Using Social Business Intelligence to Assess Guest Experience, Glean Intent to Return

By Mark Lomanno Executive Board Member, newBrandAnalytics | September 09, 2012

While many operational and service related items affect the overall guest experience, the culmination of these events and guests' reactions to them result in their overall impression of both their stay and the hotel. The best way to measure the value guests place on their stay is if they express either intent to return to the property or if they intend to recommend this property to others. And, with such a high percentage of guests seeking input from others before booking their hotel stay, a review that states a willingness to return tends to carry a great deal more weight than one that does not. As such, intent to return, in the social media world, will ultimately be more important to hotels in measuring their relative performance, than the traditional 5-point scoring scales currently being used by many online review sites.

As Walt Disney once said, "Do what you do so well they want to come back and bring their friends." These words are perhaps more important in hospitality than in any other industry.

The top priority for hotels has always been to provide the highest quality guest experience. Delivering on this goal is even more critical in today's "everyone-knows-everything" online environment. From valet and check-in to housekeeping and foodservice, a hotel's operations team must be tightly focused as customers are increasingly talking online about their hotel stays.

Consider these statistics: Facebook now boasts more than 900 million active users worldwide, 140 million active Twitter users send 340 million Tweets everyday. Yelp has surpassed 70 million monthly unique users, and the number of check-ins recorded by the more than 200 million Foursquare users has topped 2 billion. And with tens of millions of hotel reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Travelocity, your reputation --- as defined by your customers --- is out there for the world to see. Given the transparency of the web, there is simply no place to hide bad rooms, mediocre f&b or sloppy service.

Further, the impact these reviews and recommendations have on travelers' decisions to stay at a certain hotel is profound. According to PhoCusWright, a global travel market research company, travel review websites and hotel reviews through online travel agencies are among the influential forces cited most frequently by travelers when shopping for travel arrangements. Additionally, research by the Opinion Research Corporation found 80% of travelers perform research prior to booking, and 84% of Americans say their buying decisions are highly influenced by online reviews.

Customer opinion is clearly of significant value to hoteliers, and those consistently meeting, and ultimately exceeding expectations, will rise to the top. If the crowd says your hotel provides great experiences, can you expect bookings to follow? How do you ensure you're attracting the right customer to your hotel and optimizing the experience you deliver once they are there? The answer: Customer insight.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.