Mr. Paddock

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

Using Feedback to Exceed Guests' Great Expectations

By Shayne Paddock, Chief Innovation Officer / Guest Management Solutions, TravelClick

Guest preferences and expectations constantly change. Hoteliers can't assume that because a guest made a request during one stay that the same request will be made - or even desired - each time he or she returns to your property. Travelers' personas change. Sometimes a guest is traveling on business; other times it's for leisure. The guest may be alone or accompanied by a spouse or the entire family. Whether these road trippers are looking for a quick place to sleep or a longer stay where more amenities are desired, knowing what they want, when they want it, and how often is key to guest loyalty and satisfaction.

Asking guests about each desire or preference all at once can be overwhelming. To be more effective over the long run and get the answers you need, try asking for small amounts of information more often throughout the guest lifecycle. Preferences sometimes change between booking the reservation and arriving on property, especially for stays where the booking window is large. Checking in with guests periodically enables hoteliers to always have the most accurate information on hand.

In addition to asking for preferences at various points in the guest lifecycle, the customer should be able to communicate his or her requests using their preferred communication channel; it may be over the telephone, on a laptop, or a smartphone. Don't assume, however, that just because a guest reached out to you with a smartphone that it will always be his preferred communication channel.

When to Ask and What to Ask For

The shorter the gap between the experience and asking for a guest review, the higher the success rate for obtaining feedback. For example, if the property has a golf course, managers will get a higher rate of return when asking for feedback shortly after a round is played versus asking a guest to recall the experience weeks or months after the stay is completed. In-stay queries reduce the amount of information you are asking for at check-out. By requesting feedback while the guest is still on property, it gives managers an opportunity to remedy any negative situation in person. This is especially important when asking about the reservation experience; if you wait until after the stay to ask about the check-in process, chances are a guests' recollection may be skewed, especially if the hotel waits months after check out before a query is initiated.

Asking the guest after every interaction isn't good either. Hoteliers need to be strategic in knowing when it's appropriate to ask for immediate feedback and when they should wait. Immediate requests via survey should be sent during:

  • Booking confirmation - Ask guests to tell you about their booking experiences. If they abandoned the booking, ask them why? What was the property lacking?
  • Pre-stay - Ask what guests would like on property. Use the feedback to build a more accurate and up-to-date guest profile. Understanding and managing the guests expectations before arrival gives managers time to make sure the guest gets what they are looking for.
  • In-stay - This is a no brainer. A guest will be really impressed that management took the time to ask how they are enjoying the property. Hopefully everything went well. But if something in the room didn't meet expectations, this gives guests the opportunity to complain without having to be confrontational. It may be something small, like needing extra towels or not knowing how to turn up the heat. Ask: "How can we make the stay better?" or "What can we do to satisfy this complaint?"
  • Post check-in - Ask if everything is meeting guests' expectations.
  • Post check-out - Gauge overall guest satisfaction and the likelihood that the guest will return and/or join your loyalty program. Ask:"Would you recommend our hotel to a friend?" A question like that is perfect in conjunction with Net Promoter Score methodology.

How to Ask

One of the best ways to collect data about your guests' stays is to give them the opportunity to recall and retell their experiences in their own words. Don't box them in by predefined questions that might not always be appropriate. Survey software equipped with sentiment analysis technology can easily assist with this process. Sentiment analysis will help hoteliers to sift through mounds of data much faster than having someone reading each and every word at the property, and it will classify comments as either positive or negative so you can address the biggest problems first. Give guests a blank slate; they will tell you things you wouldn't have thought to ask.

When asking for feedback, it's critical that hoteliers tailor their surveys for multiple devices. A traveler may use a computer or tablet for booking, but prefers to use a smartphone while on property to give feedback. Responsive design must be taken into consideration whenever a survey is crafted.

Hotel Marketing Automation is enabling managers and marketers to quickly build attractive guest-facing surveys to capture all guest preference information and post stay comments. Armed with this data, hoteliers can better prepare for the guest before arrival, maximize the guest experience while on property, and learn from the guest after he or she leaves. All of this intelligence gets added to the guest profile for quick access by front desk staff and can be used for future marketing campaigns. This process truly helps you gauge the satisfaction of your guests.

Here's one way in which Hotel Marketing Automation can help build a complete guest profile:

Step 1: Two days after check out, a guest satisfaction survey is automatically sent from the hotel.
Step 2: If after seven days the guest hasn't completed and returned the survey, a reminder is automatically sent.
Step 3: The guest fills out the survey with a score of 9.8 based on a 10-point scale. A triggered message is sent to the guest asking them to post their review on TripAdvisor or Google+.

