Allowing customer service representatives to work from home is gaining ground as a way to reduce call center expenses and improve customer service. Hilton Reservations & Customer Care needed thin clients for a work-at-home program for room reservation agents.
Hilton considered other operating systems, but tests revealed application compatibility problems. Wyse V90 thin clients, based on the Windows Embedded Standard family, offered seamless compatibility with Win32-based applications, Internet Explorer, Windows
Media Player, and connectivity with Citrix application delivery software. Confidence in this solution was boosted by the fact that the Hilton IT staff was already familiar with Microsoft tools and systems. At the end of fiscal year 2009, nearly one-third of
Hilton’s US reservation agents work from home.
The Hilton Family of Hotels, including the world’s best known hospitality brands – Hilton, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Doubletree, Embassy Suites Hotels, Hampton, Hilton Garden Inn, Hilton Grand Vacations, Homewood Suites by Hilton, and The Waldorf-Astoria
Collection –is committed to satisfying customers with industry-leading innovations in comfort, convenience and control. Hilton currently has more than 3,000 hotels and 500,000 rooms in 74 countries and territories. Keeping those rooms booked is Hilton’s top
priority. The challenge for managers at Hilton Reservations & Customer Care is to provide high-quality customer service as efficiently as possible. The company decided that a work-at-home program for its call center staff could both increase its quality of
customer service while decreasing its call center costs.
||Most of our support staff is very comfortable working with Microsoft products [giving us the] confidence that we could support the work-at-home program with little to no additional training/hiring.
| Rick Sloane
IT Support Manager
Hilton Reservations and Customer Care
The flexibility of working at home appeals to a larger and more diverse pool of job applicants, including many well-educated and skilled people such as stay-at-home mothers, retirees, teachers on summer break, and people with physical disabilities. It creates
new economic opportunities for people who otherwise may not be able to work outside of their homes, particularly if they had to pay for child daycare, commuting, and other daily expenses.
Hilton can offer these flex-time workers hours when demand is high and cut back during slow seasons, helping it to match capacity-to-demand for optimal efficiency and cost savings. In addition, the going rate for a part-time work-at-home agent is less than
for a traditional full-time agent, plus additional savings in employee benefits. Hilton Reservations also saw a work-at-home program as an opportunity to reduce its number of call center locations. This could result in savings on real estate, power, natural
resources and other physical support costs.
Since the work-at-home agents would be remote from IT support, Hilton needed a computing solution that was easy to manage and delivered outstanding reliability. The company also wanted a low total cost of ownership, which includes not only the up-front cost
of the hardware, but also the price of installing, supporting, and updating the device over time.
“We started thinking about thin-client computing,” explains Rick Sloane, IT Support Manager. “We knew that thin clients were built to be reliable and managed remotely, and that they also could limit the threat of exposing our reservations system to viruses
The new thin clients had to meet several critical requirements. Built-in support for Citrix software and protocols was needed to leverage the desktop application delivery infrastructure already in place. The devices also had to run Windows applications built
using the Win32 Applications Programming Interface (API). The devices had to be “tamper-proof” so that users could not install new software or alter system settings. Other requirements included a rich browser environment for delivering web-based training,
and a media player for future applications not yet determined.
Sloane’s team evaluated thin client product offerings running several different operating systems, including Windows Embedded. Testing of solutions based on competitive operating systems revealed serious compatibility issues with key desktop applications as
well as the inability to support a web-based training application within a browser. Hilton opted to standardize on Wyse thin clients running Windows Embedded because of a more robust feature set and overall compatibility and integration issues.
Sloane commented: “It is highly cost effective to outfit and support our staff and manage everything centrally on the server. The Wyse thin client solution also enables us to fully protect our corporate system. The worst thing that can happen is a malfunction
with the thin client, and if that happens, we simply give the team member a new one.”
||We knew that thin clients were built to be reliable and managed remotely, and that they also could limit the threat of exposing our reservations system to viruses and spyware.
When Hilton Reservations hires new work-at-home agents, it provides six weeks of training on site, in the evenings. During the third week of training, the company provides trainees with a thin-client device. They take it home, plug it in, and practice from
Agents can work from anywhere within a metropolitan area where Hilton Reservations has a phone switch. They turn on their Wyse thin client running Microsoft Windows Embedded, log into the VPN, and then connect to Hilton’s Automatic Call Distributor (ACD), which
manages incoming calls and handles the calls based on the number called and an associated database of instructions.
Hilton initially purchased 500 Wyse V90 thin clients for the program. By the end of 2007, it had 687 units in the field, and expects to double this number by the middle of 2008. Hilton now uses both Wyse V90 and V90LE thin clients.
Hilton’s work-at-home program was piloted in the United States. Because the devices almost never need support, it’s easy for staff to provide support over the phone. This also enables a single office to support work-at-home agents from many different language
groups outside of the U.S., helping ensure greater customer satisfaction in a cost-effective manner.
