How guests want forgotten items handled

A hotel’s lost and found is an often overlooked area of a hotel’s operations. Before actual lost-and-found systems, hotels were required to write all the items collected and returned on property into a registry. This was not by choice—by law hotels must assume the responsibilities of proper care of items that have been left behind, said Stephen Sinclair, founder and CEO of Bounte, a cloud-based lost-and-found system.

“As hotels expanded and the number of amenities expanded, such as the addition of pools, meeting spaces, restaurants and spas, guests seemed to have even more areas to lose their belongings,” he continued. “Expansive properties and increased amenities compounded the time required to collect, log and manage the lost and found, which is positively correlated to the time and expense to support this operation. Lost-and-found technologies are specifically designed for hotels to automate and streamline many of the manual activities of the lost-and-found operation.”

Lost-and-found systems can provide near-instant access to found items through mobile apps and text messaging. Staff also 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 guests.”

A lost-and-found system can help build customer loyalty because it assures customers that their requests aren’t falling on deaf ears and that the hotel is empathetic about what they’re going through, said Katie Adgent, marketing director of Quore, a cloud-based hotel quality optimization software. “Losing an item can be an emotional experience for guests, and a lost-and-found system empowers hotel staff to have ‘hero moments’ during guests’ times of crisis by giving them all the tracking information and documentation they need to assist,” she said. “In hospitality, we know that problem resolution is a significant part of the guest experience, and part of that is upheld with a reliable lost-and-found system in place.”

Modern travelers are on the road for shorter durations, but more frequently. The millennial generation in particular expects to interact with hospitality in different ways, such as texting reservation requests, using keyless entry to access guestrooms and using QR technologies.

The lost-and-found operation has to adapt and meet these expectations or it will fall short of the guest experience, Sinclair said. “A guest requesting the shipment of their found item would expect to be able to pay with Apple Pay on their mobile device, while in the car to the airport,” he said. “They would expect to have the ability to text the hotel an inquiry to their lost item or report it missing. These guests expect to have immediate answers when stopping a security officer and inquiring about their lost item. Not having a system in place would significantly degrade the guest experience guests now expect.”

How to Keep Guests' Data Protected

Our lives are very much on our electronic devices these days — all of our contacts, addresses, texts, photos, emails, credit card information, and account passwords often. When those devices are lost, all of our information is at risk. Hotels have a weighty responsibility to properly dispose of personal items left behind, said James Mosieur, director of the 911 Cell Phone Bank.

“For the integrity of your property and the privacy of your guests, you don’t want to take any chances with devices that are left on property,” he said. “Factory reset does not delete everything.”

Organizations, such as Mosieur’s and others, can properly dispose of cell phones and other electronic devices, which guarantees data deletion. Lost-and-found systems help safeguard guests’ personal information by safeguarding the physical assets found, like phones, laptops, gaming systems, and more. “If you don’t take the proper precautions, hotels will have a problem with a variety of risk management issues,” said Michael McLaughlin, Chargerback co-founder.

Another way businesses will destroy devices in their possession is to smash them—while the phone itself may be destroyed, the data on it is very much alive.

Mosieur shared the story of a hotel had donated its smartphones to a local charity, a method many hotels use. The charity organized a local auction and sold all the devices; no testing or clearing was done. One smartphone buyer noticed that the device he purchased still contained the original owner's personal and confidential information. Fortunately, the buyer was an honest man. He contacted the hotel to let them know the device he just purchased still had all its guest's personal information. He returned the device, and the hotel was very grateful.

If the phone had landed in the hands of a not-so-honest person, the results could have been detrimental to the individual but also the hotel, Mosieur said.

Not every device can be deleted, often because it won’t start up for a variety of reasons. In those cases, Mosieur said the organization hotels work with should use a R2 certified recycler. R2 stands for responsible recycling and is a standard specifically created for the electronics recycling industry by Sustainable Electronics Recycling International.