Hotels lag in social media customer service
25 JUNE 2014 7:59 AM
Hotel companies are slow to follow guests’ migration to Facebook and Twitter as a means of filing comments, questions and complaints.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—In the span of five years, social media platforms have gone from playing a marginal role in hotel customer service to a prominent force.
Millions of guests are opting to raise questions, file complaints or make comments not by email or phone but via public posts on Twitter or Facebook. Yet as customers rapidly redefine how they engage hotels, the industry itself is lagging behind, according to sources.
“Hotels are still struggling to accommodate social media,” said Daniel Edward Craig, a former hotel GM and founder of online reputation management firm Reknown. “When it comes to customer service, it's getting harder to ignore, because more and more travelers are using social media as a customer service tool. Hotels need to adapt and adjust.”
At a basic level, that means responding to messages and resolving complaints or questions as quickly as possible. A recent survey of 20 of the largest hotel brands found that, on average, hoteliers took more than seven hours to respond to customers on Twitter—much slower than what customers expect, according to Conversocial, the social media software provider that produced the report. Hotel brand representatives responded to less than 20% of all direct mentions via Twitter.
“From our analysis, it is clear that many of our analyzed hotel brands are still in the infancy stages of their social media customer service journey,” according to the report. “With a well thought-out and developed strategy, they can make the changes that are needed.”
Craig said most hotel companies are aware that engaging with guests on social media can build customer loyalty and reinforce brand standards. A prompt response shows guests the company is listening and values their opinions, for instance.
But hoteliers have so far been slow to embrace social media as a customer service channel in large part because of the sheer challenge of handling so many conversations.
The chatter challenge
“There's a higher volume of chatter” than with phone or email, and all of it takes place in the public eye, and at all hours of the day, Craig said.
Handling social media messages also requires a different skillset than addressing customer issues on the property, he added. Customer service representatives who have great interpersonal skills might have a more difficult time communicating from behind a computer screen and in just 140 characters.
“That's why I see a lot of bad responses online. Words sound offensive, or bureaucratic,” Craig said. “I think a lot of work needs to be done in terms of expanding the professionalism and courtesy that hotels provide on property to their online channels.”
Some larger hotel brands are already addressing these issues with dedicated social media teams, staffed by people who not only sift through a mountain of messages but also provide clear and savvy responses.
Hilton Worldwide Holdings’ social media team sits within its 24-hour customer service center and monitors online conversations about Hilton's 10 brands in real time. Staff members strive to provide a reply to any complaint within an hour and a resolution within 24 hours, said Joshua Sloser, VP of digital brand marketing and e-commerce at Hilton.
“About three-and-a-half years ago is when we really saw the need to serve our guests through social media much more actively,” he said, adding that the team monitored around 3 million different tweets and Facebook posts in 2013. “We've got a team that's there to listen and help drive action, but they also work closely with each of our properties.”
For instance, if a guest vents about the broken air conditioning unit in his room, the social media team will alert the property's maintenance department, which will promptly send someone up to fix it.
“That creates loyalty and a great experience,” Sloser said.
Marriott International’s dedicated team “follows issues from receipt to resolution, formulating unique action plans based upon the type of request received,” said Jeff Kaiser, who heads up Marriott's customer service social media team. He acknowledged that “response times and expectations regarding responses present unique challenges, for which we continue to explore innovative options.”
Wyndham Hotel Group is in an earlier phase with its social media efforts. Last fall it launched a pilot program for three of its hotel brands: Super 8, Ramada and Baymont Inn & Suites.
The pilot team monitors all social media channels on these brands and immediately acknowledges every customer query. The idea is to study different approaches and evaluate the results in order to “put specific strategies and processes in place and develop training for staff” across the company's portfolio, said Diane Barr, the company’s VP of customer experience and brand standards.
One of the biggest takeaways from the pilot program so far is that “no two questions or issues are the same, and there is no cookie-cutter process on how they should be handled,” she said.
Wyndham also is looking at partners that can help it measure and analyze its social media efforts to “better understand how we can incorporate social media into everything else we're doing from customer experience and customer service perspectives,” Barr said.