Implementing effective upselling methodology into a hotel’s front desk protocol has long been demonstrated to have a substantially positive and immediate effect on property revenues. Also considered a subsequent result of successful upselling is an increase in guest satisfaction, due to each guest receiving a unique experience, tailored to match their own specific needs. While instances of increasingly satisfied guests would seem to go hand-in-hand with a rise in the number of positive online reviews, until recently, no data had been collected or analyzed to validate such a relationship, or that of upselling’s ability to influence online reputation. Following a joint study conducted by Brand Karma on behalf of TSA Solutions at multiple Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts properties, the results demonstrate the very real impact that a well-structured and consistent upselling program can have on online reputation and therefore future revenue streams.
When Online Activity Affects Your Business’s Bottom Line
Since the exponential rise of social media and online review sites, hotels and resorts have been forced to play a game of catch up with guests in an effort to safeguard their property’s reputation, along with the legitimate consequence of user-generated content and its influence on future reservations and profit. Given a recent Cornell University study that demonstrates a link between a rise in positive reviews and a significant increase in property revenue, such efforts have never been as critical to property success as they are today.
As a result, the efforts of hoteliers in attempting to influence such posts, have seen a multitude of tactics employed: from photo contests to earning loyalty points for liking a property’s Facebook page. But how do hospitality professionals know the success rate of a given strategy or whether it will bear any influence on guest responses at all? How do they recognize and implement a strategy that is best suited to either their individual property or hotel chain? In conducting its analysis of what potential guests find most important when consulting online reviews, Cornell University found that an impressive 51 percent of individuals focus on prior guest experience, rather than such factors as a property’s location, price or the existence of ongoing promotions, etc.
Enhancing the guest experience is, in essence, the very basis of what upselling seeks to accomplish, and what a successful upselling team can achieve with guests on a daily basis; Yet only by equipping team members with the necessary skills and intuition, can a front desk team accurately interpret a guest’s needs and match them to the appropriate hotel service or amenity at “the moment of truth” – a guest’s check-in. Such upgrades have often been assumed to significantly improve an individual’s perception of their hotel stay, and ultimately any review that they may later share with others. With detailed research finally available on the matter, hoteliers can now see an evident correlation between effective upselling and a subsequent increase in online reputation and reservation bookings.
Upselling and Reputation: The Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts Experience
As with many hotel chains around the world, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts implemented a front desk upselling program primarily to gain additional revenue through the successful sale of premium room types. To that end, the chain partnered with TSA Solutions to implement their front desk upselling program consisting of blended learning, continuous hotel engagement and performance measurement and management. Once those activities were in place, the properties soon realized a notable increase in the rate of successful upsells, as would be expected. However, they also noticed an unexpected rise in the number of positive guest reviews, many of which focused on their satisfactory experience regarding an added service. For TSA Solutions, this interesting occurrence at Shangri-La sparked an effort to draw a correlation between upselling success and guest satisfaction by pinpointing the true source of the properties’ rapidly enhancing online reputation.
With the intention of compiling comprehensive statistics and developing an accurate analysis of the phenomenon, TSA partnered with Brand Karma, a leading global provider of analytical marketing tools and social media auditing platforms to the hospitality market, in conjunction with Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts to provide insight on how upselling affected the chain’s online reputation. Utilizing cutting-edge programs such as Brand Karma iO, the joint study possessed a critical ability to integrate and fully evaluate a hotel brand’s external business data feeds, detecting correlations across performance data. (e.g., if my TripAdvisor ranking rises 2 places, what’s my expected change in RevPAR?).
When it Comes to Upselling and Positive Reviews, the Numbers Speak for Themselves
Of the properties involved in the study, over 20 locations shared the common denominator of having previously implemented an upselling training program. When comparing all properties involved in the Brand Karma analysis, those same properties had displayed a substantially enhanced rate of guest satisfaction and favorable reviews. Specifically, the results of the study were as follows:
- After analyzing over 11,000 online property reviews, Brand Karma’s findings concluded by using an overall satisfaction scale of 1 to 5, that reviews from guests who agreed to an offered paid upgrade culminated in an impressive 4.6 score regarding their hotel stay experience (compared to 4.7 attained by those offered complimentary upgrades).
