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Using surveys to “listen” to hotel guests

Without a doubt the influence of social media on purchase and travel decisions is here to stay and businesses that do not meet the challenge of performing in public will find themselves increasingly on the losing end of consumer decisions. 

This is the age of social media where every business’ successes and failures are on the public stage. While many industries have seen social media fundamentally change the way they conduct business, hospitality is one industry that has been affected more than others. Many holiday planners begin and end their planning with inputs that involve social media. Whether it’s a friend’s pictures on Facebook, a celebrity tweet or more likely reviews on TripAdvisor, social media will impact where holidaymakers choose to travel, stay and eat. 
Even organizations that engage with every social media comment are still doing so on a public stage and while they can hope to mitigate some of the sting in negative reviews, those reviews are still visible for all to see. While most businesses know that the best way to prevent harmful reviews is to engage with customers and rectify bad experiences before they are posted for the world to see, finding the time to do so in a busy hotel can be particularly challenging. Luckily, there is a happy medium that falls between ignoring unhappy people and sitting down with all guests for an exit interview. A large hotel chain with 60+ properties in Asia discovered that by using online surveys to virtually interview their customers, they were able to not only increase the feedback inputs to their stuff, but also improve overall guest satisfactions.
In this organization, surveys were commonplace for the last decade, however, they were conducted with paper and it was a tedious process for all involved. More concerning for them was that it took too long to discover negative feedback, so in many cases it couldn’t be addressed in time to prevent any social media blowback. The most challenging side effect of the paper reviews was that it had a very low response rate since guests had to fill out a comment card placed on their beds. As many guests never bothered to do so or housekeeping staff failed to properly collect the cards, the result was that hotel was not even seeing the comments of all of their customers.
In 2011, this hospitality company discovered that by utilising low – cost surveys with SurveyMonkey they were able to solve many problems at once with their feedback process. Guests are sent a survey link to their registered email immediately upon checkout. The instant emails lead to far higher response rates as guests responded from their taxis or other transportation back to the airport. As a result, the hotel started hearing from more customers which gave them more confidence in the data they were collecting. The hotel chain built an internal process that ensured that all surveys were seen by the general managers of each specific facility and instituted a process where managers on-duty respond to negative feedback immediately. By addressing concerns and engaging with guests so quickly, the hotels were able to placate unhappy guests with apologies and discounts on future stays when necessary. Customers felt like their feedback has been heard, and less of a need to “shame” the facility on their favorite social media networks. 
The flow of feedback to general managers and the corporate headquarters has allowed the organization to adjust to the needs of their guests and they have seen guest satisfaction ratings increase over time. The overall satisfaction has not just remained in their private surveys, but has even transitioned over to their TripAdvisor and other ratings. Their positive reviews have become even more positive, and the rate of negative review posting has decreased. While this chain experienced somewhat of a dramatic turnaround in how they were perceived online, there was certainly no magic in what they had done. All they were really doing was the old best practice of listening to their customers; they just found a way to do it online and simply.  
Without a doubt the influence of social media on purchase and travel decisions is here to stay and businesses that do not meet the challenge of performing in public will find themselves increasingly on the losing end of consumer decisions. Hotels like every other business in the social arena must find ways to play offense and not just take defensive positions once negative reviews are posted. The easiest way to meet this challenge is to follow the lead of the hotel chain above, and find digital ways to engage and survey customers before bad experiences become the next viral sensation.


Eli Schwartz is Director of Marketing APAC at SurveyMonkey


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