Social Media & The Guest Experience
Although the continued expansion of websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter makes headlines every day as the ‘new thing’, hoteliers have known for years that social media is an important means to interact with customers in the market place. One of our hotel clients perhaps said it best when they stated that guests who have been writing reviews for years “now have megaphones and hair triggers.”
Over the last few years, there have been numerous articles written on the best methods to use social media in the hospitality industry. However, the article, “Social media meets hotel revenue management: Opportunities, issues, and unanswered questions,” by Kelly McGuire of the SAS Institute is the clearest and most actionable article written to date. The article provides a clearly defined framework on how to adopt a successful social media program in hotels and how to use it to improve revenue management opportunities.
In the article by McGuire, a framework for analyzing social media opportunities are broken down into two dimensions: information flow and time orientation. Information flow from inbound content is identified as user reviews, ratings, photos, and comments from websites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp. Outbound firm-generated content includes promotions, offers, and press releases through the use of corporate blogs, Facebook, or Twitter. The second dimension, time orientation, is split into short and long-term strategies such as how to use reviews to enhance the value for consumers.
McGuire develops an excellent strategy with these frameworks and identifies ways to utilize social media and increase revenue management. Comparably, these same disciplines can also be used to measure quality in your hotel and then improve the overall guest experience. In a similar fashion, using the disciplines outlined by McGuire, the following is the framework for maintaining quality and high guest experience using social media in hotels:
For better or worse, much of the inflow of inbound data from social media tells a detailed and vivid story. Even if the commentary is biased, smart hoteliers have to resist shooting the messenger and look to the learning that is there. Travelers are vulnerable and therefore emotional. Often, negative inbound content speaks of some disappointment, followed by a feeling of powerlessness. The thing causing disappointment is usually quantifiable–a dirty room, a missed wake-up call, and a hotel’s guest service standards need to be continually measured in these areas. The feeling of powerlessness is trickier to handle because of the emotion. Staff need more than standard awareness; they need skill in reading the guest, resourcefulness in offering solutions, and follow-through to ensure that remedies are enacted. Again, hotels need to have quantifiable standards for staff to follow as these situations that create negative inbound data unfold. Very few hotels train their staff in Service Recovery or teach the basics like listening, taking notes, and apologizing sincerely. Simply appeasing the guest can create smoldering fires that produce inbound blazes.
At the minimum, guests are sharing their perspective and revealing touch points that can be used going forward. This is true for positive inbound content as well, and the positive stories should be examined carefully for insights into what creates “surprise and delight” moments. Too often, positive reviews are greeted only with relief and curiosity about how it changed a hotel’s ranking.
The first outbound channel must be with the person or organization who created the inbound content. Yes, it is good to blunt the force of the source (unplug the megaphone), but the more important audience is the thousands of observers. Loyalty is truly galvanized when your customers know, either through their own experiences or hearing it from others, that you can execute service recovery. This is especially important to travelers who are outside their comfort zone.
The next channel of outbound content creation is amongst the staff. Most businesses, not just hotels, underestimate and under-utilize the power of employee recognition and peer modeling. If a front desk staff member creates positive inbound content, it needs to be shared with equal if not more fervor than any negatives content. Other staff members will learn that it ‘can be done,’ and they will imagine their roles in the next chapters of these heroic stories. At a minimum, they will honestly review the opportunities presented to them. The Accounts Receivable manager who ignores a guest’s request for an itemized room service bill needs to know the peril of that behavior and think of ways to create positive inbound content.
Finally, outbound content is managed through Facebook, Tweets, and other social media marketing strategies that help shape a hotel’s story and identify the promoters that produce more business and use their bullhorn benevolently.
All of the above require standards and benchmarks, otherwise it is a free-for-all, and hotel managers will never be able to quantify, analyze, and enact strategies based on reliable and consistent data.
If you are interested in the hotel guest standards development programs Coyle has created for its 300 hospitality clients, please visit our website, contact us online, or call us at 212-629-2083 ext. 106. Coyle’s programs are customized to the clients’ quality culture, and they are designed to promote the best practices Coyle sees in the marketplace every day.