Just two months ago, J.D. Power and Associates released their 2012 study on the Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index. The overall satisfaction index for hotels declined seven index points and reached its lowest point in many years. Overall guest satisfaction was down in all categories except price, where satisfaction was significantly higher. The report points out that higher satisfaction with price had a cushioning effect for the poor service index in other categories such as check-in/check-out, hotel rooms, and food & beverage. Without the benefit of the price satisfaction scores, overall hotel satisfaction dropped significantly.
The slide in guest satisfaction suggests that hoteliers have reacted to challenging economic times by cutting rates, cutting investment, and cutting staff and training. If continued, this approach will be especially dangerous as the economy improves and hotels find themselves wanting to raise rates. If hotels do not begin to improve standards along with raising rates, then no amount of online reputation management will be able to protect a hotel from a string of poor reviews. Stuart Greif with the global travel and hospitality practice at J.D. Power says, “As the industry continues to recover and rates increase, hoteliers need to get back to the fundamentals and improve overall guest experience.”
A key aspect to improving satisfaction at your hotel is learning exactly what pleases and displeases your customers. Analyzing review data for certain hot-button customer issues such as cleanliness, Internet fees, parking, food and beverage etc. can be a great start. Revinate’s review search tool (to the left) and sentiment analysis (below) can make this quick and painless. Each customer review often has as many as five unique service comments. A search tool that allows you to quickly and easily drill down to detail about one topic is extremely helpful. TripAdvisor reports that a majority of reviews are positive with an average of 3.9 stars out of 5, and Revinate clients average review rating is an even higher 4.13. However, even good reviews contain nuggets of insight that can allow hotels to go from pleasing customers to delighting customers and creating brand advocates. For example, the review below, while positive in tone, contains some critical remarks about housekeeping and Internet speeds at this property.
Considering each customer touch point, searching for customer insights, and then instituting operational changes is simplified when you incorporate the generous amount of customer preference information contained within reviews. A Revinate customer recently noticed a trend of reviews focusing on the lackluster breakfast at their hotel. By taking action and improving their breakfast options and service they were able to address a key competitive weakness that was dragging down their otherwise healthy review rating. In addition, by improving breakfast, they were able to lure more customers to try lunch and dinner and increase overall food and beverage spending. By paying attention to exact customer comments on the breakfast, the management was able to save time and money, by offering exactly what customers wanted and avoiding expensive trial and error. In addition, they were able to highlight the breakfast improvements in review responses to show that they truly are responsive to customer concerns.
Deepening customer relationships
Two trends are creating distance between hotel guests and hotel staff and causing declines in customer satisfaction. The first is how technology has changed the guest experience. Automation such as kiosk check-in and the ability to find destination information online has begun to limit the amount of face-to-face interaction guests have with hotel staff. There are many opportunities for hotels to impress customers when they use a concierge for local information or check-in with a competent and friendly front desk agent. However, these opportunities are lost when automation of check in/out and sites like Yelp allow guests to find restaurant and local information without the help of a concierge. Today, it is possible to stay in a hotel without ever conversing with a member of the hotel’s staff.
The second trend that reduces hotel-to-guest interaction is the use of OTAs to book hotel stays. J.D Power reports that customers who booked via an Online Travel Agency such as Expedia were 45 points less satisfied than those who booked directly through a hotel’s site. This shows that hotels are already behind the customer satisfaction curve when a guest that booked via an online travel agency arrives. Hotels need to make a personal connection with OTA guests quickly so they begin to feel more engaged with the hotel. OTA customers can sometimes feel less valued by a hotel because the perception is that they pay low rates on lower room categories and did not start a relationship with the hotel directly. Since we already know this guest is comfortable with technology, social media engagement before and during the stay is a great option. Using pre-stay messaging to inform an OTA customer that your hotel provides location information and concierge support through social channels is a great way to get that customer to view your hotel in a more positive light before they walk through the front door. Even a simple welcoming confirmation message directly from the hotel can ease any concerns about the reservation details and get the customer experience started on the right foot.
Concierge and Customer Service over Social Channels
Improving customer satisfaction is central to hotel success and social media interaction with guests during their stay can bring the hotel closer to their customers. A hotel who offers access to concierge services and suggestions via Facebook, Twitter, or even text can drive real value for their customers. Concierge services are highly effective in creating brand loyalty and customer satisfaction. Many customers desire this kind of interaction via technology rather than face to face; the explosion of mobile device use is fueling this trend. If hotels employ social media to support the customer service and concierge activities of the hotel, they can do more with less staff and therefore maintain profitability while increasing service levels. A dedicated Facebook or Twitter presence for current guests where they can interact with a virtual concierge in real-time is a great way to deepen relationships with customers. A hotel blog that highlights the most popular restaurants, attractions, and experiences surrounding a hotel can ensure that guests have a wonderful time and give the hotel credit for hooking them up with insider knowledge.
Creating the ability for customers to engage with customer service personnel such as housekeeping or maintenance with a quick text message or post on a dedicated Facebook page or Twitter account is a great way to respond quickly to guest needs with personal service in a transparent way. Take, for example, the common problem of a forgotten toothbrush. If a guest has the ability to text customer service, they can request that item before heading out to dinner for the evening. Your staff can send up the toothbrush while the guest is out and the hotel’s virtual service team can easily notify the guest that a toothbrush has been delivered. From a staffing perspective, the hotel can respond more quickly to this type of request and keep service requests in an organized queue depending on the level of urgency. Many poor reviews have been triggered by hotels who did not answer the phone quickly enough and this method of servicing guests reduces the load of calls and meets the needs of texting guests quickly. This use of technology can reduce staff and give personalized attention. It is important that your hotel still gives guests the option to call a live operator, but given the choice, many guests will choose texting, tweeting, or posting because it is quick and easy.
View Social Media as a Service Channel
Customers are already using social channels in this way; eMarketer reports that 46% of hotel Facebook pages involve customer-service related interactions. They also report that 95% of hotel twitter accounts included interactions relating to events and 65% of tweets involved local tourism. Meeting the information and service needs of customers via social channels can help close the divide that technology and less face-to-face communication creates. If you begin to integrate your social media efforts with your service and concierge operations, you can find new and exciting ways to please your customers and leverage technology. By improving guest satisfaction hotels can begin to increase rates and enjoy the benefit that a great reputation has through all sales channels.