Is Call Accounting Still Relevant in Hospitality?

call accountingFull disclosure: I work for a company that sells hotel phone systems with call billing included. It has always been a selling point for us.

Even so, I’m not sure call accounting remains relevant in hospitality.  Without question, its need and value are declining. Is it already dead and we just don’t realize it yet because brands still specify a requirement, and hoteliers are just “used to” buying it and hooking it up?

Let’s be clear – call accounting in hospitality serves two different purposes. First is call billing, or posting a charge for phone calls to the guest’s folio. Second is reporting, in which the administrative side of the house reviews reports about staff and guest call activity to help manage staff and to do a small slice of their revenue analysis. So when I ask “Is Call Accounting Relevant?”, I’m talking about … both of these.

Recently I was in the field during a PBX cutover in an upper midscale major brand hotel with about 130 rooms. While doing the pre-cutover interview with the front desk manager, we learned that the old call accounting system had not been posting calls to guest folios for more than 6 months. This did not seem to be of great concern to the manager.

Wait…. What?

I cut my (hotel telephony) teeth during the era when companies like ours gave the PBX to the hotel at no cost in exchange for a 50% share of the phone call revenue. In other words, half of the guest call billing paid the equivalent of a full system lease with installation costs thrown in. The other half not only paid the entire hotel phone bill, it was a strong profit center for even the smaller midscale properties.

Times have changed, and for obvious reasons (can you say “cell phone”?), guest room phone use and, therefore, guest call billing have declined greatly. But so has the cost per minute of delivering calls to and from the hotel, and some observant properties and even brands now pass local and long distance calling on to the guest for free – heck, it’s lots cheaper per room each night than electricity, water, cable TV, or basic internet, and all of these are built into the room rate.

Can you imagine metering the guest’s water use or presenting them with surcharges for each TV show they watched?

Back to the aforementioned cutover. When I pressed the front desk manager, they of course were somewhat embarrassed that they had not addressed this problem earlier but defended themselves by clarifying that their total guest call billing had dropped to about $10/week. The cost of a technical service call to investigate the problem would have been at least $150, and a replacement call accounting system (if needed) would have been around $2,000.

I asked about call reports they needed to track employee activity, especially in the sales department.  Modern management techniques, I was told, don’t include the need to track how many calls a salesperson makes. They measure on results and management has no desire to play a “Big Brother” role.

Certainly there are larger, upscale hotels that still bill hundreds of dollars per month for guest phone calls – especially if they accommodate international travelers. And some hotel managers need reporting and agent activity information that only call accounting can provide. These properties still have a reason to employ full-blown call accounting systems.  But it would be interesting to learn if any of these hotels can show a true cost/benefit analysis that points favorably to a call accounting system investment.  

For hotels that don’t have administrative call reporting needs or can’t cost-justify call accounting as a revenue generator, it may be time to stop measuring this low-cost amenity and just include it in the basic rate. If you’d like to discuss or other concerns you may have about upgrading your phone system to VoIP, please contact PhoneSuite today.


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