In the News

Mining Social Media is More Than a Marketing Activity

By Ashish Gambhir, Founder & Executive Vice President, newBrandAnalytics

May 8, 2011

Source: Hotel Business Review

INTRO: Social media has - and continues - to change the hospitality industry. While hotels have embraced the opportunities unearthed by being able to tap into what their guests are saying, listening is no longer enough. For hotel marketing and operations executives, turning their feedback into actionable customer intelligence is a business imperative for delivering a superior customer experience and increasing revenue.

There is no denying that the explosion of social media has forever changed the hospitality industry. Guests are increasingly tweeting, posting, texting, emailing, communicating, and commenting on the hotel guest experience - both the good and not-so-good. In today's online world, one bad guest experience can be shared easily and broadcast to thousands of prospective and existing customers, magnifying its effect in minutes. As Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying, "Make a customer unhappy in the real world, they might tell six friends. Make a customer unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends."

With more travelers turning to the web for travel advice, it's no wonder hotels are paying close attention to this channel. In a recent survey analyzing consumer behavior, Travelzoo found that 81% of travelers turned to hotel review sites to help with their decision making. Eighty-one percent! Half of those polled said online reviews from previous guests are the most influential. TripAdvisor puts that number a bit higher, stating recently that 87% of travelers read reviews when planning their next trip

Rather than fearing the transparency inherent in social media, most hotels have come to understand the opportunities consumer generated content online has afforded them. Since social media is a platform for the customer’s voice — and that voice can be heard by anyone in the world — the hospitality industry as a whole has embraced social media in a huge way.

It is natural and correct to assume that social media is a marketing-based opportunity. According to the white paper from HSMAI, “Best Practice for Maximizing Your Hotel’s Online Revenue and ROI,” nearly 70% of US hoteliers responding to the April 2010 study reported online was the marketing channel with the greatest return on investment, and the majority are using a variety of online channels to reach potential customers, including 60% who have implemented a social media marketing strategy.

Clearly, there is great value in using social media to promote and market hotels. There is, however, another use of social media which is apt to prove to be more powerful over the long term: listening to the voice of the customer by data mining online feedback. With sites becoming more social, relevance is rapidly becoming the key to readership --- i.e. the more interesting and insightful you are, the more followers you get and the more influential you become in your community (and the farther your comments reach). Guests are talking about ambiance, front desk, check in, check out, room comfort, F&B, and several more topics with great detail. As such, the evolution and richness of the data hotels are able to mine has transformed what was once “brand conception feedback” into true “guest satisfaction feedback.”

Marketers have a possible unlimited wealth of information that is consistently handed right to them. The behavioral observations and personal preferences mined via social media are invaluable from a business perspective. Successful hoteliers understand that unfiltered guest satisfaction feedback tells you…

  • What you are doing right
  • What you are doing wrong
  • How you can improve
  • Opportunities to attract more business and improve your reputation

Hotels can now add to their operations arsenal tools to aggregate, organize, and analyze real-time guest feedback from across both the online and offline worlds - and use this information to turn guest feedback into actionable data. Whether your property is independent or part of a group, these tools will help you identify areas of strength and weakness by department and service category, benchmark performance against competitors and affiliated properties, and engage brand advocates and re-engage detractors.

The value of operational feedback from social media is enhanced because it is unsolicited. Not too long ago, it was mainly only possible to get operational feedback by incenting guests to fill out comment cards/surveys or having secret shoppers. Instead of asking the questions, hotels can now get top-of-mind operational feedback across these categories. Furthermore, this feedback is not just what is offered as immediate follow-up on Twitter, Facebook or Foursquare - but broader operational issues that are most impactful to the property such as:

A best-in-class hotel feedback system must be able to analyze the verbatim comments and real-time customer feedback and translate them into intelligent and comprehensive reports that give hotel management a summary of the overall guest satisfaction it commands. Since these reports can drill down to highlight specific areas of dis/satisfaction and performance, the richness of guest feedback gives keen insights for operations, strategy, budgeting, HR, etc.

Let’s walk through an example of a hotel that used a social guest satisfaction solution to mine and take a deep dive into social guest feedback. While the project armed the marketing department with a wealth of information about the drivers of customer satisfaction and loyalty that should be ingrained in the messaging and promotion of the hotel, the operations department gained valuable insight into strengths and problem areas that were positively and negatively impacting the guest experience. When you consider that roughly 90% of customers will tell people about their bad experience, being able to identify and remedy these problematic touch-points is critical to consistently delivering the highest quality guest experience. Just as important, the opportunity to extract best practices and highlight successes is an immediate opportunity with social feedback.

Location: Customers agree that the location of the hotel is outstanding and very conducive to sightseeing

Marketing messages: “Conveniently located to metro, etc makes hotel ideally located for sightseeing.”

