As a holiday rental management company with 15 years of experience in the city of Malaga, we’ve recently taken the decision to remove the smart locks previously installed in our apartments.
In recent years, holiday rental management companies have been bombarded with so-called smart technology solutions that are supposedly designed to make our day-to-day life easier. Smart Locks are one of them; as a matter of fact, you can find numerous companies on the market that offer this type of technology.
Property Management software recommendations
Our property management software, Avantio, recommended a couple different options to us so we decided to try two different companies. While said companies offer different products, in essence, they have the same functionality and goal: to improve guest experience, safety and security, and of course, to make holiday property managers’ life easier. As we speak, Avantio has stopped recommending one of the aforementioned smart lock providers.
Smart locks technology
We have now been using one company for more than a year and the other one for 6 months. I can safely say that at no point did any of the above have been working perfectly. Pretty much from day one, we had issues with both softwares. As with everything new, we anticipated a few teething issues and decided to remain open-minded and give it some time. In hindsight, we should have ended our cooperation much before, but since our home owners paid a substantial amount for the locks and their installation, we made a conscious effort to give it a good try and try to make it work.
The main problem we experienced with smart locks
1. Poorly WiFi connection
Before installing the actual lock, a technician was sent to ensure the viability of the installation, either directly by cable or WiFi. Both methods were approved by the technician. However, it quickly became clear that the smart locks running on WiFi were simply too unstable which resulted in daily phone calls from guests complaining that they could not access their apartments. After some discussion with the smart-lock company, they offered to provide us with a 4G connection. Firstly, they insisted that we pay 3€ per month for the privilege, which needed to be added up to the 10€ monthly fee they already charge to run the system. Since we refused to pay any more money, the smart lock company decided to pay for the 4G connection themselves.
2. Inoperational locks due to power cuts
Sadly, the internet connection was not the only problem. In case of a power cut in a building or in the neighborhood, the internet connection becomes offline, and as a result, the smart locks simply become inoperational. As we are based in Malaga, power shortcuts are unfortunately not that unusual, which means that we often received phone calls late in the evening, or in the middle of the night, when guests were coming home from a night out. This resulted in waking up an employee to go to the apartment with a key in the middle of the night.
3. You should fix them manually
Another problem we experienced is that smart locks simply seem to go offline for no apparent reason. So again, this entailed a member of staff having to go to the apartment and reset the system manually by disconnecting all the fuses, wait a minute and connect the system again. This can result in being very inconvenient when again, you have to send a member of staff to an apartment at 1 am.
4. Smart Locks battery
Locks work with normal batteries and even though this is not a major problem in itself, you still need to make sure that the lock is charged at all times. If it isn’t, you again need to send an employee to charge the battery to avoid any potential problems with access.
5. Unnecesary communications with guests
Clearly, this electronic door solution was sold to us as a major benefit to our overall guest experience. Since we were connected to an API connection, the smart lock company had our guests' emails on file and they used it to send our guests lots of communication before arrival, some completely unrelated to the lock itself, which led to a high degree of confusion and misunderstanding. To put it simply, this turned into an overkill of communication which annoyed many of our guests before they even stepped foot in the apartment.
6. External providers cut downs
On a couple of occasions, we also experienced that the provider's external server was down. When that happens, guests simply lose access to the apartments. I’m sure that all of us have experienced at some point a server breaking down, but on this occasion, when this happens, the consequences are substantially more complicated as people can no longer access their apartment.
7. 4G connection problems
On another occasion, the smart lock provider forgot to inform us that their 4G agreement with the internet provided had been terminated. So, here we are, on a Friday afternoon, receiving calls from all our guests informing us that they could not access their property.
After contacting the smart lock provider, they simply proceeded to inform us that they had ended the contract with their internet provider. As a result, we had to send all our employees to the rescue of our guests stuck outside of their apartment.
These smart lock companies often blame their shortcomings on third parties: the internet providers, e.g. for instance, Movistar did not provide a fast connection (even though we had a 600MB connection), guests did not know how to use the app correctly, the 4G provider was down and so was their server, but under any circumstance was it their fault.
They may be right but it certainly does not help you at 01:00 in the morning when guests can’t access their apartment. But one thing is sure: guests will blame the property manager for these problems, not the smart lock company, and as a result you will receive negative reviews, even though none of this is directly your fault.
Finally, my personal opinion is that smart locks will never drive repeat business. A personalized check-in and greeting will.
So if your strategy is to focus on securing more direct bookings, forget about smart locks and focus on your customer experience.
These smart lock companies also charge a monthly fee for their services, which turns out to be very costly. Imagine paying an annual subscription of 120€ to end up having to send staff members at 3:00am to open doors with a good old key.