By Daniel Edward Craig, July 16, 2012
The hotel industry has always been service oriented, but social media has made things more complex and labor-intensive by creating new customer service channels. As more travelers log on to social networks to communicate with and about hotels before, during and after trips, new challenges and opportunities have emerged.
A recent survey from Fishburn Hedges found that the number of UK consumers who communicate with brands on social networks almost doubled in eight months, from 19% in August 2011 to 36% in April 2012. Meanwhile, the 2012 American Express Global Customer Service Barometer reports that people who use social media for service tell significantly more people about their experiences and spend more with companies that provide positive service experiences.
Providing great service on social networks is a way to stand out from the competition and to get people talking about and recommending your brand. But what exactly are travelers’ expectations, and how can hotels fulfill them with limited time and resources?
Here are six ways to drive higher guest satisfaction through social networks.
1. Set objectives. Without a clear understanding of why you’re engaging in social media it’s easy to get lost and confused. Your primary objectives should be to build awareness, to service guests, clients and prospects, and to manage reputation. By building and engaging an online community that shares an affinity for your brand and combining it with a positive on-property experience, you’ll generate greater loyalty, advocacy and—la pièce de résistance—revenue.
“Our presence in social networks is part of our overall communications strategy and has the guest at its core,” says Francesc Zambrana, online marketing manager at H10 Hotels. “We use Facebook as a customer service channel to resolve questions and concerns and to get suggestions for improvement. This enables us to offer better service every day and to make decisions in a more responsive and efficient manner.”
2. Be helpful. When planning trips travelers now ask search engines and social networks the questions they used to call up hotels and travel agents to ask. By sharing information about local activities, events and services on your website, blog, Twitter and Facebook, you’ll not only increase your reach, you’ll build authority and trust. Like the Sands Beach blog in the Canary Islands, for example, where you’ll find helpful tips on driving on the island and staying safe in the sun.
3. Listen. Sometimes we’re so eager to get our messages out we lose sight of our number one priority: listening. With so many review sites and social networks, this task alone can be overwhelming. But there are tools to help. At a minimum set up free alerts on Google, TripAdvisor and Twitter. If you get a lot of reviews, a reputation management tool will help you track and analyze feedback data to guide service improvements.
With over 50 hotels worldwide, 24 of which received TripAdvisor’s 2012 Certificate of Excellence, Warwick International Hotels chooses ReviewPro to manage its reputation. “ReviewPro enables us to manage multiple social sources and to respond to feedback immediately, all from one dashboard,” says Alan Gonzalez, group director of distribution and e-commerce. “This makes the process more efficient and turns all the information we find, good or bad, into actionable items.”
4. Engage. By now responding to reviews is routine for many hotels, but by the time a bad review rolls in the damage is already done. Hotels need to be attuned to early signs of trouble, and that means monitoring and reacting to real-time feedback on Facebook and Twitter. This also creates opportunities to connect with guests who are enjoying their stay and to find ways to make it even better.
Social media doesn’t change how we handle complaints, but it has raised the stakes by taking them public. Avoid engaging in banter online; take it offline. Listen, apologize, find a solution and follow up. If a guest threatens to write a bad review if he doesn’t get what he want, work hard to resolve the issue but don’t allow threats to cloud your judgment. With expert handling, our toughest customers can become our greatest advocates.
Why wait for feedback? Ask followers how you can help. Gansevoort Hotels does this brilliantly with Facebook posts like, “Anyone planning a trip I can assist with?” Not only does this generate goodwill and reservations, the higher engagement increases reach via Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm.
5. Act swiftly. Travelers want quick answers to questions and resolutions to issues on social networks. How quickly should you respond? Unlike the three-ring rule with phones, there appears to be no standard response time. Many brands commit to responding within 24 hours, whereas others don’t respond at all.
Expectations will be higher for a luxury hotel than a limited-service property, but in general the longer the lag in response time the higher the likelihood of dissatisfaction. Think of social media as an extension of on-property service and allocate resources accordingly.
When Antonio Lopez-Bustos, operations manager at the Lainston House Hotel in Winchester, UK, checked his Twitter account late one evening he saw that someone had posted an inquiry about afternoon tea for a special celebration. “Before going to bed I had already arranged for the party to have afternoon tea at the hotel,” he says. “They loved it and have been back several times since.”
6. Support your staff. Hotels invest heavily to train staff to take care of guests on property and on the phone, but what about online? The individuals responsible for administering your social networks have an increasingly important role in building awareness and generating guest satisfaction. Are you providing the training, resources and guidelines they need to succeed?
One final note: many travelers still prefer traditional service channels like phone, email and in-person, so provide a choice of contact methods on your website and social networks. And strive for a consistent level of service regardless of contact method. No sweat, right?
Want to learn more? See Josiah Mackenzie of ReviewPro’s article, Helpful Hotels:15 Great Examples of Remarkable Service that Earns Social Media Attention and join us for a free webinar, How to Use Social Media to Drive Higher Guest Satisfaction, on Tuesday, July 24.
About the author
A former general manager, Daniel Edward Craig helps hoteliers across the globe adopt the latest tools and best practices in social media and online reputation management. He collaborates with ReviewPro as Industry Advisor in the area of Client Engagement. Visit www.DanielEdwardCraig.com
Copyright © 2012 Daniel Edward Craig