NATIONAL REPORT—Within a month of launching for the hospitality market, Relay Pro, an enterprise-specific communication device, can be found in more than 100 hotel properties. For these businesses, finding a solution that could easily and intuitively connect workers was paramount.
CEO Chris Chuang noted, “As we began our journey, we assumed a lot of them would have moved over to smartphones, away from analog walkie-talkies, but we’ve learned that either due to cost or due to trying smartphones and realizing they introduced more distraction and complexity…many have gone back to walkie-talkies and felt dissatisfied. We’re hoping to alleviate that challenge by giving them the right form factor that gives the power of the smartphone but brings these active workers into the modern world of being connected.”
According to Chuang, there are numerous advantages to using Relay Pro, a small, square device, and chief among them is the portability. “It’s easier to carry than a walkie-talkie,” he said. “If you’re wearing a dress, where do you clip or hang a walkie-talkie that’s big and bulky?”
David Palumbo, GM of Raleigh Marriott City Center, which uses Relay Pro, noted that coverage is another. “You have a level of redundancy because it works with cellular and WiFi, with WiFi being the primary the way we’re set up, and then it reverts to cellular if you’e in a dead spot,” he explained.
The device also comes with a GPS installed. “So, you [have] a map of where a security guard or a housekeeper is,” Chuang said.
Price is a factor as well. Palumbo noted that between the price for the device and the recurring monthly charge for cell coverage, “when you’re looking at whether you’re going to approach ownership to spend a decent amount of capital funds for upfront costs of getting the typical two-way radio, or this minimal upfront cost and then a monthly expense, for us, it made much more sense financially.”
The devices also offer Slack-like functionality that makes it easy to create group chats. “You just jump into the administrative web portal and can change groups within a few seconds or minutes, depending on how many groups you’re trying to set up,” Chuang said. “It’s very simple. With a walkie-talkie, it’s very manual; you have to say, ‘Housekeeping, you’re on channel 16, security you’re on 17,’ and if you want to change that, it requires a lot of steps.”
Hotels can change their groups as needed—for instance, for large events. Additionally, management can communicate with everyone at once.
“We needed to be able to effect an all-call channel that if we had an emergency and we had to contact everyone in the building or a subset of everyone, we could automatically pull every Relay into that channel so they could hear the broadcast, but also when it went idle for a period of time, it would automatically allow each Relay to revert back to its home channel,” Palumbo said. “Having worked with typical walkie-talkies in the past, that wasn’t the case. Or, if someone wanted to switch from housekeeping to talk to security, they might forget to put it back on home channel and someone would be trying to reach them, thinking they’re just not answering. The person would have no idea they’re still on the wrong channel. Relay solved that.”
It also enables private conversations. “Walkie-talkies are inherently group oriented,” Chuang said. “If there’s a sensitive issue you and I want to talk about, but we’re all on the same housekeeping channel with 45 other people, how do I get you into a private conversation? Each Relay is part of a group that’s configured in a simple portal, but it also is an individual entity, so you can just say, ‘Call Joe’ and have a one-on-one conversation.”
Relay Pro also speaks more than 150 languages. “If you want to speak Spanish, Korean or Mandarin into Relay, it will translate out in English or whatever language you want to receive it in,” Chuang said. “We’ve seen some customers begin to use that to help create a better guest experience in terms of being able to communicate with a guest in their native language. That’s one example of an app we’ve built around Relay software.
“Relay is really a software solution,” Chuang added. “It comes in this little, adorable form factor, but like a smartphone, the power of it is really in the software and the apps we can build around that software.”
Palumbo said the Relay team has been great about working with the hotel to create solutions for its needs. “We would make suggestions about what we thought would be better,” he said. “I’m not exaggerating when I say they would come back a week later and if it wasn’t already doing what we suggested, they were working on it so it would do it in a short period of time.”
For Chuang, the possibilities for the device are endless. “If you think back to when the iPhone first came out, those first few apps were timers, but it exploded into hundreds of thousands of apps that you couldn’t even dream of when the iPhone first came out,” Chuang said. “Similarly, we see a huge opportunity… We think there’s a wave of innovation that will come.”