Room Amenities: Guest perception about room amenities trended positively over the past three months, consistently meeting and exceeding guest expectations. The kitchenette was cited as providing a valuable alternative to eating out.

Marketing messages: “Kitchenettes help hotel guests save money on going out to eat.”

Room Comfort: Overall, guests feel comfortable during their stay --- giving high praise to the comfort of the beds. However, on occasion guests cite the size of the room as a negative.

Marketing messages: “”Guests give our beds a high comfort rating.”

Operations implications: How can the room be designed/reconfigured to make it look and feel larger?

Cleanliness: Although generally view as being very clean, the carpets and drapes in the room were perceived as being dirty. A number of reviews that cited poorly cleaned bathrooms detracted from the overall hotel experience.

Operations Implications: Cleanliness needs to become a top priority for management.

Service: While the service is viewed as being above average, a majority of the service commentary was reactive (i.e. response to customer needs) vs. proactive (anticipating customer needs).

Operations implications: Management needs to determine how staff can anticipate guest needs and proactively deliver superior service.

Staff: Customer feedback regarding staff performance is generally (vs. overwhelmingly) positive, with the primary driver of the positive feedback seen as being the staff’s friendly demeanor. Instances of rude behavior, however, were gleaned from the data.

Marketing messages: “Guests appreciate and commend our friendly staff.”

Operations implications: Management/HR needs to identify and attend to staff members who are being rude, revisit emphasis in training, etc.

Breakfast: Overall, guests view the complimentary continental breakfast as a huge value add offering. However, reviews cite that the breakfast gets too chaotic on busy mornings because of lack of space and sufficient seating.

Marketing messages: “Our complimentary breakfast is a welcomed treat to our guests.”

Operations implications: Evaluate ways to reconfigure breakfast area to create more room and increase amount of seating

Décor: Guests believe that the hotel feels old and room décor as stale. A number of reviews cite ceiling cracks and visible spackle patches as detracting from the décor.

Operations implications: Maintenance needs to evaluate ways to improve the décor starting with repair of cracks, painting, etc.

Room Electronics: While guests commented positively about the availability of free WiFi, a number complained about slow connections or the inability to connect to the complimentary service.

Marketing messages: “Guests enjoy free WiFi service throughout the hotel.”

Operations Implications: Tech department needs to ensure fast and reliable Internet connections throughout the hotel.

Room Bathroom: Although most guests find the bathrooms to be small, negative guest perceptions are mitigated by bathroom cleanliness, organization, and décor.

Operational Implications: A meticulous housekeeping service, particularly focused on bathrooms, provides a lower cost alternative to significant capital expenditures on the bathrooms.

Maintenance: Maintenance issues are often referenced as the one thing guests take issue with during an otherwise pleasant stay. In particular, management has failed in responding to maintenance issues during guest stays.

Operations implications: Management needs to determine how to ensure prompt, thorough attention to maintenance issues

Parking: Guests often mention parking as the only negative experience at the hotel and believe the per-day charge is too high. And with very limited on-street parking, guests are disappointed there is no alternative to paying the “high” valet parking fee.

Operations Implications: Management needs to assesses the short term/long term benefits of “high” valet parking fees.

While this is indeed a simplistic example, it clearly illustrates how valuable social media is from an operations perspective. While engaging with guests online serves a very important sales and marketing role, mining social media presents a golden opportunity for hotels to gain keen, real-time, uncensored, actionable insight into the drivers of guest satisfaction. After all, customer service is not a cost center but a way to drive the bottom line via taking great care of your customers in a way that builds loyalty and creates brand advocates. Word of mouth is a proven driver of travel decisions - and social media has put word of mouth on steroids. Investing in delivering an extraordinary experience is the most effective way you can promote your hotel today.

Ashish Gambhir, Co-Founder & EVP of newBrandAnalytics

Ashish leads the business development, sales, and strategy efforts for newBrandAnalytics, the leading provider of social business intelligence solutions. It's flagship offering, Social Guest Satisfaction, is the first solution that mines credible guest feedback from social media and synthesizes it into the richest customer insight to equip brands, regions, and units with the actionable insight needed to improve guest satisfaction and loyalty, increase revenue, and drive sustainable bottom-line results.

Social Guest Satisfaction was built directly with leading hospitality companies. Hundreds of customer satisfaction-focused hotels, restaurants, and other hospitality organizations rely on newBrandAnalytics for the comprehensive intelligence needed to drive guest count, improve customer experience, and increase revenue.

The newBrandAnalytics suite of industry-specific solutions is currently available to hotels, restaurants, spa & fitness, and food & beverage companies. The company will be releasing industry specific solutions other service-intensive industries, like retail and healthcare. The scope of the firm’s social business intelligence platform includes Social Guest Satisfaction, Social Marketing Intelligence, Social Advertising Intelligence, and Social Competitive Intelligence. (www.newbrandanalytics.com)