In the News

Your guests are talking about you… do you know what they’re really saying?

by Ashish Gambhir, Co-Founder & EVP, newBrandAnalytics

June, 2011

Source: The Wise Marketer

Customer feedback. Chances are you’re swimming in the reams and reams of data of data you’ve amassed. Everyone in the hotel industry recognizes the importance of social media and online customer feedback. But, few companies have figured out how to systematically analyze information shared through social media channels, distill what your guests are truly saying, and determine the optimal actions to take action based on this feedback.

Not too long ago, if you stayed at a hotel that did not meet your expectations you may have reported your disappointment on the guest feedback card located in your room. Perhaps you even wrote a letter to the hotel management about your experience. And chances are, you cautioned a few of your friends to stay somewhere else.

Now, fast forward a few years and consider the impact of handheld devices, increased communication platforms online, and, of course, social media. They have radically transformed the way guests voice their opinions about your hotel. They’re tweeting, posting, blogging about their experiences. The reach and influence of social media feedback is exploding: some 45 million tourists worldwide now tap into TripAdvisor; Facebook boasts 640 million users worldwide; Twitter captures 95 million Tweets everyday; Yelp has surpassed 50 million monthly unique users.

Nobody’s Starving for Data…. But Several are Starving for Actionable Information.

Given these stats, it is clear that there is no shortage of guest feedback online. Companies, writes New York Times reporter Steven Lohr, are swimming, if not drowning, in wave after wave of customer mentions. These social and mobile-era technologies, by one estimate, are doubling the quantity of business data every 1.2 years.

Hotels that dedicate resources to online feedback will harvest a wealth of data about their guest experiences. The challenge they face, however, is how best to utilize the data unearthed in these various online channels to drive marketing and operational strategies. In fact, according to Accenture, 70% of CMO’s report they had no tangible evidence of the value of social media. Over 30% of them cited lack of analytics as the primary reason.

Many marketers employ basic brand monitoring tools to try to make sense of the overflowing buckets of online feedback. These tools are effective in helping hotels mine the data, but here’s the issue. The challenge of gleaning actionable insight from this feedback is a result of the same factors that makes this online dialogue so valuable in the first place: it is raw, unstructured, and open-ended nature.

As executives, we gravitate towards what is “tangible.” We develop a series of metric-based questions to ask guests such as: “How was service on a scale of 1 to 10?” or “Would you stay here again at the same rate?” We pose these questions because they are easy to measure, trend and understand… but are we really capturing relevant information? Do we really know what our guests are saying? Does a “7 out of 10” for service mean anything that can actually be utilized?

The best data is in the free form textbox because it enables the customer to simply speak their mind. This is where most of the “meat” is, but also represents the most challenging data to get through with any type of efficiency, relevance, or analysis. Further complicating things, free form feedback has a new platform in social media. Guests are talking about their stay, preferences for service, concierge efficacy, check in procedures, etc., all without being prompted by you. All with great detail, reach, and influence.

The best way to harness the strategic value of this rich social media feedback is to move beyond listening to the conversations by using technology that turns raw, unstructured feedback into actionable insights. As Forrester analyst Zach Hofer-Shall, a leading expert on Social Intelligence, blogs, “The concept of monitoring social media might sound obvious, because most data-hungry marketers understand the value of their customers' social data. But based on my research, even though most marketers may collect this data, far fewer actually use it to inform an enterprise-view of their customers. As any analytical mind knows: collecting data is only the first step.”

Hofer-Shall goes on to outline the process for harnessing social media data to inform your business strategy - a process Forrester calls "Social Intelligence" which they define as: "the management and analysis of customer data from social sources, used to activate and recalibrate marketing or business programs".

Unica’s annual survey of marketers echoes Hofer-Shall’s contention. The survey, “The State of Marketing 2011” reflects the beliefs of nearly 300 online and direct marketers across various industries, geographies and company sizes that were surveyed on key technology trends in their organizations. The research uncovered a number of key findings, including the need to “turn data into action” as the highest priority for marketers: nearly 60% of respondents listed “measurement, analysis, and learning” as their top technology challenge; more than 60% identified “turning data into action” as their top organizational issue.

It’s evident that the mere fact that guests are talking about your hotel means little unless you can unearth the context, credibility, and sentiments of the comments. For example, look at these three posts:

  • “I loved staying at Hotel ABC.”
  • “If the service at Hotel ABC was better, I would have loved it.”
  • “I loved staying at Hotel ABC, but it’s tough for them to beat out Hotel DEF on location alone.”

Three comments that all talk about LOVING HOTEL ABC ---- but three postings with very different meanings.

The only way to arrive at true insight into these comments and gain an understanding of the giant free form textbox that is social media is by using industry specific natural language processing (NLP) engines to read the feedback for you. An effective NLP engine is the equivalent of having a team of 100 analysts read through every single mention about your hotel on the web word by word, extracting themes, anomalies, opportunities, successes, failures, etc.

With an intelligent view of this feedback, business decisions can be made using real-time, unsolicited, and relevant customer feedback. Not to mention, this is the same feedback that thousands of potential guests read prior to booking decisions.

As Jack Welch is quoted as saying, “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” Employing an effective social business intelligence platform is the key to translating learning into action.