Six Ways to Give Back with Blast

At this time of the year, we see a natural shift in priorities toward gratitude and giving. Here at Blast App, we are grateful for our team and everyone that has helped us in this journey. And the most rewarding part of our job is seeing how our customers treat their teams and how their teams, in turn, treat each other and the community around them.

Blast wasn’t conceived as a platform to just reinforce knowledge and identify knowledge gaps. At its core, we’re focused on building an engaged, internal audience and that engagement takes many forms. To me, engagement is attention. Someone told me the other day that, “Attention is love.” And love goes both ways. Paying attention to our team members implies we care for them. Paying attention to our organization implies team members care about the greater mission. And paying attention to the community around us reflects the same.

Today, I’d like to share some stories of how Blast can support that attention and how customers have embodied the spirit of attention for those around them.

Support your local pet shelter: Our top story is from one of our hospitality customers. Due to Hurricane Irma’s impact to their local community, dozens of animals were displaced and in need of care at the local SPCA shelter. This local hotel raised donations through a raffle for a free weekend stay. In addition, team members redeemed their Blast points for gift cards and donated them for food and supplies at the SPCA shelter. It’s a great example of paying attention to the community and Blast is honored to play a small part in supporting their generous efforts.

Help school-aged kids in shelters: One of the biggest challenges for schools is providing respectable support for kids who are in temporary shelters. These kids don’t have ample school supplies or clothing. Many kids come to school wearing the same clothes everyday or lack warm jackets. Use your team’s Blast points to provide some basics that can brighten their day and help their self-esteem.

Take underprivileged kids shopping: A common reward offered by our customers is a Walmart gift card. You can collect enough gift cards and create a fun shopping trip for the kids to pick out holiday gifts for their families. It’s easy to redeem for gift cards and the smiles on their faces will make it all worthwhile.

Book flights to see family: A team member recently found out that their mother needed to go through extensive chemo treatment for late-stage cancer, but she was unable to make a trip across the US. Teams can organize airline miles in exchange for Blast points to support teammates and help them be with family for critical events.

Donate to a cause: Many organizations have existing programs that contribute to local Habitat for Humanity builds or support American Cancer Society walks. You can support fellow team members involved in these endeavors by matching donations through Blast points redemption. This gives attention to both internal team members and the community around you.

Ask vendors to sponsor: Many customers are very creative in sourcing their rewards and incentives. Instead of only offering gift cards or company swag, customers have approached their key vendors for contributions. Vendors appreciate the opportunity to elevate their visibility to internal teams, but more importantly, they want to contribute to local causes as well. Whether the team is contributing supplies to local food banks, technology for a classroom or prizes for raffles, there are many ways to involve your business partners and benefit the community as a whole.

These are just a few ways to get creative with Blast points to help everyone pay more attention to those around them. What will you do this holiday season to show gratitude and pay attention to those around us?

Four Ways to Address Cyber and Data Security in Hotels

In a previous blog post, we discussed the top risks facing the hospitality industry. One of the most critical risks that has been very active over the past year is cyber and data security risk. In our increasingly digital ecosystems, technology deployment in hotels are increasing, especially beyond reservations and room key systems. In-room systems are being deployed to provide guests with hotel information and in some cases, apps that allow them to request amenities or order room service.

The increase in technology deployment, also results in additional access points to secure from hackers and rogue staff. The impact of a security incident, even localized to one property, can be severe. There are real financial impacts, like lowered revenue due to reputational damage and increased cost of marketing and operations to recover from security incidents. Guests are increasingly aware that hotel WIFI systems can be a security risk and personal and payment information can be compromised in the hotel ecosystem.

So what should hotel owners and operators focus on to reduce the risk of cyber and data security incidents? Here are a four areas that operators can take action on now to reduce the potential risk and make it easier to recover when incidents do happen.

1.  Security Awareness
Physical security has long been a concern for hotels, but data and cyber security are now just as big of a risk for guests, even before they show up. In order to address the challenge, all staff need to be aware of potential threats, how to identify them, who to report them to, and what to do to provide security while threats are being addressed.

Hotels often conduct security training upon hiring new staff and review security measures annually, but keeping security awareness levels high throughout the year is imperative. Data breaches and hacks happen at any time from across the globe. Hotels need a vision for their security posture and plans to ensure that everyone on the frontline is aware of and supports that vision through their daily actions. 

