8 habits of hotels that improve their online reputation and guest experience effectively

With Tripadvisor’s unique visits quadrupling just in the last two years and more than 70% of traveler’s bookings having been influenced by review sites, the impact that online reviews have on a occupancy rates looks like its here to stay or even grow.

Submitting online reviews after a night’s rest at a hotel is by now a 15 year old discipline. Yet it is surprising to see how many hotel management groups invest into Online Reputation Monitoring (ORM) but don’t see adequate returns on their projects. More than 50% of CMOs struggle to develop tangible ROI of their social listening projects.

By candid admission, we concede, that we too didn’t succeed with our early pilot projects. We could help our customers understand what their guests were saying about their properties on the internet, but couldn’t really impact a real change of the score.

As a result, we halted the launch of our early alpha release in 2011 (a online reputation monitoring or ‘ORM’ platform) and instead empirically built a process and solution platform together with our customers. Today, nearly three years later and after growing through 220 projects, 3 industry awards, 2 funding rounds and 2 office moves, our ORM platform has morphed into a Guest Engagement Solution that yields an average of 54% reduction in critically negative reviews for our customers.

While we should be writing entire blogposts about our gratitude towards these early pilot customers for their patience, we thought why not share some of the lessons learned and explain the best practices these hospitality groups have adopted that improves their online reputation.

In no particular order, here goes:


1. Focus on your sphere of influence: in-house experience

President Clinton famously asserted that policing the internet is like ‘trying to nail Jell-o to a wall’. We felt that trying to convince guests to write good things about your business on review sites feels just the same. When we started our business, we first came up a series of ideas that were all directly aimed at somehow accessing the customer and trying to cajole them (albeit diplomatically!) into leaving positive online reviews. Not only has this become technically much more difficult today due to a number of algorithms many of these sites run, but guests also simply don’t adhere much to such requests. Their online lives are driven much more by the image they want to project and by the level of emotions a real life experiences triggers in them.

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In contrast to that, the hotel’s frontline has a much higher ability to influence the guest’s impression while they are still within the hotel’s 4 walls. Luckily, an outstanding guest experience is also the most influential factor that leads guests to post about their experience.

While focusing on guest satisfaction is nothing new, doing so before the guest checks out and in a compellingly simple manner so that guests talk to you before they do to the internet isn’t mainstream yet.

Our most successful projects have been those, where the management decides to care less for the internet outcome but tirelessly focuses on the customer’s journey, on making sure every guest leaves the doors of the property as a completely satisfied customer and to simply ‘let the Internet happen’.


2. Don’t think ‘survey’, think ‘message’

Getting the guest to talk to you before they post on the Internet is easier said then done. The first change we have implemented with pretty much all our customers is to a introduce a simple, short, free text feedback process that completes before the guest checks out. The idea here is to listen to individual guests to recover their incident case by case, rather than to collect a long list of survey questions, aggregate the results in oder to fix matters through projects (the latter is also useful and often necessary, as it helps the hotel remove any issues that guests run into repeatedly through process or policy engineering).

We often send out a simple post-check in feedback invitation to the guest through emails or SMS (see point 3 below). What has worked best for many properties is to send a personal message from the GM or the Guest Relations Manager, asking the guest for feedback and specifically inviting them to reply to the message with any specific requests they may have. Others have successfully introduced a process where the concierge sends out a SMS message or hands out a card with an SMS short code number to which guests can simply text their service requests. When the feedback collected from guest contains an appeal for action (‘I ordered the baby crib 3 times but it somehow never arrived!’), you will know that your moment to perform an impressive recovery action has arrived. Collecting messages that contain requests instead of merely abstract survey opinions is one of the most effective ways to avert negative online reviews.