- When reporting on “value for money” feedback, those same guests scored a 4.2 on a 1 to 5 scale, almost as high a satisfaction score as those who received an upgrade for free!
- Overall, Brand Karma’s analysis translates into paid upgrades obtaining a 25% higher satisfaction rate for guests with no upgrades, surpassed only by complimentary upgrades at 33% satisfaction.
- In comparing its influence on guests providing recommendations, those that accepted an upsell scored a 1.3 out of Brand Karma’s 3 point scale, even higher than the 1.2 assigned to those with complimentary upgrades and more than double guests with no indication of an upsell.
- Alternatively, those who reported the lowest satisfaction came from reviews where a proposed upsell was rejected by the guests; demonstrating the consistent need to reinforce staff upselling intuition and ability.
Morris Sim, CEO & Co-founder of Circos Brand Karma, summed up the results of the study, saying, “Our research shows that hotels offering paid upgrades can have their cake and eat it, too: higher rate, satisfied customers, and good reviews. A successful upgrade can happen if the hotel selects the right customer, communicates the offer honestly, and fulfills the customer’s expectations at the higher rate.”
Siv Folie, Vice President of Revenue Management for Shangri-La International, added, “Upselling represents a huge revenue opportunity for us, as most of our hotels have a large number of different room types. As we are trying to shift away from the ‘culture of free upgrades’, the selling skills of front office staff and the revenue management team’s ability to better identify and prioritize who should be offered an upgrade, is becoming increasingly important. The ability to track success (and failure) is also important, so we constantly know we are doing the right things, learning and adjusting as we progress.”
Overall, the statistics gathered by Brand Karma thoroughly establish the full potential of an upselling front desk team’s effect on guest satisfaction and property reputation when provided with the proper skills and knowledge from a proven training program. Those guests whose needs were correctly identified and matched up to a hotel upgrade not only paid for said service (thereby adding immediate revenue instead of incurring cost), but could further attest to the true value of an experience versus a guest who had merely been provided with an amenity for free. By recognizing that a couple on their honeymoon may wish to pay for a local guided tour package, or by accommodating a family with young children with a room that is closer to the swimming pool area, a hotel’s staff is taking an active approach to ensuring that each guest’s stay is tailor-made and exceptional, as opposed to one-size-fits-all and merely adequate. Acknowledging and catering to guest needs is what forms the basis of attaining guest satisfaction, ultimately affecting recollection of an overall stay, and thereby the likelihood of it being recommended to others.
Once considered only in a speculative sense when attempting to determine the origin of positive reviews and as previously noted by Cornell University’s study: the quality of the guest experience trumps all other factors when referencing online reviews; With Brand Karma’s own analysis complete, that experience is now known to be deeply influenced by how effective team members are in matching guest needs to an available service.
Where Upselling and Reviews Fit Into the Big Picture
As use of smart devices and the number of web-savvy consumers continues to rise steadily, the percentage of individuals frequenting online review sites has never been so high; nor their role in a hotel’s future finances been so critical. In light of Cornell University’s study showing the profound proven impact that online reviews have on property revenue, hotels are beginning to understand that generating a positive online presence must remain a top priority. Cornell’s evidence that the majority of visits to sites like TripAdvisor take place within the final days of a reservation decision, only further serves to demonstrate how the experience of past guests can continue to have a substantial financial impact on future bookings and revenue. Yet only by ensuring that each individual is fitted to an experience most suited to their own specific needs, can hoteliers ever hope to attain reviews that reflect total guest satisfaction. As proven by the Brand Karma study, in order to accomplish this goal, front desk staff must balance knowing the right occasion to offer service upgrades, with recognizing when doing so can actually diminish a guest’s impression of the hotel. A decision of such significance should never be left to pure chance.
Only by leveraging the existence of an effective upselling workforce, professionally trained to recognize and cater to the specific needs of each guest, can properties actively take a direct approach in influencing guest satisfaction scores, online reviews and property reputation. Far from being an unreachable goal or one that relies on pure chance factors, obtaining total satisfaction with each guest in actuality relies on the skills and intuition of each staff member in accurately interpreting individual needs. As demonstrated through the Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts experience, attaining such notable employees is only accomplished through the implementation of a professional and effective upselling training program; one that instills the correct strategies while ensuring consistent progress measurement in order to guarantee long term success.