This article was written by RJ Friedlander, CEO of ReviewPro.
In 2011 the use of online reviews and social media reached an unprecedented level of adoption within the hotel industry – becoming nearly universally embraced by hotel executives as a key source of customer insight, a tool to achieve operational and service excellence, and a way to drive revenue growth. In this article, I would like to share the top 5 trends I see in this area from my perspective as founder and CEO of ReviewPro – a company that is leading change in the way hotels leverage and benefit from the social web.
The impact of social analytics will play a key role in revenue management
The link between reputation and revenue is increasingly clear, with Brian Ferguson, EVP at Expedia, quantifying the impact on his site: “A 1 point increase in a review score equates to a 9% increase in average daily rate (ADR).” This year, we saw ReviewPro clients cross-comparing their pricing data with the Global Review IndexTM to make better informed decisions related to yield management and to maximize their online distribution strategies.. We can expect to see more of this happening in the future as online quality indexes play an increasingly important role in maximizing revenue.
Avoiding 3rd-party commission fees makes maximizing direct bookings another goal for most revenue managers today. Consumer confidence plays an important role in achieving this goal, and nothing inspires confidence like the independent verification of a guest-written review. Hotels such as the Landmark London are using ReviewPro’s Quality Seal to publish online reviews to their website from not just one review source, but nearly 80 traveler rating sites worldwide. This independent verification of quality is important for people viewing the reviews, since they know the hotel has not hand-picked positive comments. Publishing reviews without editing the content of those reviews communicates complete transparency, and this builds trust.
This direct connection between reputation and revenue is another indication of how social media analytics is maturing. It is much less of an experiment than it used to be, since the impact of social reviews on profitability can now be clearly measured.
Hoteliers will realize that it is one thing to “join the gym” and another thing to “get into shape”
For many hotel organizations, 2011 was the year executives identified social media monitoring and reputation management as a serious strategic initiative. It was the year that hotel executives realized that “they needed to join the gym”. Much like the difficult part of getting into shape is not joining the gym, but rather implementing a consistent workout plan, for hotel executives, deciding to do respond to the social web is one thing, leveraging the social web to improve guest satisfaction and drive revenue is a completely different challenge. For many, the full promised benefits were not realized because of lack of a clear direction, insufficient support, or organizational complexity.
Underestimating the role of support and staff education is a dangerous mistake when implementing new technology. When it comes to selecting a technology partner for collecting and using information from the social web, require the potential partner to demonstrate how they will keep you on the cutting edge of innovation. Best practices are evolving rapidly, making it essential to have a technology partner that can “coach you” by providing support, education and insight into best practices to help you succeed in the implementation of your social media/online reputation management initiatives. It is absolutely critical to have the support and training needed if you hope to “get in shape” this year.
The social web will allow for turning insight into action across the entire organization
Increasingly, we see the hotel companies that have earned sterling online reputations are the organizations that use online feedback and review analytics to guide operations and management decision-making. An executive I heard at a recent conference shared this about the future of reviews:
“Social media and reputation management must move from a marketing tactic to an operational function.”
For example, Melia Hotels does a great job of taking insights from their customers on the social web and using them for product improvement, quality management, and revenue optimization. citizenM hotels does something similar, taking online review feedback into consideration for each new property they open. And on the individual property level, the Olivia Plaza Hotel has used this approach to improve the quality of their breakfast.
For this, semantic analysis of online reviews is very helpful to identify big issues and investigate further. Specific, department-level reporting for each manager is critical, as is a workflow system to manage the whole product improvement process. It requires a culture of using guest feedback to guide improvement. Co-creating with customers helps hotel brands build loyalty and create a product that better fits market needs.
Because insights from the social web can be used throughout an organization in a wide variety of roles, this year it will also become critical for managers to overcome organizational complexity by finding and acting on the “quick wins.” Identify clear, specific actions will allow their organizations to rapidly benefit from the opportunities that exists. This will require a combination of fully implementing the right technology, learning from best practices gathered from similar organizations, creating clear procedures and systems for acting on feedback collected – and then using performance tracking to ensure accountability.
Online reputation indexes will become the leading barometer for guest satisfaction benchmarking across all segments of the hotel industry
Social media and review analytics tools help you understand everything, everywhere. When indexes like ReviewPro’s Global Review Index TM are used to measure guest satisfaction across more than 80 online travel agencies and review websites, the reliability improves even more. Monitoring the web and social networks for mentions of your brand name picks up insight from guests that have moved beyond the structured format of a satisfaction survey and are sharing opinion wherever and however they want. This provides much deeper understanding into guest satisfaction than could be obtained through guest satisfaction surveys or mystery shopping. It’s becoming the backbone of how hotels measure employee, hotel, and brand performance.
