Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

How to Generate Positive Online Reviews and Increase Occupancy

By , ,

Customer service is at the core of any hospitality business, from hotels to restaurants to tour operators. And just about everyone in the business knows this; ask any waiter, general manager, first year hotel school student, or tour guide and they will agree with you: customer service is what it's all about. Even the industry's most well-worn cliché- the customer is always right- is a tacit admission that customer service is the heart and soul of the industry. In my opinion, the great hotelier E.M. Statler articulated the hospitality industry's raison d'etre best when he said "life is service." From a dollars and sense perspective, it is common knowledge throughout the industry that good customer service equals more repeat business, which means spending less on marketing the product.

So if the whole industry knows this so well, why is it that so many hotels need to be reminded of the primacy of customer service so often?

This is not to imply that the majority- or even an out-sized percentage- of hotels are consistently delinquent in their delivery of satisfactory customer service. Most hotels take the old cliché and Mr. Statler's immortal words to heart; they do the good work and reap the financial rewards of the satisfied guest. Yet there is increasing awareness of the levels of customer service (or lack thereof) guests encounter at almost every property. And here's the important distinction: that awareness seems to be coming from the guests themselves. It's not that hotels are suddenly becoming more cognizant of their service levels- after all, industry professionals at every stage are already well aware of the centrality of customer service- it's that the guests are becoming better versed in the customer service experience.

That's common sense, right? Guests must be aware of the guest experience, by definition. There is another factor at play here, though, and it's easy to identify. It's the proliferation of customer review websites. More importantly, it is the importance these sites have taken on in the quick dissemination of guest experiences and the role that they play in influencing purchasing decisions. Recommendation sites like TripAdvisor have created a multiplier effect for the guest experience, enhancing and magnifying both the positive and the negative. How and why these sites came to such a prominent role is a subject for scholars and consumer sociologists, but how to manage them is the task of every hotel owner and manager in the world.

A heightened emphasis on customer satisfaction is not a bad thing at all, and wise hoteliers are realizing that improving customer service is now a much more direct way to increase sales and bookings than it was just a decade ago. It's the same win-win situation outlined in the first paragraph, just sped up to the speed of information.

But how is an improvement in customer service best accomplished? There are a few guiding principles that can help hoteliers improve the guest experience at their properties and subsequently boost their consumer reviews, land more bookings and encourage repeat visits (and, of course, boost revenues in the process).

  • Put yourself in the guest's shoes
    Every hotel owner and manager should periodically experience their property from the perspective of a guest. Look for subtle things and interactions that may be stressful or unpleasant, or might be improved to optimize the guest experience. Labyrinthine check-in and check-out processes are often sources of frustration, as are substandard amenities, lack of cleanliness and lack of courtesy (more on this later).

  • Be honest and manage expectations
    Use your marketing materials to let your property speak for itself. Don't advertise five-star service when you are only capable of three-star. Nothing diminishes a guest experience like falling short of expectations. This is perceived as dishonest by the consumer and will prompt negative reviews. Make sure that all of your marketing materials are consistent with the property in its actual state, and make an effort to apprise incoming guests as to any changes they may encounter (if the pool is under construction, for instance).

  • Emphasize courtesy
    Books have been written about the impact of a guest's first interaction with a hotel's staff and the influence that one 'moment of truth' has on the perception of the entire stay. If that interaction is courteous, that goes a long way toward creating a favorable overall impression. Of course, if every subsequent interaction is less than courteous, that benefit disappears. Make sure your front line employees are well versed in the importance of courtesy, monitor them closely to guard against the breakdown in service that can come from burnout and reward those employees that consistently deliver great customer service.

  • Address problems
    If a guest comes to your staff with a particular issue, have it addressed promptly and effectively. A hotel's lack of effort to resolve a conflict or complaint will be picked up immediately by the guest, and will translate into a negative review. Guests who do write reviews are increasingly aware of intangibles and nuance; they recognize the degrees to which effort is made. In the particularly thorny situation of a guest complaint, these degrees are magnified, and it is important not to be perceived as giving less that wholehearted effort.

  • Encourage reviews
    Studies have shown that offering incentives for completing a review is rarely effective, but triggering an individual's enthusiasm for a property is. By initiating a positive contact, even at the time of soliciting a review, a general manager or other high-ranking hotel employee can create the sort of buy-in and enthusiasm that generated positive online reviews. High touch customer service is often the best customer service.

This short list is not a prescription for automatic success stemming from positive reviews. Instead, they should be viewed as a set of broad guidelines for improving customer service - and improving occupancy and revenues. In this hyper-connected age, word of mouth is more powerful than it's ever been. If hotels can remember that good customer service is the key to making this powerful communication tool work for them, then they will have no problem standing out from the competition.

So, let me conclude by repeating the lesson of the day: 'Life is service'.

Mr. can be contacted at Extended Bio...

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