Operations: Making Social Media an Asset for Your Hotel
[This is the second posting in our article series, Making Social Media an Asset for Your Hotel. The first article is available here.]
For a hotel’s operations staff, daily and trended reports of guest satisfaction surveys (or solicited guest feedback) provide critical insights into operational performance. However, for a comprehensive view of a hotel’s operations, unsolicited guest feedback in the form of social media completes the picture. A hotel’s social media further enhances the insights from solicited feedback in three key ways:
1) Going beyond what the survey asks
2) Uncovering the emotional drivers
3) Discovering new standards
We explain the details of each in the following sections.
[box type="info"] But first, an important caveat. Linking social media to operations must be done very carefully. We’ve seen hotels make knee-jerk operational changes based on the strong opinions of a few travelers that are posted in a very short amount of time. Because of its public nature, social media can send hotel teams into a frenzy, when the opinions and experiences of a few may not represent the majority of the hotel’s guests. While a few reviews about a negative checkin experience or an aging room product should inspire internal conversations, they don’t necessarily warrant significant changes be made overnight. When looking at social media from an operations perspective, a hotel must consider a sufficient quantity of reviews over an ample time period to represent a statistically significant population of guest feedback. For an individual hotel, the quantity of reviews within a given week or month is usually not enough. In working with our clients, we recommend small to mid-sized hotels consider at least 12-months of social media data, and large hotels consider at least 6-months of social media data. Analytics tools like Brand Karma Analytics make looking back 6 or 12 months an easy task, and something a hotel can do immediately.[/box]
Going beyond what the survey asks
Solicited feedback from guest satisfaction surveys or in-room comment cards highlights operational issues in predefined areas. Traditional guest surveys ask a set of questions chosen by the hotel, resulting in regular structured feedback in the selected operational areas. Major providers like Medallia, Synovate, LRA Worldwide, and Market Metrix are well-known providers of traditional guest satisfaction solutions.
Where social media complements solicited guest surveys is in its unstructured, organic nature. Because social media is an open canvas, guests’ comments have no boundaries. What’s even better is that you can be certain you’re reading guests’ honest opinions, as they are posting by their own free will, instead of responding to a surveyor’s questions. For hotels that are part of a chain where local properties have their own distinct characteristics, social media often surfaces these unique selling points. As consumers conduct more research on the web about where to stay, the unique selling points may very well be the added value that swings consumers towards your property and away from a competitor. Hence it’s in the property’s best interest to understand what these areas are, and to subsequently ensure operational excellence in each of them. At the same time, it’s important to compare guest satisfaction in solicited surveys with the guest satisfaction in social media to identify consistencies and inconsistencies. If gaps exist, then hotel management should investigate why.
One very consistent example we see across the social media of many hotels is Internet Access. Based on our analysis of over 13,000 hotels in Asia-Pacific, we found Internet Access to be the most complained about topic in the guest experience, with the complaints surrounding speed, reliability, and price. However, as most hotels in Asia-Pacific do not ask about this attribute in their solicited guest surveys, they are missing an important data point in understanding their operations. Even if a hotel does ask about its Internet Access, it doesn’t ask specifically about its guests’ satisfaction levels along the dimensions of speed, reliability, and price. This example illustrates a disconnect between what operations is optimizing for, versus what guests are actually discussing. Given that Internet Access is increasingly influencing prospective guests’ purchase decisions, it’s imperative that a hotel account for such examples.
Uncovering the emotional drivers
Most solicited guest surveys give hoteliers a sense of how satisfied customers were with what attributes of the stay experience. However, the why has been hard to derive from these surveys. Due to consumers’ desire to share information, creators of social media almost always explain to their audience why they were satisfied or dissatisfied with certain experiences. In doing so, they become a dynamic, living focus group that gives hoteliers the key to greater understanding.
Take for example, the following excerpts:
“Also, while we didn’t bring our pooches this time, we usually travel with our 2 dogs and LOVE the fact that they are dog friendly!” (source: TripAdvisor review on Hotel Monaco Chicago)
“I travel by myself and I felt safe. The area was easy to walk about and the hotel had a map and showed me how to go to find interesting things.” (source: Agoda review on Inter City Boutique Hotel Vientiane Laos)
“I advise all honeymooners to go for this hotel. You feel like you are in the heaven.” (source: Booking.com review on Hotel Malisa Villa Suites Phuket)
In each of the above cases, the reasons for the intense levels of guest satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) are strongly linked with how well the experience fulfilled the guest’s emotional needs. Notice how these comments move way beyond the product and service attributes of the hotel, and into the emotional realm. Uncovering the emotional drivers and sharing them with the hotel staff brings the staff even closer to the guests and further develops their empathy.
Discovering new standards
Guests who are frequent travelers are often highly influential in shaping the purchase decisions of their friends and family. However, despite membership in a particular loyalty program, a frequent traveler is still unlikely to stay exclusively in the properties of a single hotel company. As a result, her standards are constantly being redefined by the various chain and independent properties she stays in around the world. The hotel attributes that a frequent traveler values, and her expectations of hotels in a particular star class, are based on the “collective best” experiences she’s had at each individual property. For example, she might remember the 500-thread count linens from the boutique hotel in Shanghai, the breathtaking skyline views from the upscale business hotel in New York, and the empathetic staff from the affordable design hotel in Barcelona. Each of these individual memories is now the benchmark of what’s best in her mind for that particular attribute. Most hoteliers know that their frequent guests are often their most discerning. Indeed, by the time a guest like this visits your hotel after staying in several other properties, what used to be considered “excellent” service might now be downgraded to “very good.” Note that this is usually not due to any fault of a hotel’s staff, but simply because the frequent traveler’s expectations have been raised by her exposure to many different hotels.
Here’s where social media comes in. While most guests are unlikely to be the frequent traveler persona described above, they are still able to understand the “collective best” experiences because of the publicly posted reviews from millions of other travelers. Since other travelers are posting their personal favorite hotel experiences in social media, other travelers will expect the same special touches when they visit your property, whether they are well-traveled or not. Because of its public and easily searchable nature, social media is accelerating shifts in customer expectations.
Turning to the Internet Access example again, in our research we observed a backlash against paying for Internet access at a hotel within social media. The primary reasons for this were:
1) Why should I pay for Internet access at a luxury hotel when I get it for free at a lower-class hotel?
2) Why should I pay for Internet access when I didn’t have to pay for it in another hotel from the same company, but in a different location?
3) Why should I pay for Internet access when the speed is so slow or unreliable?
Each of the above reasons for dissatisfaction is rooted in a comparative experience that caused the customer to upgrade her expectations. You can begin to imagine many examples where this is occurring at your property. Social media, if tracked properly, can be used to discover such new trends in guest expectations, giving hoteliers lead time to upgrade their offerings to be more in line with what the guest wants.
In conclusion, there are numerous ways in which social media is applicable to a hotel’s operations staff. When used in conjunction with solicited guest satisfaction surveys, social media can provide a more comprehensive understanding of the guest, and enable operations teams to keep their hotel competitive in the marketplace. However, hoteliers must remember to look at a sufficient amount of social media data to represent the collective guest opinion before making any major shifts.