If I tell you something, the only way I can be sure you heard it is if you respond. Whether we’re sharing information or making a request, we need some type of confirmation to know the communication has been received.
It’s no different for people interacting with hotels online.
Listening serves as a prerequisite for any program designed to improve customer satisfaction, but it cannot end there. How would you feel if, when you ask someone for a request, they simply listened to you – then went on with their day? The speed and quality of your response will determine the guest’s level of satisfaction with the service you provide.
That is why we at ReviewPro are very focused on helping hotels become more responsive. Increasing attentiveness through technology that enables 360° listening, but then also simplifying responses to requests internally at the operational level – and externally to the guest and others that are watching that interaction online. Creating an efficient framework for each of these three steps is critical with the number of social conversations in travel doubling every six months.
In part one of this article, Daniel Edward Craig shared how to take customer feedback and use it to drive improvements in each area of your hotel. In this article, I want to explore the next step of this process: responding to guest feedback directly, and often, publicly.
Response form #1: Replying to Guest Feedback on Review Sites
Management responses on review sites are the most direct form of response. They allow you as a hotelier to tell your side of the story. And for many hotels, each review and response is seen by hundreds of people. With one response, you’re not only serving the guest – but sending a message to everyone that is reading that interaction.
Corinthia Hotels does a phenomenal job with responding to customer feedback online. In the words of Jason Potter, their social media strategist, their intention is simple: to “be there.” To turn negatives into positives. By providing decisive, prompt service, they can take guest dissatisfaction and turn it around.
“Whether guests are curious about something, or have had a negative experience that requires immediate response, we’re there.
It can seem quite risky for a hotel group to put customer service on social media platforms and public websites, but we’re willing to take that risk. The reality of the social web is that whether we engage or not, the conversations about our brand are happening anyway. Customers have all sorts of expectations and it is therefore impossible to keep every customer 100% happy, 100% of the time. So it’s better to view this as a way to build relationships. We’re turning negatives into positives. We’re transparent in reacting to issues in front of everyone.
That helps our customers trust us.”
This aspect of building trust through attentiveness and responsiveness is crucial. Rachel Kowalczyk at Amble Resorts told me something that resonated with many of the hotel brand managers I’ve shared it with:
“Brands are becoming more like friends than parents. In the past, brands upheld an image of infallibility to reassure their customers that their every need would be taken care of. In the current atmosphere, brands are acting more like friends (often literally on Facebook) because consumers are looking to join their favorite brands on a journey to excellence, rather than buy into something static and claiming to be infallible.”
Response form #2: Responding to feedback on the social Web
Time to response on real-time social networks like Twitter is critical. While you may have a few days to work among your team to provide a detailed response to feedback on review sites, the opportunity window on the social web is much shorter. Obviously, some issues require a little investigation – but aim to at least acknowledge a person’s issue as quickly as possible here.
“We aim to respond to all queries within an hour. We set up strict guidelines in our social strategy to try our best to respond to all customers within an hour – whether it is to solve the issue then and there, or if it is to let them know that we’re working on the issue.” – Jason Potter, Corinthia Hotels
According to a recent research project presented in a Harvard Business Review article, speed of issue resolution is directly correlated with customer retention and loyalty. Because of this, the top priority for companies should be to provide quick, simple resolutions to problems. The focus of service must be on reducing the amount of effort customers make to get issues resolved.
We see that the hotel groups that have built the most engaged and loyal online communities are the ones that are most responsive to their customers. You typically see a high percentage of “@” replies in their Twitter stream. They participate in these networks to serve their audience: not just push out promotional information.
This approach tends to attract an engaged group of people talking with and about your brand. Done right, this can allow you to provide a level of service that is higher than anything most hotel groups can provide with their own staff. Josh Pelz, chief digital strategist at the Gansevoort Hotel Group, routinely passes along requests for advice and opinion about the Gansevoort back to his Twitter and Facebook audience. By retweeting a question, his fans will often reply to the person asking about the hotel – and say how much they enjoy it. This is tremendously powerful as a sales tool – having others sing their praises. And it also plays a role in service, extending the reach of the Gansevoort Group to sites where they may not be actively participating.
