Close The Feedback Loop

Does any hotel still offer customer satisfaction surveys? Do you, as a hotelier, rely upon comment cards as a quality control for your operations? A decade ago, the answer would undoubtedly be yes, but now it isn’t so black-and-white. Let’s reflect on what’s happened, specifically related to the advent of internet-born travel websites.

With the success of online review sites, including the behemoth that is TripAdvisor, it’s all too easy to surmise that their growth was primarily because of how they aggregated hotels and cross-linked to OTA booking engines. However, we must also stomach the fact that it’s our own fault that these channels proliferated. We gave these watchdogs an abundance of meat to chew on because our properties were rife with unchecked service errors. These sites gave angry customers a place to vent.

Eventually we woke up, realized we had created a monstrously powerful beast, then attempted to rein it in by cordially replying to online complaints as well as by (shocker) remedying the underlying problems. But quick fixes are a far cry from correcting this fundamental shift in consumer behavior.

Hotels have always had comment cards and customer satisfaction surveys but somewhere along the lines guests lost faith that this time-honored system produced real change. And so, customers migrated to third-party websites where their grievances were not only visible to managers but also to other potential guests, thereby greatly enhancing accountability for the property to actually do something. Nowadays, the de facto voice for a property’s legitimacy is its online reviews – fed by millions of new entries every week while only a paltry percentage of guests bother with the comment cards.

Undoubtedly you have a social media management procedure already in place for how to respond to negative online reviews that involves a well-written answer as well as some degree of onsite coordination to ensure that any issues don’t come up again. That’s the hope at least, although the latter action may still require a ton of retraining in order to make it stick.

Taking this one step further, though, it’s time to close the feedback loop by assuring guests that they can indeed trust the survey system and that their complaints will be taken heart when speaking directly to the hotel staff. Very difficult to achieve, this will have the added benefit of further reducing the number of negative online reviews because guests will bring them to hotels privately instead of immediately posting their woes on the internet. Moreover, opening up a confidential dialogue – or even better, an in-person one – may bring to light further issues that a guest would not otherwise describe within a harried online critique.

The first step to rebuilding the old system is to ensure that it’s functioning as well as convenient for guests. Where can guests fill out these surveys? Are they available in guestrooms and easy to find online? Are visitors cued to act by front desk clerks at checkout? Do you send a visually pleasing thank you email that prompts guests to fill out these forms as well as stressing how valuable their feedback is?

Next, who collects and records the results? Who distributed these tabulated criticisms to the person who will take action? How are you rewarding those frontline staffers who perform at their best to help eliminate negative reviews and thereby incentivize more employees to follow suit? Finally, which individual acts as the enforcer to ensure that everyone else is doing his or her duties effectively as well as quickly? On that last point, it’s one thing to have a functional comment card distribution system in place with appropriate follow-up; it’s a whole other to have this set up so that feedback is met with near-instantaneous results.

If you can’t confidently answer all these questions, how can you expect guests to change their behavior? The process of posting an online review is so easy that the only way we stand a chance at bringing guests over to our camp is if our method is better or if we offer some sort of additional incentive.

Above all, we are talking about improving the quality of guest service delivery. But how are you to know what your customers consider to be your faults without a public and efficient feedback system in place? Hence, whatever corrective actions you take to not only fix specific issues but also to enhance the underlying process by which we address those shortcomings will serve the ultimate goal of increasing guest satisfaction, online review scores, return visits, word of mouth and revenues.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in Hotels Magazine on March 28, 2017)


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