Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why Customer Service 2.0 Will Help Hotels Manage Their Brand’s Reputation

We all know a key strategy of a successful company is to build a great reputation.  More importantly businesses must work even harder to maintain credibility they have established.  When an organization attains excellence, clients hold them to that standard relentlessly.

In this new era of “Customer Service 2.0” there are more communication channels available than ever before for customers to share their opinions.  They expect impeccable service and terrific products, and when they don’t receive excellence, their negative feedback will likely reverberate across the Internet.

“Social media empowers consumers to radically influence your brand — for better or worse. In fact, prospects and customers have the ability to participate directly in your marketing. As a result, one bad experience can result in a major dose of destructive marketing.”

Rick Sloboda, How to Approach Customer Service 2.0

The Hotel industry is particularly vulnerable to social media feedback from customers.  In addition to Blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter there are a significant number of noteworthy social technologies soliciting feedback, positive or negative, regarding the hospitality industry.  Some examples:

  • Travel Review Sites — Trip Advisor, PlanetFeedback.com, TravelPost.com and epinions.com are examples of sites accumulating data regarding hotel customer experiences.  The use of these forums is widespread, and savvy travelers are embracing them.
  • Location Based Applications — Another avenue of applications gaining momentum are the GPS-based tools, such as Foursquare, GoWalla, and Yelp.  These applications encourage users to write reviews of their experiences with hotels, restaurants and other establishments.
  • Video/photo focused sites — YouTube, The world’s #2 social network, is a video-based tool.  Customers can film their challenges at a hotel and post the video for all to see in that network.  Photo sites such as Flickr or Picasso, enable users to publish photographs of one’s experiences.

Hotels can no longer sweep under the carpet service or product quality issues, as there are convenient, and “very public” channels for unhappy customers to express their frustration, and disappointment.  Wisely, many hotel companies now have “reputation management” plans in place.  This week the USA Today blog “Hotel Check-in published an article addressing this subject.

“Hotels are increasingly reading what you’re writing on TripAdvisor and other online review venues – and responding.  ”

Barbara De Lollis, USA Today

In another article, also published by USA Today, Roger Yu shares that “Less than 4% of negative reviews on TripAdvisor get a response, according to TripAdvisor, which has more than 30 million reviews. But the review site says it saw a 203% explosion in responses from hotels last year.

So what can hotels do to proactively respond to their customers and protect their reputations?  Well, here are some suggestions:

  • Search Engines — Use applications with a tracking feature to tune into the discussions taking place regarding your Brand.  One excellent example of this tool is “Google Alerts.”  Periodically the software sends email alerts to users, posting comments made using specific keywords identified during the setup process.
  • Twitter — it is possible to create a search string and then setup an RSS feed posting all tweets addressing the keywords in that search string.  Alternatively, users can setup a search column in applications such as Tweetdeck which will do the same thing.
  • Concierge Service — Many hotel companies are setting up accounts representing their brands on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, referring to them as online Concierge services.  By promoting these sites, guests have a resource, even before they actually arrive at the hotel, to channel questions, concerns or service requests.  One example of such a service is Hyatt’s E-Concierge service.
  • Custom Software — Some major hotel chains, such as Hilton, Starwood and Marriott are using analytic software to monitor the social sites for feedback regarding their hotels.  One such application is called “Review Analyst.”

In an already difficult economy, which has impacted the hospitality business deeply, hotels can ill afford negative customer reviews.  Hotels developing an efficient system for monitoring online feedback from customers will stand apart from their competition.  Most certainly, to ignore the cyber chatter will be  corporate suicide.

Question:  Is there a best practice that your hotel is using to keep an eye out on customers?  If so, we would love to hear about it!

Follow Michael McCurry on Twitter

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff Hurt March 26, 2010 at 11:55 am

Great food for thought that many in the hospitality industry should heed. Here's a great quote by the CEO of TripAdvisor that applies here and may help relieve some fears about reviews online.

The popular belief that people only take the time to post something when they want to vent or discuss a bad experience is siimply not true; at least in our experience. The majority of our 20 million reviews and opinions we have received on TripAdvisor are positive ones. People are simply compelled to give back to a community that has given to them. ~ Steve Kaufer, CEO of TripAdvisor

Reply

MichaelMMcCurry March 26, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Hi Jeff,

Your comment makes a great point, that these "review sites" are not hotel bashing sites, but actually serve a constructive purpose to not only call out where hotels fall short, but also where they excel.

Thanks for contributing to the conversation!

@michaelmccurry

Reply

@VelChain March 26, 2010 at 1:28 pm

@michaelmccurry – When I took my online revenue management classes a few years ago, this was a big topic of conversation. One "old school" idea I liked was to have little cards printed up that included the URL's of popular review sites. When a front desk or concierge would receive raves from a guest, they could quickly hand them the pre-printed card and ask if they would mind posting it online. I think the reason more hotels don't do this, is that they are more interested in competing on chain guest satisfaction (their own survey) than they are one that their customer's can see. That's great for benchmarking & service improvement, but not good for making the cash register ring.____I think this is a really good way to help solicite authentic good posts. A raving fan guest that sees themselves as being hi-tech, will do it in a heart beat.

Reply

MichaelMMcCurry March 26, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Hey Dave,

Thanks for sharing the tidbit regarding the "little card" concept.

I actually think both the review sites and the chain guest satisfaction surveys have their place. Both should be reviewed by hotel management in an effort to be responsive to guest satisfaction issues.

I appreciate the contribution to the conversation!

@michaelmccurry

Reply

@brentskinner March 27, 2010 at 3:25 pm

@michaelmccurry: Loved this post — social media tools are powerful for both negative and positive customer feedback, especially in the hospitality industry. I'll share a personal case study, which I experienced just yesterday:

Following the MTO Summit, as I was gearing up to leave Chicago and return to Boston, I found myself unable to locate an easily accessible off-site coffee shop whose prices might be lower than the rather high ones at the downstairs establishment of the hotel. This might have prompted me to tweet something negative about my stay at this hotel; what I did do beforehand, however, was to ask a woman at the front desk what my options were. She responded by giving me a coupon, on the spot, to redeem for free coffee at that same shop downstairs. Wow. The goodwill prompted me, instead, to tweet something positive about the hotel's customer service. I included the #customerservice and #mtosummit hashtags and the hotel's Twitter username.

The average patron at the average hotel may or may not be social media-savvy, but this customer service person understood that her patrons hail largely from the business community and know a thing or two about recommending or slamming an establishment online. I not only enjoyed my stay there, but commend her as an employee.

Reply

MichaelMMcCurry March 28, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Hi Brent,

This is a great story of "above and beyond" customer service and this Hyatt Regency O'hare employee certainly deserves recognition this exceptional effort on her part!

Too often we focus on the negative service experiences and I appreciate your calling out this positive one.

Thanks for contributing to the conversation on this topic!

@michaelmccurry

Reply

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