2. Insider Threats
One of the often overlooked sources of data security breaches are insiders. No matter how well you screen employees, situations arise that can cause good people to make poor choices. While staff can purposefully leak personal data (from guests and staff alike) and payment information, insiders are also often the target of socially engineered attacks.

Phishing scams, malware and other methods are often successful when associates are not aware of what is happening until it is too late. This can cause staff to inadvertently put the hotel and their guests at risk. Hotels need to constantly remind their staff to be vigilant and look for suspicious emails and activity. A guest leaving a USB drive may not be as innocent as one might assume. Keep the associates engaged with the latest cyber threats to keep awareness high.

3. Reservations, Payments and A/C?
As we’ve seen in data breaches at Target and The Home Depot, cyber thieves often gain access not through primary system access points, but rather through vendor systems. Whether it’s your HVAC vendor’s temperature control system or scheduling software system, hackers can gain access to your primary systems through partner systems that might seem innocuous. 

The legal and reputational risks are high, even when a partner system gets hacked. At the end of the day, guests associate your brand and hotel property with the incident and the financial impact will be direct. Make sure associates are aware of all the potential access points and how vendors are sources of unintended cyber risk.

4. Responsive Posture
As cyber and data security events become more prevalent, it’s important to be ready with a response plan. This starts with the presumption that an event WILL happen. When it does, what does your investigative process look like? How do you keep staff informed of operational changes? And most importantly, how should front line associates respond to guest concerns? 

It’s important to provide relevant information as the investigation proceeds, to both the market and insiders. Associates may not be able to answer all the questions, but providing some frequently asked questions and guidelines for responses is critical to maintaining a positive, helpful posture to help the organization recover from a security incident.

The digital age has brought a shift in how hotels operate and serve guests and have opened up additional points of risk. Awareness levels of cyber and data security risks are rising with hotels being in the spotlight this past year due to data breach events. And while these events may have been limited to specific hotel properties, it puts the entire brand at risk and reduces guest confidence. All this means that hotel operators have to involve all their staff to ensure physical and data and cyber safety and security. 

Four Common Restaurant Challenges and How Your Team Can Help

In Atlanta, one thing we have going for us is food. Not just southern food, but all types of cuisines and world-class restaurants. Atlanta is home to some great restaurant experiences with many local restaurant groups expanding outside the city and some outside the state of Georgia. There are so many great choices, it’s never easy to decide where to eat! 

(One day we’ll write a blog about how our team created a Lunch Blast Alexa app to help us with this conundrum. But back to the important stuff.)

According to the National Restaurant Association 2017 outlook, the restaurant-industry sales are expected to near $800 billion. But with rising labor costs, it’s more important than ever for operators to keep guests coming back. Meanwhile, consumers demand more new flavors and concepts, and restaurateurs are forced to continue to innovate. The booming restaurant scene isn’t just a challenge for chefs and their menus, but also for operators to create a unique experience that keeps guests coming back. Restaurants are complex businesses to operate, and even more challenging to ensure the best guest experience. 

In order to thrive, restaurants need to win on all fronts, especially the four that we will highlight here. But they all have a common ingredient: the staff. Restaurants can’t win without their staff.

1. Customer Service
There’s no getting around it. While food is a focus in restaurants, a key ingredient is the service you receive as a first time guest. The chef can create amazing flavors and present delightful plates, but the lack of attentive service can leave a bad taste. If your customers have a poor first experience, there is very low likelihood of a return visit. Furthermore, a resulting bad review on review sites like Yelp, Google and TripAdvisor can quickly deter new guests from trying your establishment in the first place.

Your staff, collectively, have to solve this challenge. Customer service extends from the minute guests are greeted at the front door to the bus staff and often kitchen staff in open cook concepts. Everyone is responsible for a great guest experience and you have to make sure the staff is armed with the right information to serve the guests, no matter what role they play in the restaurant.

2. Menu
In today’s very competitive environment, restaurants need to differentiate themselves with a unique menu offering, carefully combining artful flavors and presentation accompanied by a solid selection of beverages. Customers demand sufficient wine lists and variety of food choices, with many looking for seasonal menus and special dishes. But how does staff keep up with all the changes and expansive offerings? If they miss line-up, how do you ensure they get all the information?
You have to encourage teamwork to share information with those that need it and make sure everyone is updated on the week’s specials. Without ample food and beverage knowledge, your staff will have a difficult time providing top-notch service. Capture short videos of the chef presenting today’s special or post announcements of special upcoming menu programs to keep all your team members informed so they can be the most knowledgeable.

