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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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.