Mr. Jost

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

Building a Culture of Feedback and Turning Reviews into Insights

By Benjamin Jost, Co-founder & CEO, TrustYou

Every hotel manager has a fear that wakes him or her up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. It isn't a standard fear that most people have; hotel leaders aren't in the throes of the dream where they showed up to a presentation naked. This particular fear has to do with the ink that's being spilled on the internet. It's the fear of a negative review on a major review site or social network.

To put context around the world we live in today, there are more than 3 million hotel reviews written each week. That's 18,000 reviews per hour. Needless to say, not all of them will be from guests who loved every moment of their stay.

Whether it was an employee having a bad day, a cleaning crew that hadn't gotten through their daily routine quickly enough, or something completely outside a hotel manager's control (guests who had an airline lose their luggage may not be in a terrific mood at arrival), the chances of a negative review popping up online are actually pretty good. It's how hotels handle things from there that will separate the wheat from the chaff.

Engaging With Guests on Their Own Territory

Smart hotel leadership today has come to realize that reviews are going to be written online, no matter what. And they've also come to realize that most customers who write a negative review might actually be asking for help, as opposed to engaging in some sort of virtual shaming.

In many cases, hotels that are willing to respond to guest concerns will find that their guests are willing to listen. And in many cases, they are willing to give a property another chance.

It's never easy to apologize, especially in a public setting, but this very action can have immensely positive results. In addition to the guest who is being responded to, others will see that the hotel is being responsive. Research shows that 95% of hotel bookings are informed by reviews from other customers. At the very least, making a good faith effort to address concerns will show other potential guests that a hotel is interested in trying to create a great stay.

Drawing Actionable Insights

Rather than placing their heads in the sand, or treating hotel reviews as a simple customer service channel, hotel leaders need to see online feedback as an opportunity to learn about the guest experience they are providing. If a review mentions that there is an issue with room cleanliness, then leadership should investigate why this might be the case.

In the days before the internet, when people gathered together and talked about an experience they had at a hotel, the property would never have any insight into the discussion. That's not the case anymore.

By creating a running tally of feedback, hotels now have the ability to identify trends across their guest experience. Is cleanliness continually being knocked? If so, maybe it is time to change leadership on the cleaning crew. Is a particular chef always on the clock when guests offer incredible praise for the property's restaurant? If so, maybe management should take steps to focus on retaining that employee.

One of the major initiatives that seems to permeate across industries today is using all of the data an organization has at their disposal to identify actionable insights; using information to make smarter decisions. Hotels that consider reviews to be another form of data can capitalize on information provided from first hand sources, and will inevitably improve their guest experience.

Changing the Culture Around Reviews

Improved guest satisfaction is perhaps the most obvious benefit of a culture that embraces feedback. Before addressing other benefits, let's first discuss what a "culture of guest feedback" means. At the top level, hotel leaders need to make a few commitments:

  • A team must be identified that can respond to feedback. In many cases, this might mean hiring a set of resources (or an external resource), or it could be adding responsibilities to current team members. In either approach, the industry best practice is to build a cross-function group consisting of someone in marketing, a couple of folks in customer service, someone in hotel operations and possibly someone in the legal department. Marketing teams should be able to promote achievements from hotel team members (internally and externally), while customer service should be able to address guest concerns. Having a resource (or resources) on the front lines of hotel ops can help everyone understand whether feedback is fair or unwarranted (if, for example, a guest complains that a hotel's smoking area is too far away from the building, perhaps someone in operations can explain that it's there because of state law at a particular hotel). Finally, having someone on the legal team as a soundboard to make sure that promoting positive reviews and responses from customers is done in a manner which is consistent with all regulations is important.

  • A Service Level Agreement (SLA) that identifies how long it should take for teams to respond to feedback is the second commitment from hotel leadership. Just like call center operations, SLA's can be built around the severity of a review (particularly negative guest feedback needs to be responded to upon receipt, whereas maybe it is OK if it takes up to an hour to promote positive feedback). Once SLAs are established, it becomes critical to track and make sure that all feedback is being addressed within the agreed upon timeframe. The only way to understand the impact from a culture of feedback is to track the steps to build that culture.

  • Putting a tracking methodology and/or tool in place is critical to making the culture of feedback run smoothly. This means tracking against the SLAs, but also having an understanding of what information is coming in through feedback. It is impossible to draw actionable insights without seeing the entire picture. There are many tools available that hotels can put in place to help them understand feedback, which range in price, usability and complexity.

Going beyond actionable insights, and looking past the short term, hotels that embrace a culture of feedback can anticipate dramatic increases in overall revenue. This manifests in a variety of ways. The most obvious is the increase in revenue that results from return business; guests who enjoy their experience are likely to come back. Other benefits include increases in direct bookings, which increase revenue by limiting commissions that need to be paid out. Another increase in revenue comes from the way people search for hotels. Again, 95% of bookings are informed by other guest reviews and 76% of travelers are willing to pay more for a hotel with higher reviews . (for all quotes with numbers we should provide the source as a footnote, what do you think?)

The legacy idea of hotel leadership waking up to check their rankings on any number of ratings services are coming to an end, as smart hotels embrace the idea that guest feedback can drive improvements to the guest experience and meaningful increases to the bottom line. Individual properties and international chains alike can take advantage of today's technology and their leadership can sleep better, too.

Benjamin Jost is co-founder and chief executive officer of TrustYou. Benjamin is an expert on social semantic search and is leading the big data revolution in hospitality. Prior to TrustYou, he spearheaded the Southern European M&A team for one of the world’s leading renewable energy providers and oversaw hundreds of investment cases covering a profusion of renewable technologies. He started his career in venture capital at Siemens Venture Capital and Xange Capital. Mr. Jost holds a MsC in engineering from the University of Technology in Munich and conducted research at the ENST Paris and the University of Washington Business School, Seattle. Mr. Jost can be contacted at 011 49 176 83074860 or benjamin.jost@trustyou.com Extended Bio...

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