3. Feedback methods: the simpler the better

When asking the guest to share in-the-moment feedback, it is important that you compel with the ease of your communication methods. guests love refreshingly simple communication. No apps, no logins, no passwords, zero learning curve. You also may have different communication channels that work for different types of scenarios and for different guest demographics. Here are some of our thoughts on channels (CX Group’s CXQuest supports all these)

  • SMS feedback: these work well for post check-in feedback. We invite the guest to share via SMS then collect feedback via reply to the text message. The more instantaneous nature of SMS makes it a great tool for guests to send through quick snippets of information or support requests as and when they are facing smaller issues. Attend to these and you will have a happy guest.
  • eForms: these are responsively designed e-forms that are sent out via SMS or email. We use this method mostly for pre-arrival requests (see below point 4). These work well when you want to restrict some of the choices the guest should be entitled to.
  • In Room calls: we introduced a great method for collecting feedback by allowing guests to leave feedback simply by picking up the phone in the room and leaving a voice message. Our solution then transcribes the voice messages into a text review which is analyzed and relayed to the front line team. This method works extremely well with the more senior demographic which are otherwise hard to reach through more digital means. In some of our customer’s properties, we collect as much as 70% of our reviews through such in-room calls.
  • QR codes on post cards: you can also invite the customer by handing out post cards with instructions about how to submit feedback (They can scan a QR code or navigate with a browser to the url printed on the post card). While this gives a good opportunity for the hotel’s front desk to draw attention to the feedback program, you will need to design and print the material and you will also depend on the front line staff to get involved and promote feedback invitations.
  • Tablet: tablets at the front desk collect much less feedback in volume but they can prove effective in F&B scenarios. Here, the guest will have some time after passing their credit card to the waiter and while waiting for the slip to sign. During that time, a tablet can be handed out for customers to leave their opinion on the dining experience. If your hotel offers tablets in rooms, this option is a no brainer.
  • Paper Surveys: much to our surprise, there are still a lot of paper surveys and comment cards that circulate in hotels. In some of the more developing countries, we have had scenarios where online methods by far couldn’t reach 1/3rd of the volume of comment cards. Some hotels also feel that a digital push invitation to ask the guest for feedback was too ‘pushy’ and not in line with the exclusive positioning of their brand. To include pen & paper based reviews, we have developed a method to upload scanned comment cards into our feedback system. CXQuest then converts the handwritten cards, summarizes the graded responses and analyzes them just like all the other digital message types.
  • Online Reviews: it is obviously also important to keep an eye on all your online reviews, some of which can contain an appeal for action, (mostly on twitter). The difference to all the previous methods is that online reviews are public data, and recovery actions resemble crisis communication and often little more than an apology can be offered (…knocking of 10% of a bill to keep a loyal customer visiting you may be worth it, but you don’t want the world to know). Your property is better off working actively with the other methods to then avert negative online reviews.

On most of our projects we enable on average 2-3 channels.


4. Disarm the guest with Pre-arrival requests


Much of customer experience is a matter of subjective perception. You will know this from holding on phone line: say you wait for 5 min. Then after a brief dialogue you’re again put on hold again for another 5 min. The second 5 min period always feels longer and less acceptable to customers (subjectively experienced time). We have experienced great results by applying this principle in a reverse manner. We send out a ‘pre-arrival request’ note to the guest a few days before they arrive, asking them if there is anything we can prepare their stay with. Here, they will be offered a number of fixed choices (high floor, low floor, baby crib… etc) and can also enter some free text messages through a mobile optimized form.

Not only gives this great up-selling opportunity, but when your guest sees upon arrival how you have prepared for their stay, they have no other option but to be pleased. Should they run into an issue throughout the remainder of their stay, they are more likely to look upon the issue lightly. You’ve tuned them tolerant through the pre-arrival request. Often your guests may even share that impressive part of their experience online:





5. Use rewards as an efficient control mechanism


Effect of Pre-arrival Survey in Tripadvisor

Using rewards in your customer experience program gives you a lot of added control. Many of our customers return a reward to the guest for having them submit their reviews. In some cases rewards are used to drive up feedback participation volumes. We have noticed that especially in some of the more developing economies or in others where outspokenness is less a virtue than in much of the west, rewards generally can help to drive participation rates. By offering a bonus amount of your loyalty points as a reward, you will be able to address particularly your more regular customers. Of all rewards offered, loyalty program points have not only been proven to be the most effective ones in terms of participation volume, but in some properties as many as 90% of the feedback population have been loyalty members. Any feedback coming through such a program translates into frequent chances to please and impress – and with that to retain-  your most important customers.