Using the same workflow principles in the example above, hoteliers can sometimes generate multiple outcomes. For example:

Outcome 1

Step 1: The guest receives a pre-arrival email with a call to action to fill out a pre-stay survey.
Step 2: The guest completes the survey and responds that they prefer red wine upon arrival.
Step 3: That choice is automatically sent to the PMS as a reservation preference for the operations staff to fulfill.
Step 4: The guest arrives at the hotel and is pleasantly surprised that his or her welcome drink selection was already in the room. The guest then Tweets a picture of the wine glass to all their followers.

Outcome 2

Step 1: The guest receives a pre-arrival email with a call to action to fill out a pre-stay survey.
Step 2: After a couple of days the guest did not complete the survey so a reminder is sent.
Step 3: The guest fills out the survey and indicates that they are celebrating their anniversary.
Step 4: That data is automatically sent to the PMS as a reservation comment for the operations staff to fulfill.
Step 5: The guest arrives at the hotel after a long delayed flight and is delighted to find a bottle of champagne and a box of chocolates was in the room waiting for them.

Outcome 3

Step 1: The guest receives a pre-arrival email with a call to action to fill out a pre-stay survey.
Step 2: After a couple of days, the guest did not complete the survey so a reminder is sent.
Step 3: After a few days more, the guest still did not complete the survey so a default choice is sent to the PMS as a reservation preference based on their gold loyalty status.
Step 4: The guest arrives at the hotel after a long meeting and is so surprised by the FREE drink vouchers in the room waiting for him, that he shares it with all his friends on Facebook.

Why They Respond

Guests want to be rewarded for taking the time to participate in surveys. They are more likely to tell you what you want to know if there is something in it for them. For example, ask: "Would you like more information on weddings?" If they "opt in," reward them with a daily deal or coupon. At the same time, ask how they prefer to communicate, such as email or SMS. This enables hoteliers to market to guests through their channel of choice, improving the chance of converting prospects into guests. Once armed with the prospect's contact information, your marketing team can:

Step 1: Establish a "Contact Us" form for customers who are interested in weddings.
Step 2: Set-up an "Instant Alert" to the sales and catering department about this new lead.
Step 3: The prospect gets automatically enrolled in the wedding "drip marketing" campaign that will email the prospect every week for four weeks about wedding specials and amenities currently offered by the hotel.

The same query process can be added to the hotel's Facebook page and other social channels. Place surveys on Facebook and reward visitors with incentives if they "Like" your page and participate in a survey.

When You Respond

Reservation abandonment is an important time to communicate with prospects. When a potential guest abandons a reservation on the booking engine, a hotel should send out a message such as this: "As part of our continued efforts to meet and exceed guest expectations, we kindly ask that you take a moment to advise if there were other reasons that you did not complete your booking with us by clicking here." Not only will the hotel gather valuable operational data but they have the opportunity to recover the lost booking as well.

The reservation confirmation is another vital time to ask guests for feedback. Consider this scenario: A guest goes to the hotel booking engine. In addition to the room booked online, the guest is really looking for something special upon arrival to make an anniversary celebration special. The guest can't find any suitable packages online, but a room is booked nevertheless. The guest receives the confirmation and notices a section asking if he or she has everything needed to make the stay extraordinary. The guest quickly fills out a comment box requesting more information on services and amenities that would help the anniversary more special. The response is sent immediately to the reservations manager, and as it turns out, the hotel has a champagne and flowers package but it isn't available online. The reservation manager replies to the guest that a Champagne & Roses package is available. The hotel has exceeded the guests' expectations and given a great first impression

The cancellation also requires two-way communication. If the hotel leverages this time to obtain business intelligence as to "why" the guest has decided not to stay at the hotel, managers can react much quicker to a changing business landscape. With a cancellation survey, managers and marketers will discover what travelers are saying about hotel. Perhaps the rates were too high and the guest found less expensive accommodations in the same area. Maybe the consumer found a cheaper booking channel. This is mission-critical operational data that must be obtained by the hotel.

Obtaining guest feedback can be easy, but only when you start with the right questions -- including knowing when to ask them, what to ask for, how often to ask and through which mediums -- can you get the right answers.

Shayne Paddock is a technology and business leader with over 20 years of experience in product management, software development, CRM, Marketing Automation, Guest Profiling, Loyalty Management, Search Engine Marketing, Email Marketing, and Hospitality Systems Integration. He is currently the Chief Innovation Officer for Guest Management Solutions at TravelClick. His responsibilities include Product Management, Customer Engagement, Sales Engineering, and the overall thought leadership of TravelClick’s suite of Guest Management solutions. Mr. Paddock holds a diploma in Business Administration with a major in Information Systems from Algonquin College as well as two patents in the email marketing space with regards to dynamic content and personalization. Mr. Paddock can be contacted at 212-817-4819 or spaddock@travelclick.com Please visit http://www.travelclick.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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