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No Silver Bullets, No Shortcuts in the Customer Experience Business
by Zach Conen
March 2013

As is wont to happen from time to time, we have stumbled upon another "silver bullet" moment in the ongoing effort to effectively measure and enhance customer experience. The magic solution of the moment involves taking advantage of the free feedback that customers provide on social media and review websites such as Facebook, TripAdvisor and Yelp and utilizing one of the available online tools to "scrape" and analyze that feedback in an orderly fashion. There has been a good bit of chatter about the value of using this approach and the technologies that enable it to replace more conventional means of measuring the guest experience.

To completely butcher Shakespeare, I come not to bury social media analysis, but to praise it. This is the ultimate application of the old customer service axiom that any feedback from a customer – positive or otherwise – is a gift. The process of "harvesting" the online feedback from your customers into actual structured data and analysis allows you to reap those gifts on a scale previously unimagined. At LRA, we are actively using these tools to provide additional insights into the analysis we provide from quality assurance audits, mystery shopping and customer research programs, to great effect. The ability to gather and analyze free-text has been a valuable complement to everything we do to help our clients understand their customer experience and how it impacts future customer behavior.

What makes me nervous is the rush to replace. If nothing else, we have learned time and again the silver bullet of customer experience understanding doesn't exist. Like any of the other methods of customer experience data gathering, this one has its strengths and limitations.

At LRA, we recently concluded a study on travel habits, surveying more than 3,500 recent travelers in North America. One of the topics covered was use of social media and review sites. The findings were revealing in terms of how impactful these tools are in travel decision making. Understanding what people are saying online and how to effectively drive that conversation is very important – 84-percent of those surveyed indicated that they sometimes check reviews online before planning a trip and 35-percent indicated they were very influenced by those reviews.

Another interesting tidbit involved the words or themes that were most influential in deciding whether to book or not. Again, no shock – if "cleanliness" came up as a negative in more than one review, 90-percent of respondents considered it a deal-breaker. On the flip side, "cleanliness" noted positively in more than one review led 78-percent of those responding to indicate they would be "much more likely" to consider that property. Traditionally, the hotel industry has looked at "cleanliness" as a cost-of-entry item,particularly in the upscale and luxury segments. At a certain price point, you aren't getting any extra credit for having a clean hotel…but you can certainly lose a guest quickly if you don't. While it may still be the case that delivering a clean hotel room may not inspire brand loyalty, what this shows is that an overt message of cleanliness will influence customer trial across the full range of hotel segments.

So very clearly this online feedback is influential and very clearly it behooves companies to understand what is being said in an organized, quantitative fashion in order to better impact the experience of your online "influencers." But who are these influencers…and are they really representative of your customers as a whole?

In the LRA study, while a huge majority of travelers are checking online reviews, only 33-percent are actively contributing to that dialogue. And within that subset, young (under 35) females are far more likely to be posting than any other demographic segment, so relying on this data as a proxy for your customers overall can be misleading. In addition, those same female travelers are far more likely to be checking online reviews before every trip (54-percent to 39-percent)…and far more interested in comments about cleanliness…and far more likely to book a room based on cleanliness, leading to a circular, self-fulfilling analysis tool if utilized in a vacuum.

When combined with other data streams that capture a more representative sample (survey research) or execution on specific performance standards (audits, mystery shops), you get a clearer picture of what is important to different guest segments and how you are delivering in those areas. And, more to the point, actionable insights on how to a.) meaningfully influence the influencers so that people give you a try and b.) meaningfully influence the actual customer experience so that people come back.

The Lone Ranger never limited himself to one silver bullet, so why should you. Use 'em all.

Reprinted Courtesy of LRA Worldwide’s The Loyalty Leader:

About the author:
Zach joined LRA with ten-plus years of sales and marketing experience in the sports and entertainment industry, most recently as the Assistant Athletic Director for Sales and Marketing for the Temple University Athletic Department. Prior to working at Temple, Zach was the Director of Ticket Operations for the Reading Phillies, managing attendance increases in each of his five seasons with the Double A baseball club.

Zach has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania in American History and a Master of Business Administration degree in Marketing from Temple University's Fox School of Business and Management. 

About LRA Worldwide, Inc:
LRA Worldwide is a leading research and consulting company in the emerging discipline of Customer Experience Management (CEM). We work with our clients to help them design and deliver consistently exceptional customer experiences in order to drive customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy, and company growth and profitability.

In LRA’s 30-year history, we have grown from a provider of customized quality assurance evaluation programs for the hospitality industry, to a leading CEM consulting company offering a variety of client solutions. The evolution has been driven by our clients asking us one question – "How do we get better?" In response, we have built a range of performance measurement, research, training and consulting solutions to help them do so. Today, we are a growing company operating in more than 120 countries throughout the world, helping clients such as Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Hyatt Hotels International, Anantara Hotels & Resorts and InterContinental Hotels Group deliver exceptional customer experiences. Every touch. Every time. For more information, visit us at

Zach Conen
Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing

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