Individual reviews and social media mentions are important to track for service and reputation reasons, but it’s all the review scores in aggregate that provide data you can act on. For hotel management, the value of social media may not be any one individual piece of social data, but rather all this feedback together in graphs that shows trends over time. This is where you can spot patterns in quality, benchmark your properties against the competition, and make department-level decisions. Online reviews present us with several compelling advantages:
- Guests can respond in a way that is easiest for them
- Then can do provide feedback whenever and wherever they want (often via mobile devices)
- They can talk about whatever impressed or annoyed them
- For hotels that do a good job of providing an excellent guest experience, reviews posted online can act as powerful sales messages
Yet while the volume of online reviews has increased dramatically over the last few years, a few advantages to traditional surveys remain.
- Some people will only share valuable feedback through a private channel like a survey
- Complete anonymity can encourage more honest and open feedback
- Surveys can provide you with detailed feedback on specific areas of your operations
The reality is that even though online reviews are becoming the new standard, it is unnecessary to limit yourself to just one form of feedback. Additional insights can be obtained by analyzing your library of customer service questionnaires in comparison with online data. ReviewPro leading hotel reputation management tool to allow hotel executives to import their existing guest satisfaction surveys into its tool and to consolidate feedback from both online and offline sources into one, powerful yet easy to use dashboard. Don’t make this an either/or decision.
For example, Sidorme is a budget hotel chain uses ReviewPro and a mix of feedback mechanisms to improve their operations. Berta Vilardell, Director of Sales and Marketing, shares her thoughts on the difference between internal customer service questionnaires and online reviews:
“Of course we also conduct internal customer surveys at each hotel directly, but we are aware of the fact that the online reviews that we analyze through ReviewPro are more honest, as they are absolutely anonymous.”
“When we see something critical or a good opportunity appearing repeatedly in online reviews, we follow this up with internal surveys in our hotels that focus on a concrete topic, for example by asking for suggestions to improve our breakfast or asking what people would like to see in a new Sidorme hotel. This gives us a direct feedback and we can see how we could improve on a specific aspect.”
Short-format and mobile reviews become increasingly common
While written reviews began as the standard in travel planning websites, the rapid rise of social networking and mobile communications has lead to short-format and mobile reviews becoming increasingly important. I may not have time to write a 3-paragraph review of a hotel or restaurant, but I can quickly send a tweet or leave a Foursquare tip about a place while I’m waiting for a cab or in line to check out of my room.
Facebook comments, Foursquare tips and tweets can all be a source of valuable operational and marketing insight. While many executives understand these pieces of feedback play an important role in customer service and reputation management, remember that all this data in aggregate provides a rich source of business, market, and customer intelligence.
More reviews will become verified
Continuing on the trend above – and perhaps in reaction to some complaints of review fraud on sites that do not verify transactions – a few review sites are trying to link all reviews to a booking or transaction. This could be important for validating the accuracy and truth of customer-written reviews – at least in the minds of some people.
This December, Expedia announced their Verified Reviews program, which only includes feedback from guests that stayed at a property (review requests are sent in the booking follow-up email). “We like to call it the new source of truth, internally,” said John Kim, Expedia’s senior vice president of global products, in a USAToday interview. “People love the idea that our reviews are verified so you can’t randomly leave a review.”
Hotel companies are joining this trend as well. In October, Starwood introduced their own rating and reviews program. Members of their Starwood Preferred Guest program can review the hotels they have stayed at over the past 18 months – if they provide their loyalty program credentials or the reservation confirmation number for their stay. Unedited reviews will be posted to the hotel’s website after at least five reviews have been collected. Starwood executives are doing this to encourage guests to engage with the company more and book more repeat stays.
Even if your hotel group is planning to collect your own reviews, don’t neglect to monitor and manage your presence on other sites. Also, make sure your review tracking tool can provide tight integration of your internal reviews and reviews posted on third-party websites.
Regardless of how you plan to use these trends in your own organization, realize that hotel groups of every size around the world are taking the steps to leverage the growing importance of the social web and capitalizing on the opportunity that exists. Insights from social media and online reviews can be used to improve performance throughout your organization, so be sure to invest in the technology that offers you the ability to take advantage of the opportunity and that maximizes the return on investment in this process during the year ahead.
RJ Friedlander is the CEO of ReviewPro, which provides online reputation analytics to thousands of hotels worldwide, helping them use feedback from the social web to improve guest satisfaction and drive revenue growth. See the tool by requesting a demo now: http://www.reviewpro.com/demo