3. Staff
Service execution comes through an enthusiastic staff. But it’s hard to maintain the expected service levels and culture if you’re faced with high turnover and constantly training new staff. Retaining your staff pays off with returning guests and consistent culture growth to maintain the competitive edge. Not to mention lower hiring and training costs.

Keeping staff engaged is a real challenge. New hires want to be productive as quickly as possible. Provide all the resources necessary for them to learn the menu and get up to speed. But also make sure there is continuous support with a consistent stream of communications and activities to build teamwork and equip them with the knowledge they need to perform their best. Invest in your staff so they grow, but treat them so well that they grow with the organization.

4. Unique Experience
A guest’s entire visit encapsulates everything you have to offer and the ultimate guest experience is your ability to execute with personable staff, impeccable service, great food and an overall memorable dining experience. The unique dining experience is a challenge given the range of choices in the market today. 

Consider how you market your brand, especially through social media channels like Instagram and Facebook. Pictures of new specials increase awareness of new menu items and entice guests to come give it a try. Then match and exceed their expectations by ensuring all the details come together for them, from the facade, decor and greeting to the service experience. 

Creating a competitive offering starts with engaged staff who are knowledgeable, customer-oriented and inspired by the team. Focus on communications with your front line to ensure you are delivering the best guest experience possible.

How Hospitality Staff Can Address Four Top Risks

According to Deloitte’s Hospitality Outlook 2017 report, challenges to the hospitality industry will continue to create opportunities for growth, but not without execution risk. Changing consumer behaviors and expectations are putting additional pressure on hotel owners and operators to adapt their services. And cybersecurity continues to put hotels at risk with examples of recent breaches in data security that leak personal and payment information. 

While the global political landscape can create angst amongst travelers, the improved economy and are encouraging travelers to explore and spend money. For those in hospitality, this is a good sign. But disruptors like private rentals through Airbnb and HomeAway are giving travelers new options outside of traditional hotels. Hotel operators need to continue to innovate while ensuring that they provide exceptional service since their staff can offer something private rentals can’t. And there has to be relentless focus on the key operational risks that can create the difference between a failing hotel and a successful one. Let’s look at four of these top risks and what we can do to address them.

1. Data Privacy
Cybersecurity is still a top risk today, with the vast majority of bookings transactions being handled through credit cards and online payments. Identity theft and payment fraud are big worries for hotel operators. How do you ensure that front desk staff are checking ID’s and following procedure? How should your staff react to concerns of identity theft?

While secure systems and workstations are a must in combating today’s data security risks, the human element can’t be ignored. So much of fraud and data leaks originate from human error or lack of proper procedures. Staff have to be trained to securely handle payment and identity information to protect guests and hotel alike. 

And with the on-going evolution of hackers, hotel staff have to stay on top of the latest procedures in order to secure their data. This means continuous awareness of existing and new information. Hoteliers would be wise to assess front desk staff on a regular basis to avoid unnecessary risks while keeping cybersecurity top-of-mind in addition to quality guest services.

A security breach can have great ramifications on the brand and impact future bookings. If guests are not comfortable with a hotel’s data security posture, bookings can slide, costing significant future revenue.

2. Guest Behavior
While guests are the source of revenue for hospitality, they can also be the biggest risk. Hotels can’t survive without guests, but there are a lot of uncontrollable circumstances when guests are involved. Travelers set up house in many cases and guest behavior can cause both property damage as well as liability for the hotel. Slips and falls can result in lawsuits while unruly behavior after a party can damage the hotel, not to mention the impact on staff morale for cleaning up after the guests.

There have been many examples impacting guest and staff experience. And often times, handling the situation can be delicate in order to refrain from offending guests while holding behavioral guidelines. Staff have to be reminded of expected guest behavior while being comfortable being empowered to handle incidents directly. 

Hotel operators need to have a close eye on the operational risks that can result from poor guest behavior. Keep the staff informed in order to reduce the risk from guest incidents.

3. Brand Resilience
In hospitality, it’s all about the brand. Operators rely on the brand’s stature in the market to lure guests looking for the value they provide. With that, brands focus a lot of effort in making sure that guest experience is consistent across hotel properties, regardless of hotel operator and location. Brands spend a lot of money advertising and creating loyalty programs to keep guests coming back.

With the level of investment in building the brand, risks that can impact brand resilience have to be addressed. Hotel staff are often the key representation of the brand, executing on the commitments and sentiments of the brand in the market. So how do you make sure the brand is well represented? Do the staff know the focus of guest experiences and what services should be delivered, according to the brand?

