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Mr. Jost

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

The Evolution of the Review

By Benjamin Jost, Co-Founder & CEO, TrustYou

While it's unlikely that Mary and Joseph left a scathing TripAdvisor review after being turned away at the Inn in Bethlehem, hotel reviews have been around, in various forms, since the first hotel opened its doors. As with many other human activities (relationships, journalism/information sharing, etc), "reviews" have become digital. And like those other activities, entire ecosystems have sprung up to support this new channel.

How We Got Here

We'll skip beyond the first form of feedback, word-of-mouth, quickly. It's fairly obvious that customers who had a great experience (or a lousy one) at a property would tell their friends about it. These data points are virtually impossible for hotels to track and understand. One interesting thing to point out, however, is that the question of "would you recommend the hotel?" has become one of the major markers for whether or not a hotel is doing well. This question is at the heart of the Net Promoter Score.

However, in addition to discussions in which they weren't privy, hotels spent years soliciting feedback on guest experiences, usually through direct mail or phone. Response rates for these initiatives were generally low, as is true of nearly all direct mail and outbound telemarketing. Comment cards were also among the early forms of feedback gathering. Data gathered from these initiatives was better than nothing at all, but also had a few major challenges. First of all, it was very difficult to track or share in meaningful ways. If a manager at a particular hotel didn't want to share feedback from each guest's stay, they would simply hold onto the data (or throw it in the trash). In the cases where info was sent to a corporate office, there could be considerable lag time between the time period when a guest stayed, and when the information was shared with a hotel.

Today's Review Ecosystem

Let's fast forward a few dozen years, to a time when Amazon was among the first companies to allow reviews to show up in product search. While it's commonplace today, the decision to let anyone post their views on a particular product was quite forward thinking.

With the launch of review sites, there was also a concern about policing how fake reviews should be handled. Sites like Yelp and RateMD.com found that there were dozens of negative reviews written about doctors that were all coming from the same IP address, that of a competing physician's office. Fake reviews have been an issue in nearly every industry, and travel is no exception. To this day, many sites are either unwilling or unable to prioritize verified reviews over those from guests that may or may not have stayed in the property they're reviewing.

Regardless, sites like Booking.com and TripAdvisor have become mainstays in today's online consumer experience. In the travel space, more than 95% of booking decisions are influenced by the reviews that a customer sees.

Reviews Make an Impact

Today, the combination of feedback that hotels gather, coupled with what's being written online, is proving to be a powerful way to encourage guests to book their stay. According to our data, nearly half of reviews that are generated and seen online are coming from post-stay surveys. This approach offers three key benefits:

  • Data that is gathered from guests in surveys tends to be more positive than data found online. Taking a step back, it may be cliche to think of social media and the internet as places that guests go to complain about the things that have happened to them during a visit. The reality is a lot different, with nearly 80% of online reviews being positive. However, because that's the case, it's important for hotels to grade themselves (and present those grades to customers) in a way that effectively accounts for competitors also having largely positive feedback. In this case, using the data a hotel has gathered and piping it into the results that guests will see can be the difference between a "good" rating and a "great one."

  • Data that is gathered directly from guests is obviously likely to be from someone who has actually stayed at the hotel. Post-stay surveys can overcome any chance of fake feedback tainting an otherwise sterling reputation.

  • Data that is gathered from hotel's own surveys can increase the overall score by 4 percentage points, as reported by hotels using the TrustYou survey product. On a 5 point scale, this can be the difference between a 3 star rating (which more often gets filtered out of search results), and a 4 star rating, which most travelers immediately look for when searching for and booking a hotel.

How Reviews Can Take Form

As I stated earlier, nearly half (44%) of all feedback about hotels is created through surveys, meaning that this data has historically been stored in databases, and not been seen by the public. This approach limits a hotel's ability to spotlight its achievements and influence potential guests. However, when you equate surveys to online feedback (treating them as the same type of information), it's possible to dramatically alter guest perceptions.

