coin toss for decisionOur B&B, Brewster House Bed & Breakfast, was recently in a position to re-evaluate its guest management software choice. You would think that the frequent evaluations (and upcoming reviews!) of various systems (we’ll call them guest management software, though some call them property management software) would make this an easy thing to do, but it never works out that way. You see, while we did a careful study of the available software before our initial purchase, every time we have to review that decision, there are new players, with new products, and the older players and products have changed, and their pricing has changed. So, while we felt we made the best choice for our property at the time, it is always worth the time to review the competition instead of blindly renewing with the same product.

1. Take the emotion out of the equation

From forum discussions and other contact we’ve had with innkeepers, it is clear that some guest management software companies give the impression of being a faceless corporate giant, while others give the impression of being the small, user-friendly company. Some make friends by giving things away, or being helpful in public forums. One may make you disinclined to buy from them, the other may make you want to help them out, but neither of these emotional reactions is a solid foundation for an important business decision.

2. Compare features that are the same

Almost all products provide a list of their features on their websites. However, there is no industry standard for naming the features, so be sure that you understand what the feature actually does. For example, if being able to export guest transactions to an accounting program (such as Quickbooks or Peachtree) is important to you, make sure you know what the company means when they say the accounting information can be exported. Many systems export a file that can be imported into the accounting software. At least one provides a real-time sync. Some, however, simply export a bunch of information to a file, and it is not necessarily in a format that can be imported into the accounting program.

3. Don’t compare features you don’t need

It is easy to get caught up in the feature “hype” of marketing messages. Think about the features carefully – are they features you will really use? If you won’t be using the guest management system for your accounting, then there is no advantage to buying a guest management system that includes its own accounting module.

4. One size doesn’t fit every property

It is a good idea to check with other innkeepers you know, to see what they use, how happy they are with the product, its features, support, customer service, etc. However, even properties that appear similar may have different requirements when it comes to their guest management software. Maybe you love to get reports from the system that allow you to “slice and dice” the data about your guests – where they come from, when they stay, how often they return, how much they spend – and your neighbor with a similar property just wants to know how many rooms they sold and how much income they had. The two of you may have very different requirements when it comes to the number and types of reports the software can provide.

5. Set your priorities

Make a list of the things you want the guest management software to be able to do. Do you want web-based software, so you don’t have to worry about backups, and can access it from anywhere? Do you want it installed on your computer so you have control over it? Should you be able to control it using your smartphone? Do you need it to send confirmation, reminder and follow-up emails to your guests? What kind of reports should you be able to get from the system? Should it smoothly interact with an accounting program? Should it provide online booking, or will you use another system for online booking?

6. Objectify your analysis

Prioritize your desired features – put them in order of importance, or assign numeric values to them, so you can decide what is most important, and what is less important. Make sure you don’t minimize a feature that may not be of great importance, but you don’t feel you can do without. In a prior article we provided a sample spreadsheet that can be used as an example of this process.

7. Try before you buy

Almost every guest management we’ve looked at (except the very high end systems that are more-or-less custom built) will allow some type of demo access. Either a limited function (or limited time) download, or a limited time online account. Take advantage of it! Get a demo, and enter a few reservations. Make changes. Cancel a reservation. Send yourself the included emails to see what the guest sees. If you can use the online booking capability with the demo, give it a test drive, too. Don’t wait to be surprised after you’ve spent your money!

Bonus tip #1

Undoubtedly, while comparing features, you’ll also be comparing prices. When you do so, be certain you’re comparing all the costs that go into the total price. If there is a purchase price and a service agreement, add them together to come up with the annual cost (or the first year cost and later years cost). If there are additional modules you have to buy separately, make sure you include them in figuring your total annual cost.

A hidden cost that isn’t always evident is the cost of not having something. For example, some online directories show availability for properties using a particular online booking system. If your new property management system has its own online booking, will you want to have a second online booking system so your availability will show up on these other sites? Other directories charge for a link to your availability page if you don’t use their online booking system. Don’t forget that cost if you’ll be using something else.

Bonus tip #2

Don’t be afraid to ask. Even the faceless corporate giants have people working for them. They can provide a wealth of information about capabilities and rates. If you have questions before you buy, or you want to see what specials they may be able to offer you, contact them and ask. Your prospective guests haven’t been shy about asking for breaks on the rates, and neither should you be. You may not be successful in getting a break, but then again, you never know.

Bearing in mind that one size definitely doesn’t fit all, our review of competing products was fruitful. We found some new products that look interesting, but that we rejected either because of lack of features or high price. We also contacted the current provider and were able to work out a satisfactory arrangement for a renewal.