Nothing can sour a guest’s stay or even an entire trip quite like leaving something behind in the hotel room. It’s even worse when you contact the hotel and the staff is unhelpful. To make the process easier, hotel operators that are unsatisfied with lost-and-found practices of the past have switched to digital methodologies. These systems act 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.
In the current state of hospitality, hoteliers are facing a labor shortage and every employee is facing the challenge of having to do more with less, making it imperative to empower staff with the right tools. Logging found items, managing inventory and processing returns with anything less than artificial intelligence and machine learning lends itself to enhanced risk, a poor guest experience and increased costs, said Stephen Sinclair, founder and CEO of Bounte, a cloud-based lost-and-found software.
“We’ve all been there—realizing you’ve left an item behind can be stressful and upsetting, and this is typically the ‘last impression’ that guests may have with their experience at the hotel,” he said.
Lost-and-found systems can provide near-instant access to found items through mobile apps and text messaging where staff can immediately respond to guest inquiries and initiate the return process, sometimes even before the guest leaves the property.
“A lost item is most often the last interaction the guest has with the hotel—and if it goes poorly, it can sour the guest relationship,” said Brian Colodny, president and chief financial officer at Chargerback, which also offers a cloud-based lost-and-found software. “The best thing is to return the guest’s item in the most efficient way possible. That shows that the hotel cares about guest.”
Some lost-and-found systems enable cloud-based software that provides inventory management, customer communication and shipping solutions in one easy-to-use platform. Systems also allow for chain-of-custody monitoring every step of the way and provide shipping through FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service.
Having a lost-and-found system in place that can quickly reunite a guest with his or her lost item instills gratitude and brand loyalty, said James Mosieur, director of the 911 Cell Phone Bank. “It keeps the hotel organized and allows it to run more efficiently. When unclaimed electronic devices are disposed of properly through a guaranteed secure data-erasure service, it protects not only the hotel from potential liability, but also the privacy of its guests.”
Technology and identity theft are on the rise, Mosieur warned. About 70 million phones and devices are lost each year. Many of these devices are left behind by a guest in a hotel’s lost-and-found department and end up being donated to a local charity or an online auction service. A charity’s staff may be expert at counseling victims or providing food to the hungry and shelter for the homeless, but very few have the skill, capabilities or resources to permanently erase private data from an electronic device. Most charities simply pass the devices on to a third party to process and sell. If the hotel’s agreement is not with the third party, should a data breach occur, it could be held liable for any damages sustained by the original owner of the device. Law enforcement may accept devices, but that does not mean they have the skill or resources to adequately erase the data they contain, either.
How Lost and Found Can Help the Bottom Line
A lost-and-found department can be considered just a small division that is often overlooked within hotel operations; however, it should never be underestimated just how important this department can be—both from a legal standpoint as well as a customer loyalty standpoint. Therefore, now is the time to consider implementing a solid lost-and-found system that can not only reunite an owner to their lost item, but also ensures a guaranteed secure disposal method to safely dispose of the electronics that are never claimed by the guest, Mosieur said.
Full-featured lost-and-found technology can reduce the time spent organizing, reporting and responding to guest inquires. Additional and more advanced features can automate the steps to get items shipped back to a guest, even in foreign countries, with only an email. These technologies replace many of the manual steps involved with lost and found. More recently, advancements in technology have pushed efficiencies to a whole new level, said Sinclair.
“For example, Bounte uses artificial intelligence technology in several areas to help reduce manual steps for the staff,” he said. “AI, highly-complex algorithms and mobile technologies together, Bounte reduces the time spent logging items by almost 75 percent. By simply snapping a photo, from any type of mobile device, complete and accurate found item details with corresponding keywords will be stored automatically. Subsequently, all applicable staff will be notified in real-time, increasing the likelihood of a return. As a result, hotels will field fewer calls, and spend less time typing, and locating and returning items, all of which save the hotel time and money.”
Chargerback’s business model creates a partnership with hoteliers, Colodny said. “Our software is provided at no cost and a small service fee is added to the return shipping cost,” he said. “Our software automates mundane tasks and makes staff more efficient.”
Two studies conducted by a major Las Vegas resort show a 40 percent decrease in staffing cost. The partnership maximizes the number of returned items because everybody’s focused on the same goal–returning the guest’s item, Colodny continued.