Why Social Media Is Causing Hotels to Rethink Guest Satisfaction

10th Apr 2014

NB: This is an article written By: Michelle Wohl 

Why Social Media Is Causing Hotels to Rethink Traditional Guest Satisfaction

For years, hotels have been measuring guest satisfaction through post-stay surveys. These surveys, usually administered by a third party company, have a standard look and feel and aim to capture information in as uniform a way as possible. In most cases, a link to the survey is emailed out to guests a day or two after their stay so the experience is still fresh in their minds. The survey is typically long and forces the guest to move through multiple screens, selecting bubbles to represent how satisfied they were with different aspects of their stay.

At the time they were introduced, these surveys made a lot of sense. The surveys were easy to administer, complete and analyze, since the majority of the results were quantitative, not qualitative. For example, a typical question might read, “On a scale of 1-5, please rate your satisfaction with the spa.” Because the results were easy to tabulate, the results became a regular metric in management KPIs. And of course, once a process becomes operationalized at a hotel, it’s hard to change it.

While traditional surveys make collecting feedback and reporting on results a breeze, there isn’t a lot of rich data being collected about the guest experience since analyzing words, or verbatim, requires a whole new level of technology. So, while these surveys are great for top-line results, it’s often hard for hoteliers to discern what experiences and staff members really made or broke the guest experience.

Then social media came along. For the first time, hoteliers had a channel to receive incredibly rich feedback about the guest experience. Guests were writing reviews, in their own words, about every aspect of the guest experience, from services and amenities that they loved to the comfort of the bed and cleanliness of the bathrooms. They were doing it without being asked by the hotel and every year more and more people were getting involved in contributing stories, photos and videos. For the first time, hoteliers were able to hear, in guests’ own voices, exactly what guests felt about their hotels. And because they weren’t required to speak to every single department in the hotel, guests were writing only about the topics that made an impact, regardless of whether they were positive or negative.

Savvy hoteliers were paying close attention, from the beginning, to social media, realizing how much valuable data there was in these reviews and mentions on channels such as Facebook and Twitter. They were visiting the different review sites daily and setting up Google alerts to find mentions on blogs, photo and video sites and across the Web. They were taking the time to respond to reviews and engaging in conversations on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. And as they began to pay closer attention to this feedback, something magical happened. The service and operations at their hotels began to improve because they were getting very detailed reports, directly from guests, about their experiences.

But not many hoteliers were giving it this level of attention because it wasn’t an easy job. There was no way to automate the aggregation of this data. Rather, it was a manual, time-consuming process and there was no way to get an accurate sense of trends. In other words, it was very hard to definitively say, “Of my 200 reviews and social media mentions, my biggest issue is parking but guests love my beds and location.” Aside from the stars/points awarded to the hotel and the subcategories, making order of the rich data was a nearly impossible task since the majority of reviews contain both positive and negative statements, and everything in between.

But the introduction of new technology has now made it possible to operationalize online review data and social media to provide the same benefits as traditional guest satisfaction surveys, but with many more benefits. ‘Sentiment Analysis,’ one of the core technologies that make it possible uses computational linguistics to extract subjective information from verbatim, or text. What does this mean to hoteliers? It means that finally a solution exists for categorizing and analyzing online reviews so that the data can be used to measure guest satisfaction across different categories, discover areas for potential improvement, determine new sources of revenue, and base capital improvement decisions and training improvements upon it. Finally, because the rich data is now quantitative, social media KPIs can now be included into compensation packages.

Whereas traditional satisfaction surveys only allow you to see basic satisfaction information about how guests feel about services and amenities, such as the room, with the rich data available in online reviews and social media, you can now drill down to understand exactly what guests love and hate about their rooms. You might learn that within the rooms category, guests are crazy about the bedding but feel the lighting in the room is too dim or they don’t like the way the curtains allow morning light to slip in. It would be would be nearly impossible to uncover these details in traditional surveys, which largely consist of radio buttons versus free-form text.

Traditional guest satisfaction surveys have gotten way too long, with every department wanting to add their own questions. I have started many of these surveys only to abandon them halfway through when I realized how much time it would take to complete and given the fact that I was forced to go through questions that didn’t pertain to my stay. The benefit of free-form text is that it allows guests to talk about only about the issues that are top of mind when they wrote the review or social media post. In other words, people tend to write mostly about the things that made their stay extraordinary or extraordinarily bad. Perhaps they experienced great service at the pool bar or had to wait a long time at check-in. These things leave lasting impressions. When you tune in to user-generated feedback and analyze the data, you can easily discern what matters most to your guests and how you are faring in terms of guest satisfaction. And, if it doesn’t make it into a review, you can assume that the guest either didn’t know about the service/amenity, or it didn’t leave a lasting impression so it was likely acceptable.

The other advantage that social media has over traditional guest satisfaction surveys is that the content can be used to drive new bookings. Consider these stats:

  • 93% of travelers today say online reviews have an impact on their booking decisions (TripBarometer Report)
  • The closer a property is to a number one ranking on TripAdvisor for its given market, the greater its direct online bookings (MICROS ecommerce)

Because consumers visit online review sites to determine where to book, hoteliers need to make sure that their business listing pages have lots of fresh, positive feedback available when guests search for hotels. Nobody would feel comfortable booking a hotel with multiple negative reviews on page one. If you’re in that position, you must flush out the negative reviews with recent, positive feedback. How can you do that? Put your private surveys aside and ask your happy guests to write reviews about their stay.

When hoteliers push guests to complete private surveys, versus leaving public feedback, they lose out on all the value that great reviews can bring the hotel. Good feedback doesn’t drive revenue when it’s locked inside a General Manager’s office. To get the most out of post-stay feedback, you must push it live. The good news is some survey development companies have figured this truth out are now syndicating content live to TripAdvisor, so feedback can be used both privately, as well as publicly. For hoteliers that worry about pushing guests to air their dirty laundry, it’s time to accept the fact that guests are going to talk about you online whether you want them to or not. Once you accept the transparency of social media, you will find that the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Second, for a hotel to rank high in its market on the TripAdvisor Popularity Index, it must receive a lot of fresh reviews since TripAdvisor’s algorithm takes into account quality of reviews, quantity of reviews and the freshness of the content. So if you want your hotel to be highly rated and show up on page one when someone does a city search you must encourage your guests to write reviews. When you consider what you ask of guests in your post stay email, make sure that their feedback will be shared online, where it can be used to drive fresh bookings.

In the end, every hotel depends upon feedback to improve its operations and ensure that it is providing a quality experience for every guest. Hotels that rely on outdated, private surveys are missing out on the intrinsic value that public, social feedback can bring not only to operations, but also the bottom line, since more and more prospective guests are researching or confirming their hotel selections with user-generated content. Rather than encourage guests to fill out a static survey that only your team reads, push them to push directly to TripAdvisor or ensure your surveys provider offers a TripAdvisor syndication option.