This can be accomplished through a variety of approaches.

  • Widgets - Many hotels have chosen to have survey data populate on a small section of their websites. This info can be shown in a variety of ways, such as having the most recent review show up on a hotel's homepage, or spotlighting certain reviews for each property's subpage.

  • Meta-Review - Hotels can combine data from a variety of sources to create a more comprehensive vision of their overall guest experience. This approach has the benefit of averaging out scores (mitigating the damage a poor review has)

  • Push to Search - Data from guest surveys and online feedback can be pushed out to search engines like Google and travel sites like Kayak to augment the information those websites have access to.

  • APIs - Once data is accrued it can be distributed and analyzed by a variety of hotel systems. Linking this data to a guest's profile in a CRM system will allow hotels to understand/address prior concerns, while also remaining consistent on things that impressed a particular guest. Data aggregated into a PMS might show trends in which employees are consistently going above and beyond for guests. The options are limitless.

Many of these approaches can actually be accomplished by including a simple push-button start. That is, when a guest fills out a post-stay survey, hotels can provide the option of having the survey information shared publicly.

Improving the Results

Surveys can play a critical role in offering guests a window into the experience that a customer should expect. They can dramatically increase the likeliness of booking, and improve the overall perception of a hotel or brand. As such, it's important to understand how hotels can increase the response rate of guests who have stayed at their properties.

  • Keep Surveys Simple - It's important to realize that guests are offering their time in order to complete a survey. As such, hotels need to be concise and easy to understand. We typically recommend a response time of no more than 5 minutes (1-2 dropdown questions, 3-5 ratings questions, and one long form question).

  • Structure Using the Funnel Technique - Surveys should start with broad level questions before drilling down into specifics. For instance, a survey can be built to ask about overall experience before drilling down into specifics like check-in experience, etc. This can also be accomplished by including "parent questions," which offer relevant follow up questions depending on a response.

  • *Avoid Double-Barreled Questions - While trying to be brief, it's possible to create questions that skew guest feedback. For instance, "was breakfast satisfactory and affordable?" One guest may have found the food to be delicious, but felt that they paid too much for a simple omelet.

  • Let Guests Know the Survey is Coming - On check out, letting a guest know that a survey is coming, while also setting expectations (no more than 5 minutes of your time, will be sent in the next 24 hours, etc), can improve response rates. This is especially true if the guest is informed about why the hotel is collecting this data.

  • Be Quick - Guests have a wide range of websites and social media destinations where they might consider leaving feedback. It's important for hotels to get their survey out quickly, ideally before guests have taken the time to post feedback elsewhere.

  • Consider On-Site Reviews - Despite the fact that on-site reviews are among the first form of feedback, they are also the most timely option that a guest will have, and the experiences will be fresh in their minds.

  • Don't Forget About SMS - We have seen dramatic improvements in response rate for properties that use TrustYou Messaging to engage their guests via SMS and messaging services like Facebook Messenger. Almost 80% of today's customers would prefer to interact with businesses via text messages. Hotels should find ways to engage their guests in the channel of the guest's choosing.

  • The Future: Dynamic Questions - With so many reviews already collected, hotels already have a general understanding of guest sentiments. New algorithms will help hotels define which questions to ask to either find more about infrequent sentiments. For example, if you only have 5 opinions about the pool, you should ask more guests how they enjoyed the pool. Or, if you have enough comments about a certain topic, again using the example of the pool, you could ask specifically about the pool, e.g. "Do you think the pool is good for swimming?" or "Is the pool good for kids?". This will result in the best possible data outcome possible.

Guest feedback has been a part of hotel culture since the very first inn opened its doors. However, it is far more recently that it has become a driving force for hotels looking to improve their bookings. Today, hotels can positively influence a facet of the booking experience that informs more than 95% of the decision making process, while also gaining better insights into the experiences that they are providing to guests.

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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