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Capturing Guests’ True Opinions More Accurately

By Patrik Hellstrand
July 2010

Based on standard accepted research methodology and survey techniques, most Hotels and Cruise Lines fail to capture the true opinion of their guests because of flawed questionnaires and surveys.  This article will explain the reasons they fail and how hospitality companies can more accurately capture the true opinion of their guests, and consequentially understand guest loyalty better.

The problem of not capturing the true opinion of guests is mainly caused by the way questions on surveys are developed.  Typically, each year managers and executives within hospitality companies meet to discuss the content of surveys and choose the questions that are placed on questionnaires for the following year.  In this meeting, thoughts and ideas are exchanged which often result in a wide variety of questions used to measure guest satisfaction.  The problem with this approach is the absence of applied research methodology to construct surveys and questionnaires.  Based on years of industry experience with Fortune 500 hospitality companies, rarely, if ever, is the framework of the survey or the scales used within the questionnaires discussed or examined.  This should be a point of conversation because how questions are asked are often more important than what questions are asked.

During the annual meeting, managers and executives should first determine how questions should be asked; each specific question should be highly relevant i.e. have a clear objective and capture the specific information required.  For example, a low score on a question such as ‘Restaurant Service’ does not reveal whether the service was bad because of the waiter (attitude, skills, etc.) or if it was bad because of slow service, which could be due to for example the kitchen not being able to produce fast enough; i.e. outside of the waiter’s control.  Therefore how questions are asked is crucial for surveys to capture the true opinion of guests.  It is also important to remember the aim of the survey when designing the framework of surveys.
The aim of surveys is simple; it should be to collect information suitable for statistical analysis and the results generated should help companies understand their guests better.  Note that the latter may be difficult to achieve as extensive research indicate that only the most satisfied and least satisfied guests fill out questionnaires.  To be able to overcome this inherent challenge, it is very important to choose the right scales for surveys.
There are three main scales to pay attention to which are: performance scales; satisfaction scales; and disconfirmation scales:
  • Performance scales asks guests questions on how the property or ship performed; such as “Excellent”, “Very Good”, “Good”, “Poor” and “Very Poor”.
  • Satisfaction scales asks guests questions on how satisfied they are; such as “Extremely Satisfied”, “Very Satisfied”, “Satisfied”, “Not Satisfied”, “Very Dissatisfied”.
  • Disconfirmation scales asks guests questions related to how their expectations were met; such as “Much Better than Expected”, “Better than Expected”, “As Expected”, “Below Expectations” and “Far Below Expectations”
Though many researchers and companies have in the past, and are still today, utilizing single-item scales to measure satisfaction, these scales are not without fault.  There are basically two broad types of scales available to measure customer satisfaction.  These are single-and multi-item scales.  There is strong evidence that a disconfirmation scale (multi-item scale) should be used instead of performance or satisfaction scales (single-item scales) which has two faults:
  1. Lacks the ability to provide information on components or assess various dimensions separately.
  2. Limited reliability.
A multi-item scale on the other hand has three benefits:
  1. Incorporates the disconfirmation theory which takes both expectations and perceptions into account.
  2. Mathematically, comparisons with expectations correlate higher with customer retention and loyalty than performance and satisfaction questions.
  3. The disconfirmation scale drastically reduces the asymmetry in the perceived measured service. Once the scales are developed according to research methodology standards, the actual questions should be developed.
The questions should attempt to measure the extrinsic and intrinsic cues that help guests determine product and service quality.  The intrinsic cues provide information on the physical attributes of the service e.g. restaurant food offering or quality, promptness of service, etc. The extrinsic cues provide information on the product and price value.  The questions should focus on the perceived functional quality of the service delivered (service outcome) rather than on the technical quality (how the service was delivered). The questions should also attempt to measure the source of guests’ satisfaction or dissatisfaction, while taking into account the price paid for the experience.
To fully understand guest satisfaction, high-level questions revolving around the framework of service, product quality and value perceptions should be asked.  For companies to be able to gather information which is useful for statistical analysis, ‘high-level’ questions should be asked to understand guest’s overall perceptions.  A ‘above expectations’ response from a guest indicates that no factor was significantly negative enough to detract from overall satisfaction of the rated category. Therefore, there is no need to ask the guest more questions in that category.  Any ‘below expectation’ responses should trigger a subset of more specific questions to capture information on how the hotel or cruise ship can improve in the minds of their guests.

There are three critical areas of dissatisfaction information that surveys must be able to collect:
  1. Dissatisfaction caused by the hotel or cruise ship not knowing what guests want, and can therefore not deliver.
  2. Dissatisfaction caused by false or incorrect advertising or marketing which causes guests to have unrealistic expectations (asymmetry between product communication and product delivery)
  3. Dissatisfaction caused by staff not able or willing to deliver adequate service (based on guests expectations).
With this specific information on hand, hospitality companies can make informed business decisions on how to overcome the challenges causing guest dissatisfaction. But only if they also know if guests were satisfied with the price they paid for the experience.
Price Satisfaction
Guests’ price satisfaction should be understood as it plays a significant role in the perception guests have towards the value and quality products and services.  Poor price perception is statistically proven to influence both satisfaction and repurchase intentions negatively.  In other words, guests use price as an expectation cue for service and product quality. As quality is the antecedent to both satisfaction and perceived value; guests’ perception of the ‘quality’ of the hotel or cruise ship becomes one of the most important factors to capture.
In summary, hospitality companies should first discuss the framework of their survey, establish what scale to use, agree on how to ask questions and finally develop the actual questions.  The ‘intuitive’ surveys developed as a result of the methodical approach outlined above should then be incorporated into an online environment which is geared for ‘dynamic’ surveys.  This will allow for hotel companies and cruise lines to capture the true opinions of their guests. By doing so, they will be much better equipped to understand the loyalty and repurchase intentions of their guests.

About the Author:

Patrik Hellstrand is a recognized hospitality consultant, and is the Managing Director at SQInsight Hospitality Consulting, a firm that provides hospitality consulting services to the hotel and cruise industry.

Visit for links to additional articles published by SQInsight Hospitality Consulting, or to get in touch with a hospitality consultant.

Patrik Hellstrand

Also See:

Culture and Demographic Impact on Guest Satisfaction / Patrik Hellstrand / June 2010


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