6. Spot ‘MOTs’

When going through online reviews, it immediately becomes apparent that the negative outlier cases, the 1-2 star reviews, are all based on moments, where the customer had invested a high emotional content into the outcome of their request with the hotel (‘Moments Of Truth’). If you are collecting a large volume of feedback, it then becomes important for your front line staff to detect these emotionally charged moments for customers and to make sure that these are tended to right away by the most capable team members (often those with the most authority to make flexible decisions) and that they are generally separated from the more common and often ‘harmless’ comments (‘Everything was wonderful, thank you’). Using CXQuest’s text analytics engine, we try to spot these important moments through more than just the rating scores and look out for various type of content in the feedback text corpus, whether it comes through SMS, voice or eform based channels. Some examples of what we look for are:

  • Threat of Internet posting (e.g when the customer mentions that the rooms look very different from what they saw on the Internet)
  • Use of Harsh Language (signals sign of distress)
  • Religious context (indicates a topic you want to show sensitivity toward the guest)
  • Potential legal implication (reference e.g. to injuries)
  • Important Customer Event (references to e.g. Anniversary, wedding, etc)

Once such context is collected we route the incident according to pre-defined rules, flag, track and analyze these cases separately to better understand the root causes that lead the guests to finding themselves in these tense moments to begin with.

When using multiple communication channels which are all based on free text formats, then automation of detection of such moments of truths and automated alert management require strong text analytics capabilities. The technical requirement is quite different from what most text analytics engines are capable of: most can process large amounts of data and indicate with broad brush strokes some aggregated intelligence (categorization of complaints, average sentiment scores, etc). Very different from that is the requirement to detect from a short message with a very high accuracy what the concrete meaning and required action from the business is. Eco’s Ai solution allows hotels to distinguish such incidents, even if the text volume is very limited with near perfect accuracy.

7. Create a culture of ‘collective attentiveness’

One of the simpler yet highly effective habits our most successful customers have adopted is to have the senior management get involved in the discussions on service incidents as they occur. Here is how it works: when a guest sends in a feedback mentioning e.g. an individual at the front desk and the out-of-the-way-effort the person put in, then our systems flag that feedback as noteworthy and alert the senior management as well. The GM can then post a quick comment on a posting board and compliment the attitude the front desk team member displayed. There is something about receiving an almost instant nod back from your team mates and your boss. It is extremely motivating and not as abstract as discussing a satisfaction score report at the end of a reporting period. Collaborating instantly on incoming customer incidents joins your team members together and will instill a culture of collectively attentiveness.

8. How to react to feedback/requests

How do you best react to feedback or service requests? There are three basic dimensions about service recoveries which have influence over how the customer perceives your recovery:

1. Apology
2. Compensation
3. Speed of Reaction

Generally speaking, it is advisable to pick the course of action that relates closest to the service gap. If your guest experienced a financial loss due to your service then they will appreciate financial compensation in return. Studies show that a financial compensation where no loss was experienced by the customer will not always have the same satisfying effect on the customer. Our biggest findings, however, was that speed of reaction is nearly always the most important element in how your guests will feel about your recovery. If done quickly after the incident, your business will almost always be given repeated business regardless of the incident. In a study, researchers found that recovering rapidly without compensation will yield higher guest satisfaction than recovering slowly with compensation. In summary: don’t let the issue sit, and take care of it much better sooner than later.

How about responding to online reviews? There are a number of reports which support that responding online helps improve online review scores. At first, this is difficult to see: why on earth would you want to become apologetic about your hotel’s service on peer to peer site that exists mainly because travelers wouldn’t believe the message you send out on your own website? We do, however, believe it pays off to respond as an owner and here is why: guests that know that you are actively submitting owner’s responses will be more cautious and will probably not shamelessly exaggerate their claims, knowing that you will try to refute them. Secondly, overseeing and responding on online channels contributes to a the image of a more connected and caring business that seems genuinely concerned about the well being of their customers (the higher ratings of properties with active responders might also simply be a result of the better management qualities of the hotel’s management and their taking care of issues on site, rather than online…).

You also may want to think about trying to respond skillfully to reviews when the opportunity presents itself. See these links for some well handled online responses.

Would useful did you find this article? We would love for you to share with us!

(Take a look at www.cxgroup.co or contact us at info@cxgroup.co to learn more about some these best practices, the technologies used to implement them or for comments).

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