Hospitality, perhaps more than any other industry, has been transformed by social media. For decades, hoteliers have relied on traditional forms of feedback—such as customer surveys, printed comment cards, website comments, etc.—as the primary methods to gauge customer satisfaction. But times have changed dramatically.
As feedback volume from these traditional sources continues to decline (response rates from these channels fell from 50% in 2007 to 28% in 2011, according to our research), customers have unprecedented platforms to share their perspective on the guest experience. Facebook boasts some 900 million active users worldwide; 140 million active Twitter users send 340 million Tweets everyday; Yelp has surpassed 66 million monthly unique users; and the number of check-ins recorded by the more than 200 million Foursquare users has topped 2 billion.
According to PhoCusWright, a global travel market research company, travel-review websites and hotel reviews through online-travel agencies are among the influential forces most frequently cited by travelers when shopping for travel arrangements. Further, Travelzoo reports that 81% of travelers turned to hotel-review sites to help with their decision-making. Half of those surveyed said online reviews from previous guests are the most influential. TripAdvisor puts that number even higher, stating recently that 87% of travelers read reviews when planning their next trip.
As social-media feedback grows, so does its tremendous reach and influence. One good or bad experience can be easily broadcast to thousands of existing and prospective customers, magnifying its effect within minutes. In many ways, the Web has turned every customer into a “mystery shopper” or focus-group participant. But instead of getting a few dated insights as a part of the analysis, you receive thousands—in real time—and all unsolicited.
Knowing how to put all of these social-media conversations to work is a business imperative. Mining and analyzing the robust information embedded in online conversations will equip you with the unfiltered, real-time, voice-of-the-customer insight you need to deliver a great customer experience.
The question on the minds of most hoteliers is how to leverage this feedback. Here are a few tips for getting started on how best to mine social-media feedback intelligently:
- Understand the distinction between marketing and operational opportunity with social-media customer feedback. Hotels most often look at online commentary through a marketing lens, using it to create a dialogue with customers or monitor and manage reputation. Social media, however, has just as strong an impact from an operational perspective. Online conversations give hoteliers an under-the-hood look at not only what their guests are saying about various aspects of their stay (such as room amenities, cleanliness, staff, service, parking, etc.), but also why they’re saying it and how it impacts their business strategy. Armed with this intelligence, hotels are able to proactively make the operational changes necessary to deliver a brand-defining guest experience.
- Realize that each mention online presents a unique value proposition. Not every mention on the Web is created equally. Certain authors possess tremendous reach, others are well-respected on certain topics and more are relevant within certain social graphs. Understanding the context of how “far” information on the Web is traveling is important in determining the most appropriate response (e.g., guest recovery, operational change, etc.).
- Recognize the opportunity of unsolicited feedback online. Hotels, for the most part, are not out there asking questions about any one of the hundreds of topics customers discuss online. Instead, customers are taking the time to express their opinions based on their own motivation. Given its unsolicited nature, this information has such tremendous value because it represents the most important elements of the experience as defined by the customer.
- Don’t use search with social. False positives can cloud your analysis when relying on search functionality to source your data set. For example, if you were to run a search on a certain topic, you would get some great content on the first few pages of your search engine. Unfortunately, several more pages of content will be irrelevant or false positives. Be wary of search-based data sets for your analysis.
- Pay attention to feedback you deem credible. As a differentiated organization, you likely run your business based on a distinct set of principles. It is important, then, that you measure customer feedback by those same principles. Viewing your data through the lens of your corporate values will help you to determine where to focus your efforts.
Hoteliers recognize the importance of social-media and online-customer feedback, but many struggle to systematically analyze information shared through social-media channels, distill raw commentary into insight and determine the optimal actions based on this feedback. Following these five steps will set you on the right course to generating the customer intelligence you need to optimize the experience you deliver every day.
Ashish Gambhir is co-founder of Washington, D.C.-based newBrandAnalytics, the leader in Social Business Intelligence solutions for the restaurant and hospitality industries. Their flagship offering, Social Guest Satisfaction is used by thousands of restaurants and hotels and is proven to improve guest experience. The company was recently named the Venture Summit Mid-Atlantic 100 Company of the Year.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of HotelNewsNow.com or its parent company, Smith Travel Research and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.