When Paul Mercer’s wife left a pair of shoes behind at a 391-room hotel in Niagara Falls, he stepped in to help get them back. After a series of phone calls and transfers, Mercer realized how frustrating and labor intensive the lost and found process can be for a hotel. To ease the burden, Mercer leveraged his background in the courier industry and took control of the situation. He offered to email the hotel a courier label and page a driver for pickup the following day. The property need only throw the shoes in a box and slap on the label.
“I hung up the phone and a light went on,” Mercer recalled. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is a large and well known hotel brand, and they’re using a book to manage this in a computer age. I wonder if this is the norm?’”
Mercer decided to investigate by contacting the lost and found departments at 20 hotels representing the top brands and asked how they managed their lost and found process. The resounding response he heard was hotels had no real solution in place.
With 25 years experience in the courier industry, 15 of which he spent working directly with UPS, Mercer has helped large companies automate processes and use computers to work smarter and more efficiently. In 2009, he started his own company in Toronto as a logistics provider. “We already had a web solution in place that would allow anybody to produce a label, pay for it, and email that label anywhere,” Mercer explained. “So I used that system to get my wife’s shoes back, because it was just easier than using the courier system.”
The experience inspired Mercer to create a cloud-based software solution that would streamline how hotels file, find, and return lost items to guests. In May of 2012, Mercer launched ILeftMyStuff.com, a PCI-compliant service that puts a simple user interface on its direct UPS connection to facilitate the management and the return of left behind items. Since that time, the company has been working tirelessly to make improvements and add new functionality and features, based on feedback from hotels. “To make the process better, I wanted to ensure we worked closely with the properties to build a solution they wanted, not something we felt they needed,” Mercer said.
Because the system is web-based, hotels don’t have to install any software. They simply register online to get the free service up and running. ILeftMyStuff.com provides customer support and weekly web training sessions for hotel employees. The company informs hotels of their role and responsibility as a shipper and explains how to properly package items so they arrive safely and securely at the guest’s doorstep.
When a lost and found task needs to be completed, the system automatically sends an email notification to staff members. The solution eliminates the need for hotel employees to request sensitive credit card information over the phone, and also drastically reduces the margin for error. Courier companies typically charge an average of $12.50 for an address correction, Mercer said, a cost that would otherwise fall back on the hotel.
“One of the differentiating factors between us and some of our competitors, we have been told, is that our system does do a much better job of managing the process through automated alerts, as opposed to the staff having to manage the information within system,” he said.
Guests who want to retrieve lost items enter their shipping information and pay for the return of their items using a PCI compliant process at IleftMyStuff.com. A nominal service charge is built into the shipping costs for the guests, which in some cases is cheaper than if they directly used a courier service. Mercer said the company uses tier one service providers for its servers to safeguard customer data. The company also regularly conduct audits to ensure the systems are PCI compliant and currently use PayPal to process guest payments.
If any issues arise in regards to delivery, whether it’s a wrong address or the item is lost or damaged in transit, IleftMyStuff.com will support the guest resolving any problems with delivery. “As long as the item has been well packed, when it leaves the property, the hotel’s job is done,” Mercer said.
Hotels currently using ILeftMyStuff.com have reported a 50 to 75 percent workload reduction. For example, a large hotel in the Orlando area that conducted an in-depth time study reported it took less than 10 minutes to process a return, down from 45 minutes prior to adopting the system. Hotels have also seen a decrease in guest complaints and improved guest satisfaction scores, Mercer said.
In the last six months, ILeftMyStuff.com has experienced significant growth, Mercer said, having landed a number of management company accounts and signing preferred vendor agreements with major brands. The company currently works with Hyatt Hotels Corporation and is an endorsed supplier for Best Western. It also works with many hotel management companies, including Davidson Hotels and Resorts. Nearly 600 properties throughout North America use the system, with approximately 20,000 items shipped so far.
Rather than waiting for guests to report a missing item, Mercer encourages hotels to take a proactive approach using ILeftMyStuff.com’s simple email interface. Hotels that proactively notify their guests that an item has been left behind return two to three times more items than hotels that wait for guests to call in. Survey results indicate guests really appreciate this approach, Mercer said.
On average, the company estimates that guests leave behind five to seven items per room per year. That number depends on the individual property and what items they classify as valuable enough to enter into the system. Items frequently left behind include tablets, mobile devices, portable electronics, and clothing. In one instance, Mercer said the company shipped two full suitcases to guests who lived outside the country.
“The perfect analogy with lost and found is that pebble in your shoe,” Mercer said. “On a grand scheme, it really doesn’t have that much of an impact on a hotel’s business, but it does cause a lot of pain and frustration for both the guest and the hotel.”