multiple inputs at once,” Zaccario said. “If a guest walks by the front desk to voice a concern, or if they are hundreds of miles away in their home, the problem is just as important.”

According to Lemus, hotels using Chargeback’s technology are still able to assist guests face-to-face or over the phone to find their lost items, but using a digital system has been more effective for Holiday Inn Club Vacations’ back-of-the-house operations.

“Before, each individual property had their own process for lost and found,” Lemus said. “Some were great, some were average. Now we can match a lost item with an image, and if there are errors it’s usually on the guest’s end—but we won’t tell them that!”

Not all guests will want to report lost items through their smartphones, no matter how effective the tool is. Expect to continue fielding many requests for lost items in person. Pictured: Westin Jekyll Island. Photo credit: New Castle Hotels & Resorts

Know the Score 

Reuniting a guests with lost items provides hotels with more than just good will—these experiences can translate into precious positive review scores.

“Social media is driving hotels like never before, and something as important as a guest losing a valuable item, and having that show up on social media, can be brutal for a hotel,” Zaccario said. “We are doing everything we can to service customers, and there is even more attention being paid to this online. Digital tools are even more important for that goal, and hopefully they can somehow end up in a positive review.”

Lemus said that lost-and-found operations often do not impact hotel review scores outside of the few times guests are adamant they left something behind, and end up frustrated when a hotel fails to get back to them. In this case, lost-and-found technology is best used to avoid negative reviews, which is why the technology must be counted on.

“We have 26 properties, and I can’t think of a single one where we have given a guest the wrong item,” she said. “What makes the technology work is communication. Talk with guests and retrace their steps, and if you can’t find the item be up front about it.”

Ascertaining a location for where an item was lost is imperative, Lemus said, particularly because the majority of guests are off property when reporting a lost item.

“Many guests forget where they were when they lost what they are looking for, and many forget what room they were in when they stayed with us,” she said. “If your hotel finds something, you want to verify that it belonged to the guest before sending it back. The only thing worse than a lost item is mistakenly sending the wrong item to the wrong guest. So if you can send an email to a guest telling them that an item was found, but not where they said they left it, try to communicate with them and figure out where they were and what they were doing when it was lost.”

As for success stories, Zaccario personally knew of a guest who left a $10,000 Rolex wristwatch behind following a hotel stay, and using digital lost-and-found technology the property was able to locate the watch immediately and reassure the guest that it was on the way back home.

“We have to make sure our guests leave with what they brought,” Zaccario said. “That’s the mentality. We have to find these things somehow.”