“We can’t always be there when someone has a problem. We’re not everywhere. But our community often comes to bat for us.
“If someone says they can’t get in touch with the Gansevoort, we often have other members of our community saying ‘email Josh – here’s his address’. It’s amazing to watch this.” – Josh Pelz, Gansevoort Hotel Group
Another advantage of responding quickly on a real-time social network like Twitter is that you can catch complaints before they show up on a review site. It’s the concept of the “temperature check” that Daniel referred to in his earlier article. Make a habit of checking in to see how you can best serve the guest while they are still on property. Many negative reviews are the result of double deviations – a service error followed by a resolution error. Using the social web for real-time service is powerful way to proactively take control of your online reputation by preventing complaints that could have been avoided.
Response form #3: Responding to Guest Feedback by changing communication & marketing messages
Responding to feedback by changing strategy direction is what separates the companies with mediocre reputations from the great ones. Responding exclusively by replying to customers’ reviews and social media activity can result in an endless game of reactive, “firefighting” activity. Building a rock-solid online reputation and constantly improving that requires going a step further: acting on the feedback to make operational and product changes – which Daniel covered also covered in his article.
Once your organization is doing this, take your reputation management program to the next level by changing the way you present and sell the hotel. Adjust your sales messages to accurately reflect what you offer – and how guests perceive that.
How does this look?
Well, you can guide your online advertising and marketing communications to talk about the features guests appreciate most about your hotels. Semantic analysis of social feedback can uncover what customers see as the “secret sauce” of a business. By spending most of your time talking about whatever this is, you are more likely to attract the type of guest that will appreciate your hotels – and will be more likely to write a positive review.
The Roger Smith Hotel in New York is a great example of this. With interior design that looks more like the country home of your artistic friend than the sort of design that fills Contemporist, they have positioned themselves as a “peaceful, comforting sanctuary” – a welcoming home base in the heart of midtown NYC. By being honest about what they are (and are not), they set expectations appropriately – getting the attention and business of travelers looking for this experience. It’s one of the big reasons the hotel has become a hub in New York for the arts and digital media elite, attracting influential ambassadors like Chris Brogan, Ann Handley, CC Chapman and Pamela Slim.
Regardless of the type of hotels you are working with, understand what they are doing well – and not so well – so that you can set expectations and paint a realistic picture of what guests will experience on your properties.
One more point on this topic: when it comes to communications and branding, it’s all about the presentation. When the marketing team at the Beverly Hills Hotel looks through the semantic analysis of reviews in their ReviewPro dashboard, they can see one of the things guests appreciate most about staying at the hotel is the caliber of service that is offered. Being savvy marketers, the team at Beverly Hills Hotel knows it’s far more effective to show an example of how their staff provides world-class service than to simply shout “we provide great service!” Look at one example of how they did this on Facebook recently:
The caption is a bit small, but reads:
“Our five-star concierge team is the best in the world! They once arranged a wedding for two dogs complete with bridesmaids and a best man for the groom, music, cake, champagne, a minister to wed them, and even a honeymoon for the two dog guests.”
So they’re sharing their unique selling proposition through an amusing photo and story.
What’s your level of social responsiveness?
Edward Perry manages social media engagement for more than 450 hotels at Worldhotels. “From what I have observed, ‘social responsiveness’ is one of the most important issues for hotel companies right now,” he said at a recent industry conference. “Being social” requires much more than just setting up shop on the latest social network – it requires active participation in each of these communities.
That’s the thought I want you to take away after reading this article. How responsive are you in online review sites and social networks, and how does the feedback you see there shape your communications strategy?
Listening is the first step, but responding must be at the heart of your reputation management program.
Want to learn more details on how this happens? I will be providing a free online training session along with Daniel Edward Craig at ReviewPro on the 24th of May, where we’ll show you specific examples of how to respond to online customer feedback efficiently and effectively.Grab your seat now.