The influence of reviews on traveler’s booking behaviors is well established. Some 95% of travelers consult reviews before making a purchase. And data from TripAdvisor reveals almost all of their visitors consult some 6-12 reviews before purchasing a trip.
Review sites’ direct impact on a hotel’s bottom line has also been well documented. One recent study by Cornell University found that if a hotel increased its review score by 1 point on a 5-point scale, it could increase its prices by 11.2 percent without sacrificing occupancy or market share.
TripAdvisor is the undisputed king when it comes to online hotel reviews. The site reaches over 350 million visitors a month with over 385 million reviews and opinions. It is also the review site most review research is based on. As such, hotels are justifiably preoccupied with their TripAdvisor ratings and reviews, and a lot of the industry literature and advice is similarly focused on ways in which hotels can improve their online standing.
Despite the industry preoccupation, less attention is focused on the exact dynamics of these reviews and the practical and immediate ways in which hoteliers can positively influence guest feedback.
What are the three primary components of a TripAdvisor review?
TripAdvisor ratings are comprised of ratings, from one to five, along three lines: service, location, and value.
For hotels, improving their location score is a relative non-starter – there’s little a hotelier can do to change that.
Making appreciable differences to value is doable, but potentially expensive. A hotel would have to reduce rates or add services and amenities to existing rates, free of charge. Both would mean making less profit per guest to increase your ratings – something for which it would be hard to get ownership buy in.
Service, however, is where hotels can directly control improvements in their online ratings. And despite location and value being given equal billing as prompts for guest reviews, service (both good and bad) invariably becomes the foundation of online feedback.
A 2016 study by the Revenue Strategy Summit (RSS) found service was the top guest issue revealed through online reviews, and by quite some distance at that.
What is “service” when it comes to reviews?
That service is fundamental to a hotel’s overall rating is a giant opportunity for hotels looking to improve their position on TripAdvisor.
Let’s dig into what service really means when it comes to reviews. “Service” in hotels has many forms, but when it comes to reviews, most guest frustrations typically hinge on holes in communication. Specifically, guests express dissatisfaction in reviews over instances in which they made requests that were not (or poorly) fulfilled, or not fulfilled within an expected amount of time.
The reason why these service issues predominate is because request management – the art of filling these guest requests – is often under-prioritized when it comes to hotel operations and technology. This happens in spite of it underpinning guest service. Even when hotels have systems in place to manage requests, these systems are often set up to fail.
Some examples of reviews where service mishaps could have been easily avoided:
Hotels struggle with internal communication because of their complex organization
The main reason why request management is so complicated for hotels is because of communication complexities for hotel staff inherent to a hotel’s organizational structure. Typically, the hotel staff member who fields the request is almost always not the employee who executes it. Regardless of whether the front desk agent or the hotel operator receives the guest’s request, the request will likely be passed on to another staff member to fulfill it. Shift changes also challenge request management, as do departments that work in silos to manage their workloads. With this communication structure, it can be very challenging, if not impossible, to understand what is being asked for or complained about in real time.
Why hotels need a dedicated software solution for request management
Without a dedicated request management solution, executing on requests requires a multi-person chain of communication. And while analog or offline systems (in person, radio, pen and paper, and post-it notes) have obvious pitfalls due to their lack of traceability, digital – but siloed – communication chains also create space for requests to get dropped or misplaced.
Request management is challenging to hotels that rely on technology too, because staff technology is typically fragmented and disconnected across departments. Although a hotel’s property management system (PMS) is one common system that integrates with many service systems, it is not built for unifying operational requests. With staff on different systems, it makes it virtually impossible to standardize operations. It becomes impossible to provide a consistent experience across every department, or across every hotel in a group. Disconnected staff technology means that as staff fulfill requests, there is no central place to track progress. Requests can be dropped, accountability can be skirted, and service ultimately suffers. There is no real trail of guest engagement. It is nearly impossible to ensure that everything gets done.
The proliferation of digital guest communication channels has also complicated request management. Today’s guests can request services, information or amenities in person, over the phone, by email, via mobile app, by text, or through social media. Spreading guest requests across all these channels without a dedicated request management solution means hotel staff must spend their time monitoring these channels and then dispatching these requests by hand to the appropriate employees. There's an irony to this. Increasing communication options for your guests can lead to increased guest satisfaction. But when your staff is unable to keep up with these channels, service suffers. Guest satisfaction is again compromised.
Take control of your TripAdvisor reviews with request management technology
Improving your hotel’s service through exceptional guest request management is the most direct way to increase your TripAdvisor rating. Guest request fulfillment is the lynchpin of customer service, and “service” is the component of the review that is the most directly in your control (“location” is all but impossible to change, and changing “value” is expensive).
Fortunately, technology today can make guest request management a whole lot easier. Dedicated guest request management software can centralize all digital and analog requests. Mobile software tools can let hotel staff enter requests made by guests in person, on the phone, or through any digital channel. The software can then seamlessly dispatch these requests to the appropriate departments and individuals. Employees can then accept these requests in the form of tickets and close them once completed. Real-time notifications let staff know when new requests are made and let other team members know when tasks are incomplete or overdue. This provides accountability and transparency to the processing of all requests.
Dedicated request management technology can also save hotel staff from many hours of “detective work,” after discovery of a bad review. A digital paper trail frees the front desk, engineering departments, and management teams. No more rooting around to find the cause of an issue, context for a maintenance request, or the source of a guest complaint.
Lastly, the right request management system lets your hotel accomplish step change improvements in service, not just one-off changes. With a central clearinghouse for all requests, management can, for the first time, view, analyze and improve the operation as a whole. With every staff team on the same system, and all hotels within a group, brands can have faith they’re delivering on the brand promise, regardless of the particular property or the particular team member.
As Niki Leondakis, Two Roads Hospitality’s CEO of hotels and resorts put it at the recent International Society of Hospitality Consultants annual conference, hotel staff are the ones that make the difference when it comes to delivering exceptional hospitality, and technology should be used to support them. “If we can enable our employees more effectively, that’s where we stand a chance of differentiating and stand a chance of enhancing the guest experience.”