Operators are constantly at-risk of brand audits and ensuring compliance with brand standards, where non-compliance leads to fines and additional costly audits. Keep the staff informed to help keep the brand resilient.

4. Staff
As we’ve seen through the three previous risk areas, hotel staff play a key role in both delivering value as well as being risk mitigators. Front desk staff are key to defending against credit card fraud and data leaks. Managers and housekeeping staff guide and respond to guest behavior issues. And all staff are part of delivering on the brand promise by ensuring a quality guest experience.

But relying on the staff can be difficult, where on-going high turnover and low wage levels compound the challenge of building a sustainable, engaged employee base. Creative operators are innovative with rewards and recognition programs while ensuring their staff is as knowledgeable as possible. 

To address these risks, operators need to find ways to continuously raise awareness levels in their staff while creating an engaging environment in order to deliver on expected guest experiences. These challenges are not likely to go away and the staff is the best line of defense in these key risk areas.

Seven Questions to Ask Your Team

We have all been a contributor to annual employee satisfaction surveys, and for the most part, they haven’t changed much over the years. While there is greater acceptance of a mixed approach to leverage pulse surveys as well as annual surveys, the line of questioning has generally remained the same. But should you be asking different questions?

Workplace culture has been evolving over the last decade, with even the largest companies trying to break down the traditional “corporate” environment to foster a more innovative culture in order to compete for talent. We should focus our efforts in determining if we are cultivating the culture we want and that requires asking employee satisfaction questions a little differently.

Here, I present seven questions that you should be asking, whether through your annual employee survey or through pulse surveys. I think they help represent a different mindset from management and will illicit insightful feedback from your teams.

1. Are you having fun at work?
We now spend more than a third of our day at or on work with many team members spending more than that. But that doesn’t mean we should be suffering. Work should be fun in order to bring out everyone’s best effort and talent. Ask this question to gain insight into whether you’re effective in aligning the right opportunities for the right talent. 

2. Do you feel the management team is transparent?
Transparency is highly coveted these days, with millennials leading the charge in asking for brands to be authentic and management to be transparent. What this means is the desire to understand why tasks are being assigned. If you are successful in creating transparency, you have a higher chance of retaining key talent and creating an open culture. So while you may think you are being transparent, how are the employees perceiving management?

3. How comfortable are you to give feedback to your manager?
Transparency flows both ways and it’s important to understand whether middle management has created a culture of fear or openness. Check-in to see if there are managers that need coaching and encouragement to reflect the openness that you are creating at the top. Employees should be comfortable providing constructive feedback to their supervisors in order to maximize operations and customer service.

4. What three words would you use to describe our culture?
While this is an open-ended question, it’s a true reflection of how your team members perceive the workplace. By asking employees to put culture in “their own words,” we reflect on whether there is alignment to company values as well as how culture is actually embodied in our front line teams. Oftentimes, what we think we are encouraging is actually not what is being heard.

5. What would be your number one reason for leaving?
Employee satisfaction surveys often ask how satisfied employees are with benefits, pay, training, etc. But what is the ONE thing they would leave for? While compensation naturally ranks high, you may be surprised at what is really driving attrition amongst your staff. Insights here should lead organizations to think hard about what can be done to address the cause and how much resource to allocate.

6. If you could do it all over again, would you re-apply for the job you have now?
When I first came across this question, I was a little surprised. Why would we want to know if they would apply for the same job? Interestingly, it’s a great way to gain insight into how job perception and reality line up. This relates to our first suggestion question above, but asks whether the job description and hiring process provided the best match of skills and desire with the opportunity. If you “sell” a job the wrong way, it ends up costing the company more in the long run due to unhappy workers and lower productivity.

7. How likely are you to refer someone to work here?
No surprise here, but I think it’s important enough to include this as a reflection of how the organization as a whole is perceived. With outlets like GlassDoor and LinkedIn, it’s hard to hide just what your employees think, so why not address the issue head-on? It’s important to know whether your current team members are having enough fun, seeing growth opportunities and being managed appropriately to recommend their friends come work with them. It’s truly the ultimate measure of support for your organization as a whole.

While these seven questions are not the only questions to ask, I suggest organizations incorporate some of these into their annual survey or use them in pulse surveys to keep tabs on trends. The workplace has evolved challenges the way we build company culture and respond to employee concerns. Keep evolving your feedback mechanisms to keep an open dialogue with your team members, especially the front line teams.