How Customer Engagement Has Moved to Online Vehicles
By Andrew Flack Vice President Global Brand Marketing, Hilton Hotels | February 17, 2013
Customer service sits at the heart of any hotel brand. We must have both passion for hospitality and understanding of how service and guest expectations continue to evolve. Today's consumers are looking for swift responses to their issues, concerns and questions. Although traditional customer service such as conversations with a general manager in a hotel lobby, phone assistance and website support is still relevant, social media has introduced an entirely new way for brands to interact with and assist their customers. According to a White Paper from Social Media Today, "The Social Customer Engagement Index 2012: Results, Analysis and Perspectives," 45 percent of companies have fully integrated their traditional customer service efforts with social channels in 2012, increasing from 36 percent in 2011. Mashable.com also shows that 62 percent of customers have used social media for customer service purposes in 2012. With this growing trend, the travel industry is aiming to establish and follow the best practices for handling customer service issues in this public forum.
Developing strategic plans to stay connected with customers and becoming an active voice in relevant social communities is essential. In today's rapidly moving society, consumers look for fast responses and resolutions to their issues, so brands must remain in tune with evolving customer needs, behaviors, activities and expectations. With the uprising of smartphones and mobile online connectivity, consumers are turning to social channels to interact with brands in real time and expect brands to respond quickly.
This is particularly important for all of us in the travel industry because travelers are often highly engaged social users and early adopters of emerging social platforms. Moreover, sharing travel-related content and personal experiences in real time, particularly while embarking on a flight, checking in to a hotel, dining at a restaurant or enjoying a resort vacation, is a true passion point for many travelers. These guest experiences are able to be enhanced when brands find authentic ways to interact with customers during their experiences through social platforms. Further, brands that integrate the concept of mobile connectivity into their social strategies will be able to provide effective and immediate service, in turn, strengthening and nurturing online relationships to foster a sense of loyalty with their guests.
Keeping the evolving online landscape and mobile social connectivity in mind, social media must be part of long-term customer service and wider business plans. These elements are key to maintaining a competitive advantage, driving consideration and securing long-term loyalty from guests. Despite the ever-changing landscape, it's important to continually evaluate social platforms around the world to determine which channels provide the greatest opportunities for a brand and to authentically engage with consumers in a way that aligns with business objectives.
Monitoring social interaction to spot and solve issues before they become crises is critical. Social customer service involves dealing with criticism and complaints in public, many times in front of millions of people. In order for brands to prevent guest concerns from escalating into something larger, it is essential to have a detailed understanding of the types of concerns that will arise and a clear path of response before situations intensify. Escalation policies for resolution are important because brands need to anticipate a number of scenarios including natural disasters, on-property issues and any brand-wide concerns. When a crisis plan is set in place before a critical situation arises, brands will be better prepared with statements, anticipated volume of comments or requests, and resources to respond and resolve the crisis at hand.
At Hilton Hotels & Resorts, our overarching approach for all marketing initiatives is to own the Hilton story around the world, support our diverse portfolio of properties and drive incremental revenue. Social media is a highly personal conversation channel, so we weave these platforms into our business plans to effectively meet our marketing objectives. Core to everything we do, our Hilton Brand Promise is to ensure every guest feels cared for, valued and respected, and we view social media channels as an extension of this promise. Our social media activities from a guest assistance and community management perspective include four main goals: listen, respond, resolve and implement.