Why Social Media Is Causing Hotels to Rethink Traditional Guest Satisfaction

By Michelle Wohl VP of Marketing & Client Services, Revinate | February 02, 2014

For years, hotels have been measuring guest satisfaction through post-stay surveys. These surveys, usually administered by a third party company, have a standard look and feel and aim to capture information in as uniform a way as possible. In most cases, a link to the survey is emailed out to guests a day or two after their stay so the experience is still fresh in their minds. The survey is typically long and forces the guest to move through multiple screens, selecting bubbles to represent how satisfied they were with different aspects of their stay.

At the time they were introduced, these surveys made a lot of sense. The surveys were easy to administer, complete and analyze, since the majority of the results were quantitative, not qualitative. For example, a typical question might read, "On a scale of 1-5, please rate your satisfaction with the spa." Because the results were easy to tabulate, the results became a regular metric in management KPIs. And of course, once a process becomes operationalized at a hotel, it's hard to change it.

While traditional surveys make collecting feedback and reporting on results a breeze, there isn't a lot of rich data being collected about the guest experience since analyzing words, or verbatim, requires a whole new level of technology. So, while these surveys are great for top-line results, it's often hard for hoteliers to discern what experiences and staff members really made or broke the guest experience.

Then social media came along. For the first time, hoteliers had a channel to receive incredibly rich feedback about the guest experience. Guests were writing reviews, in their own words, about every aspect of the guest experience, from services and amenities that they loved to the comfort of the bed and cleanliness of the bathrooms. They were doing it without being asked by the hotel and every year more and more people were getting involved in contributing stories, photos and videos. For the first time, hoteliers were able to hear, in guests' own voices, exactly what guests felt about their hotels. And because they weren't required to speak to every single department in the hotel, guests were writing only about the topics that made an impact, regardless of whether they were positive or negative.

Savvy hoteliers were paying close attention, from the beginning, to social media, realizing how much valuable data there was in these reviews and mentions on channels such as Facebook and Twitter. They were visiting the different review sites daily and setting up Google alerts to find mentions on blogs, photo and video sites and across the Web. They were taking the time to respond to reviews and engaging in conversations on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. And as they began to pay closer attention to this feedback, something magical happened. The service and operations at their hotels began to improve because they were getting very detailed reports, directly from guests, about their experiences.

But not many hoteliers were giving it this level of attention because it wasn't an easy job. There was no way to automate the aggregation of this data. Rather, it was a manual, time-consuming process and there was no way to get an accurate sense of trends. In other words, it was very hard to definitively say, "Of my 200 reviews and social media mentions, my biggest issue is parking but guests love my beds and location." Aside from the stars/points awarded to the hotel and the subcategories, making order of the rich data was a nearly impossible task since the majority of reviews contain both positive and negative statements, and everything in between.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.