Windows Embedded technology and Wyse thin clients delivered several important business and technical benefits to Hilton Reservations. Business benefits included cost savings and better quality customer service. Technical benefits included connectivity support,
system control, readily available device drivers for uncommon peripherals, and the confidence that comes from the familiarity of Windows.
Cost Savings and Better Customer Service
When asked what ultimately motivated Hilton to switch to a thin-client model and aggressively expand its work-at-home program, Sloane is succinct: “It all came down to doing an even better job for less.”
Through this work-at-home program, Hilton is saving money on call center real estate, computer equipment, power, server licenses, technical support, per-hour agent rates, and full-time employee overhead. At the same time Hilton Reservations is gaining flexibility
to expand or decrease workforce hours as needed, and broadening the company’s reach to employ the most qualified agents who will deliver the highest quality service to Hilton’s customers.
Hilton Reservations has already reduced call center staff numbers enough to close one full
call center and shift the work out to 200 home-based agents. In this way Hilton Reservations avoids costs associated with rent, utilities, and maintenance.
To outfit an agent completely, Hilton Reservations supplies a Wyse client, Netgear firewall, Citrix license, and a Microsoft Terminal Server license. This costs approximately $1,200, which compares favorably with the $1,300 it costs to outfit an agent station
at a call center.
“Saving $100 on equipment costs per employee may not sound like much,” says Sloane, “But we are rolling this out to 2,500 individuals throughout time, representing close to $250,000.”
||It all came down to doing an even better job for less.
| Rick Sloane
IT Support Manager
Hilton Reservations and Customer Care
Hilton also saves resources by adjusting the hours available to its work-at-home staff to match changing levels of demand. This enables Hilton to respond to seasonal variance and deliver excellent customer service, with minimal wait times for incoming callers,
without having to pay staff when it doesn’t need that extra capacity.
Although the amount the company pays per hour worked has gone down significantly, overall the performance and quality of services agents deliver to Hilton customers has dramatically increased.
“With the convenience and flexibility of working at home, we attract more applicants and can afford to be more selective,” says Sloane. “Many applicants already have full-time jobs, but can work extra hours if they don’t have to drive to a workplace and if
they can choose their own hours. Agents use an online program to build their schedule each week, signing up for specific hourly slots to meet expected levels of demand.”
Connectivity with Citrix
For more than 19 years, Microsoft and Citrix have offered solutions that improve the delivery of Windows® applications and desktops using Citrix Presentation Server running on Microsoft Terminal Services.
At Hilton, the Wyse thin clients connect back to the company’s server farm through a Web browser running over the Citrix Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) protocol. Agents log into a desktop that’s served from Citrix Presentation Server 4.5, and that
desktop provides all the functionality for their thin clients. They see their applications—e-mail, the room registration system, the Hilton intranet, and an IP phone. They can start work right away, fielding calls, checking room availability, and making reservations.
Another major reason Hilton Reservations selected the Windows Embedded Standard family was the inherent security benefits of centralizing managing data and applications. “With Windows Embedded, we saw that we could lock down the devices so that agents couldn’t
use them for Internet browsing. We could control devices so that agents can access only what they need: the VPN connection and a browser-based connection to our Citrix back-end,” says Sloane.
Users are unable to download or print anything—viruses, credit card numbers, personal information—to their Wyse thin clients. Their work is all done on a central server, and when they switch off their Wyse thin client at the end of their session, nothing is
stored locally on their hardware.
Peripheral Device Support
Hilton Reservations plans to broaden its pool of potential employees, enabling people with physical disabilities to work from home. Since Windows Embedded supports most Windows hardware device drivers, Hilton was able to quickly deploy Braillers that translate
visual screens to Braille for the visually impaired and is testing the viability of the solution.
Familiar Windows Technology
Familiarity with Windows products and technologies yields benefits at two different levels. At the agent level, familiarity with the Windows graphical user interface helps reduce the amount of time it takes a new employee to become comfortable with using the
At the IT support level, familiarity with Windows tools and systems breeds confidence. “Most of our support staff is very comfortable working with Microsoft products. This gave us a higher degree of confidence that we could support the work-at-home program
with little to no additional training or hiring.”
For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach
Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234 in the United States or (905) 568-9641 in Canada. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
For more information about Wyse Technology products and services, call +1 (800) 438-9973 or visit the Web site at:
For more information about Hilton Reservations products and services, call +1 (800) HILTONS or visit the Web site at:
Windows Embedded extends the power of Windows and the cloud to intelligent systems. Encompassing operating systems, tools, and systems and services, Windows Embedded enables enterprises to generate tangible, real-time benefits with anytime, anywhere access
to executable data. Microsoft entered the embedded marketplace over 15 years ago and continues to lead the evolution toward intelligent systems with an extensive suite of technologies for enterprises across a variety of industries.
For more information visit:
This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Document published October 2008