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By Benjamin Jost

Each day, hotels across the industry put themselves at risk of losing hundreds, or even thousands of dollars… simply by doing nothing at all. These hotels, many of which are a few simple actions away from nearly doubling their pool of potential customers, fritter away opportunities because they don't know how to address the concerns that previous guests have shared on the internet. But inaction can be changed, and new revenue streams can be opened.

To begin, hotel leaders need to understand the feedback that guests are posting online, whether the hotel is excited about that or not. There are millions of reviews written each week, and while not every review pertains to every property, nearly every hotel will receive online feedback on a regular basis.

Understanding these reviews can be tricky… it's important to identify the tone of a review (positive, neutral or negative) along with the contents of the review (going beyond the tone to identify what's actually being discussed). Then, over time, hotels can summarize the sentiments and their statistical relevance to truly understand what impacts their hotel the most. For example, if half of the reviews your hotel receives over a 30-day timeframe mention room cleanliness could be improved, and suddenly your room cleanliness performance drops 35%, you know right away that you need to take action.

So, once data is understood and contextualized, it must be operationalized. Identifying weaknesses in a hotel, based on guest feedback, requires a willingness of management to understand that all feedback is simply data, and data should inform decisions. It can be very difficult to accept that, for instance, an employee who's regularly happy-go-lucky in meetings may turn off the charm in guest service settings. However, if multiple guests complain about the cleanliness of their rooms, there is likely an issue that management must address. This may be by ensuring their employees are implementing the best practices the hotel has established. It may also be changing those best practices (or changing employees if one particular person isn't effectively completing their job).

Using feedback as a tool to identify challenges based on what guests are experiencing first hand can lead to a variety of outcomes, from simple corrective action with employees to more drastic actions are required (such as employee termination) or realizing a particular approach is the wrong way to do things. It can also be used to identify standout employees. Perhaps guest feedback about a hotel's restaurant is always amazing on Tuesdays. At that point, hotel executives should look to see if there is a particular dinner special earning praise, or if there is a standout chef who deserves some sort of recognition.

Remember, not all feedback is bad. In fact, nearly 80% of online reviews are positive.

However, if online feedback falls into the 20% that's negative, hotels can, and should address it. If they have operationalized the data and are taking actions to correct an issue, explaining that in an online setting can limit the damage caused by a negative review. After all, it isn't just the reviewer who sees the review, more than 95% of booking decisions are informed by online feedback. Earlier in this piece, I referenced how hotels may be costing themselves hundreds or even thousands of dollars each night. This is what I was talking about.

A hotel's review score is the second most important detail in the guest's booking experience (behind price, but ahead of things like hotel brand name). In our recently released study on how people search for and book hotels, we found that 88% of would-be travelers immediately sort out hotels that have less than 3 out of 5 stars (more about that here). Based on our research, hotels that fall under three stars are typically dragged down by one or two repeating flaws. For instance, guests regularly remark about unclean rooms, or have a common concern having to do with breakfast, or recurring problems at checkout.

In short, most hotels with a score under 3 stars can dramatically improve their score with one or two improvements, as opposed to a dramatic overhaul of some sort. Identifying and understanding online reviews will allow these hotels to easily identify these problem areas (these areas are often quite obvious). This improvement will open up an entirely new pool of potential guests. This is also true of hotels looking to increase their feedback ranking from 3 stars to 4, or even 4 stars and above. We still find that revenue increases even when hotel ratings increase from 4.1 to 4.2. No jump is too small, and therefore, it should be striven for time and time again. The fact of the matter is, that hotels want to avoid being taken out of consideration, and with the vast amount of options travelers have, this is becoming harder to do. One of the best ways to stay in the pool of hotel contenders is to strive for excellence - ratings and otherwise.

For some context on why hotels should respond (because millions of users see the response and do acknowledge the fact that the hotel cares about user feedback) and also how hotels should respond, TrustYou has published a suggested best practices document about how to respond to negative reviews. It can be found here. Generally speaking, we recommend responding to all negative reviews, including three key components in each response:

  • A thank you to the guest, both for staying at the hotel and for taking the time to write a review.
     
  • An acknowledgement, explaining that you have, in fact, heard their concerns, and if possible, outlining the ways the hotel is working to ensure their issue won't happen again.
     
  • An invitation to come back to the hotel, offering to show that you're serious about the improvement.
     

Prospective guests want to stay in a place where they know that the management team is looking out for the guest's best interest. Following these steps can help to limit the damage for a potential guest who's seen a negative review.

There is another way to improve a property's feedback ranking; incorporating guest surveys into the mix. Services like TrustYou enable hotels to incorporate survey results with feedback from other online channels and display a summarized review (we call it the Meta-Review) on search engines like Google or on meta-search sites like Kayak and Skyscanner, as well as OTAs like Hotels.com.

The Approach Has Serious Merits
Last year, we analyzed millions of online reviews, finding that almost half (44%) had been solicited by the hotel. Some hotels, such as Motel One, go further, generating more than two thirds of their feedback by asking for reviews. In general, guests who are willing to fill out a post-stay feedback tend to offer more positive responses than guests who go online to leave a review. This means there there is an opportunity for hotels to include more positive, verified hotel reviews into their online feedback.

The best way to do this is by building a short survey questionnaire. Remember, your guests are doing you a favor by providing feedback; don't take up more of their time than necessary. A typical approach would be to include 1-2 dropdown/checkbox answers, 3-5 ratings, and one long text answer. This survey will take your guest about 5 minutes to fill out, which is usually the most time a guest will spend in a survey setting without some sort of incentive attached, which is important. Including incentives in these programs should not happen, as they can be construed as paid endorsements.

There are ways to improve survey response rates. One method is to work with teams at the front desk to make sure they preview the survey with departing guests. We recommend telling guests that a on the way, including the length of time it typically takes to respond to, and why it is being sent. Like you, your guests receive many emails every day, so offering a preview will allow the guests who are most likely to provide valuable feedback to look for it in their inbox. Sending surveys through different channels will also increase the response rate. In fact, we found that asking for feedback via text message leads to open rates as high as 98%.

Guests will continue to leave online feedback for hotels, regardless of whether it's something that hotel leaders are excited about or not. To understand the phenomenon, many industry insiders have asked questions like "how much damage can bad reviews cause to my bookings?" We have an answer, and the numbers are dramatic; nearly 90% of travelers will immediately eliminate hotels that don't have a certain, attainable level of positive feedback from their list of potential places to stay. Smart executives can view online feedback as a source of data from which they can derive actionable insights that improve guest experiences and generate more bookings. They can also utilize guest surveys to improve both the quantity and quality of feedback. Taking these steps will open up a pool of new potential customers, and in some cases, can easily double or triple the number of guests willing to consider staying at a particular hotel.

Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from www.HotelExecutive.com.

About Benjamin Jost

Benjamin Jost is co-founder and chief executive officer of TrustYou. Benjamin is an expert on social semantic search and is leading the big data revolution in hospitality. Prior to TrustYou, he spearheaded the Southern European M&A team for one of the world’s leading renewable energy providers and oversaw hundreds of investment cases covering a profusion of renewable technologies. He started his career in venture capital at Siemens Venture Capital and Xange Capital. During his studies he conducted extensive research into the security aspects of mobile applications systems and organic RFID. Benjamin holds a MsC in engineering from the University of Technology in Munich and conducted research at the ENST Paris and the University of Washington Business School, Seattle. 

Contact: Benjamin Jost

service@trustyou.com

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