By Larry and Adam Mogelonsky
Think broadly about the post-pandemic ‘revenge travel’ surge we hoteliers find ourselves in the midst of right now. After being cooped up for two years, people want to travel again. And not just plan a trip, but due to COVID-19 (read: mortality salience or #YOLO) many place a greater value on travel as a meaningful contribution to their lives. In stark opposition to this prospect of high occupancy is the lack of new staffers, which likely won’t end any time soon given a slew of forces beyond any hotel’s direct control. Together, this amounts to overworked teams and the possibility for service errors.
From the C-level, things look good. Increases in the topline due to adept yielding with minimal bumps in expenses by throttling labor according to labor pool availability means greater contributions to the bottom line. Not so fast; the potential for service deficiencies due to this imbalance can have a negative long tail that impacts your brand’s reputation and ability to get guests after this current recovery period has normalized.
Specifically, we’re talking about online hotel reviews as we’ve seen them become much more influential since the pandemic. As they say, the internet is written in permanent ink; while taking in as many guests in the short-term is a much-needed strategy, service deficiencies will inevitably be reflected on sites like TripAdvisor where they can weigh on your property for months or years to come.
Because this problem may only appear as indirect, it’s hard to visualize the knock-on effect. In our minds, the answer is automation – strong workflows to free up your lean team’s time so they can focus on better service. Rather than speak in generalities about the solution, though, we touched base with Michael Kessler, CEO of ReviewPro, to get a sense of how best to approach this issue.
“Right now, customers are keenly focused on post-pandemic rather than pre-pandemic hotel reviews,” noted Kessler. “This means that highly automated reputation management deserves a serious rethink as we get underway in this next era of travel.”
Our conversation with Kessler largely revolved around the disparate perspectives of guest versus hotel manager. As we’re all members of the latter camp, we often forget that from the customer’s perspective they don’t care about your staffing problems. They just want to maximize their experience, with all their requests addressed effectively and expediently. From the opening paragraph’s mention of the psychological concept of mortality salience, guests are also more likely to want to splurge – great for total revenues per guest but bad for timely service delivery and proper staffing.
To help prevent negative reviews that can pop up from this unique situation in the near term, we need technology and AI to handle the more repetitive tasks. Ironically, these ‘no touch’ tools give your team more time to be ‘high touch’ with guests.
In demoing ReviewPro with Kessler, it’s not just the onsite experience but the entire customer journey, for which there are seven key ways where reputation management platforms can help generate a more efficient business:
1. Programming in-stay surveys and setting team notifications, so that hoteliers can act quickly to provide onsite service recovery when needed.
2. Consolidating requests from any digital platform – whether it’s an email, texting app or social media – so nothing gets missed and the team isn’t burdened with checking every single channel.
3. Bringing all online reviews into a single unified platform for managers to efficiently answer with thanks and acknowledgments, and for prospective guests to see that the hotel is responsive and caring.
4. Perfecting the prearrival and post-departure automated communications to set the tone for a great onsite experience and maintain the brand relationship after check-out.
5. Employing a hospitality-specific chatbot to help automate the more repetitive aspects of inbound inquiries, whether it’s for guests currently on-premises or those yet to book a room.
6. Offering comp set review benchmarks to give a sense of where a property needs to improve compared to other brands.
7. Analyzing the specific words in each review – otherwise known as semantic analysis – where you can use AI-driven tools to evaluate performance not just on star rating changes but on guests’ sentiments and ‘soft’ suggestions.
In the post-pandemic travel era, there are so many factors at play that are affecting both upcoming trends and employee retention. Many of these are not directly related to technology, and yet if your managers are too busy with quotidian tasks to devote time to setting up these new initiatives then you will find your organization unable to progress. You need a good tech stack with deep integrations and automations in order to free up everyone’s time for both better service and the projects that will evolve your business. Hopefully, the long tail hotel review scenario per the above example with ReviewPro has shown you one way to push your hotel brand forward.
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Editor’s note: To discuss business challenges or speaking engagements please contact Larry or Adam directly.