Mr. Jost

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

A Platform Approach to Feedback

By Benjamin Jost, Co-Founder & CEO, TrustYou

When does a hotel customer become a "guest"? Is it at the point where they book a reservation? The moment they walk through the doors into the lobby? Somewhere in between? Our team at TrustYou set out to identify the guest experience through the lens of guest communications, running a survey and observational study that encompassed nearly 1,000 participants. We identified the likes and dislikes of these guests. Along the way, we found some very interesting numbers relating to how travelers like to communicate with their hotel, and how these communication methods impact satisfaction levels.

To answer the first question, a significant majority of guests expect that the hotel will initiate communications upon booking; 80% of consumers expect an email confirmation, so our view is that "guests" earn that title the moment they make a booking decision (and have expectations for the hotel).

In terms of communication requests:

  • Most (73%) prefer their communications to be through online channels. This includes e-mail, social media and text messaging (SMS). In general, e-mail was the most common form of communications, with nearly 70% of people using the channel.
  • A majority (75%) prefer to communicate one-on-one with a person on site. It makes sense intrinsically that guests may have questions about local happenings or special requests that they feel are more likely to be met if they speak with someone who's in the actual building they're staying in. However, combined with the previous point, it speaks to the need to create systems and policies that enable front desk employees to communicate directly with guests through electronic means.

Of course, not all feedback and communication happens before the actual stay. Guests will check in and have interactions with the hotel staff while on the premise. One of our more interesting findings had to do with when guests will provide feedback about an issue. Roughly a third of guests acknowledged that they were most likely to address an issue while they were in the checkout process, rather than when the issue arises. This puts hotel leaders in a tough spot; they can't fix an issue that they don't know about.

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This again points to the need for hotels to have a way for guests to use electronic communications to address the front desk. In a separate analysis, we looked at 10,000 messages that had been sent through our platform, and found that roughly 2/3rds of them were actionable requests (more than a quarter of them had to do with the room). In other words, people were more comfortable providing real-time feedback when they were able to maintain some sort of anonymity. Using our real-time communication app TrustYou Messaging, hotels can stay up to date with any issues, encouraging a better experience.

Moving beyond the stay, feedback is most often created after a person has checked out. This can be through online reviews, social media or surveys.

Online reviews can, and should, play a critical role in how a hotel operates. After all, this information is from actual customers, offering a first hand look at their experiences. No one wants to be considered "high maintenance," but the internet allows for airing of grievances without personal attachment. Hotel executives will often find the most critical, and most honest, feedback online.

This isn't to say that all online feedback is aimed at the worst parts of a hotel experience. In fact, 80% of online feedback for hotels is positive. Managers in properties should understand that addressing the 20% of negative feedback is a priority.

Another important component of the feedback loop is social media. Facebook and Twitter can be among the most important parts of improving the guest experience. These sites help shift attitudes and respond to grievances, as well as bring in new customers. Negative reviews can be responded to in public, and when done correctly, can greatly change the perception of the hotel to potential and past guests. Responses can define the values of the hotel, to show the human side of the industry, and spotlight positive experiences.

Facebook is the #1 source for travel inspiration, and garners around 1.6 billion daily users, so a well-reviewed profile for a hotel can greatly increase the likelihood that potential guests will see the hotel. When exploring potential travel locations and lodging, customers rely on images just as much as reviews. Seeing happy travelers and an engaged hotel staff on social media is a good way of knowing what the experience will be like in reality. The way a hotel is represented online helps discern what the hotel will be like in person; if the hotel pays attention online, they likely pay attention offline. When hotels are responsive and show appreciation for their staff, potential travelers will recognize it. Much of guest satisfaction stems from direct responses to their experiences; hotels benefit greatly from personalized contact and an engaged media presence. "Liking" and commenting on posts goes a long way, it reminds people that the hotel cares about their feedback and experiences.

Twitter also provides a way to engage, but in a distinctly different way. Twitter users expect to receive multiple relevant posts a day as they scroll through their feed. It requires constant engagement and quick replies. Of its 307 million users, 26% utilize Twitter to give feedback. For travelers, this form of contact can be a way to receive immediate information about a hotel, as well as a platform to express grievances. It is important to reply to all mentions, positive and negative, as, when done in good taste, this can be an actionable way to reach an even larger audience. Being personal and showing the human side of the business remains important here. Users tend to retweet and favorite comical and informative content, expanding the influence of the hotel.

Social media platforms help build a community, positively impact hotel reputation, and help assess guest satisfaction in real-time. While social platforms do provide a form of "anonymous" reviewing, as the guests are likely no longer at the hotel capable of being the "high maintenance" customer, they do not provide the same kind of anonymity found in a post-stay survey.

While it's easy to think of post-stay surveys as something that's nice for a hotel to do, surveys can actually have considerably more impact than most people understand. The obvious benefit to a post-stay survey is that it gives guests the anonymity that makes them feel more comfortable in sharing their experiences, while giving the hotel access to a more robust set of data. The hotel sending the survey can control what's being asked in order to pinpoint problem areas and reduce future negative feedback, as well as glean more thorough responses from reviewers.

Generally speaking, information and data gleaned from post-stay surveys tends to be 4-8% more positive than online reviews, so this information can actually have positive impacts on internal metrics and customer facing numbers. On the latter point, many hotels pipe this information into the scores and search result details that customers performing a search will see. This means hotels can positively influence the ratings customer will see on sites like Google, Kayak and Hotels.com with real reviews.

4-8% may sound minimal, however, a huge number of hotel guests (almost 90%) will immediately filter out any hotels that have less than 3 stars. For properties at 2.9 stars, this 4% can open an entirely new world of potential guests. It is a difference that can increase revenue; inflating both the price tag and number of travelers. Moreover, the reviews provide tangible complaints to act upon in order to increase satisfaction overall; eventually moving the hotel's star-rating up on its own accord.

Since guests expect to communicate with their hotel prior to their stay already, and communications during have been shown to increase positive experiences, after-the-fact communications should be just as much a part of the guest experience. By allowing a chance to express grievances privately, as well as providing a platform to communicate directly with a hotel staff, guests are more likely to associate positive attributes to a hotel. As such, it is important to establish substantial means of communication across media and messaging applications.

The effects are undeniable. Companies who chose to ignore feedback and neglect interaction with guests see a deleterious effect in regards to booking.

So, when does a customer become a "guest"? The moment they make a booking decision. The moment they can actively begin to enjoy their communications with their chosen hotel, and express a valid opinion.

Getting the traveler to that point is the bulk of the battle. Since they rely upon the opinions of previous guests, it is imperative that hotels communicate, receive feedback, and brand themselves in a good light.

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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