We Know What You Said, We were listening

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June 01, 2013
Reputation Management
Mark Hoare

Broadly speaking, a hotel’s departed guest falls into one of three sentiment classes: delighted, content or unhappy. The reasons why guests sit at either end of the contentment spectrum are most likely due to one or more noteworthy experiences or discoveries having occurred during their stay.


Historically, a hotelier has had little proximity into his departed guest’s sentiment related to their stay experience, unless of course that guest was sufficiently motivated to send a direct message to the GM, fill out a paper survey card before leaving, or respond verbally to the “How was your stay?” question at checkout.

Departed guest surveys were a reasonable method to solicit and measure satisfaction feedback, but given the typically low response rates (primarily caused by the required effort on the part of the respondent) the hotel is predominantly seeing only the highly positive or highly negative respondent’s views. If we add to this that these are closed-loop feedback events, the hotel is excluded from the chatter about their hotel’s performance as exchanged by departed guests with family, friends, business colleagues or others.

Along come social networks, blogs and industry-specific customer review sites. User-generated content has truly come of age.

Most would agree that TripAdvisor forged the way in the industry, exposing open-loop hotel guest reviews and rankings, followed by the leading online travel agencies opening up their own qualified guest review features, followed then by the hotel brands themselves.  Factor in the epidemic of regional (and long-tail) social media sites and the millions of travel and hospitality-related blogs, and within no time at all we have big data. And don’t forget Facebook and Twitter. All of these exposure points culminate in a global mass of uncoordinated, unformatted, opinion-rich chatter about hotels–good chatter, indifferent chatter and bad chatter. The closed-loop is broken and guest sentiment is now being publically expressed everywhere.

There simply aren’t the hours in a day for a hotel to read all the free-format comments and blogs, and even if you thought you could, how would you know where they all are anyway? Without an ability to efficiently and economically; locate, gather, cleanse, analyse, quantify and then present all of this feedback in an insightful and actionable way, a hotel will ultimately have to cherry-pick where and what they monitor manually. 

Although TripAdvisor is still the most significant hotel review hub, gone are the days when a hotel could simply rely on taking a daily peek at the hotel’s TripAdvisor comparative ranking number, and maybe the hotel’s TripAdvisor Rating Summaries and say that they’re in tune with the hotel’s public-facing reputation and operational performance. Or worse still, simply use their TripAdvisor Ranking as the hotel’s only guest satisfaction KPI. 

So how does a hotel attempt to locate, gather and synthesize the exponentially growing mass of information being publically generated about its property? 

To truly understand the spectrum of sentiment and derive a holistic, real-time and qualified measure of what the world thinks of a hotel’s product and service delivery, together with an ability to precisely identify the specific topic with which the guest’s sentiments are associated, requires technology to do all the heavy lifting.

Specialist technology providers have emerged and have really matured into this space over the last several years to address this need. Think of these companies and their products as the hotelier’s equivalent to the consumer’s Kayak. Reaching out and trawling the Web to consolidate and correlate vast amounts of data into meaningful and enriched information.

All of these specialist providers offer a complementary suite of online reputation management tools that facilitate managing a hotel’s online and social media presence, including social media positioning, monitoring, survey management and engagement/response facilitation. As expected, some regional strengths comes into play, with Revinate and newBrandAnalytics being perhaps more finely tuned to the Americas, TrustYOU and ReviewPro for Europe, and Brand Karma for Asia, when it comes to their understandings of which travel review sites and blogs are most influential within their home regions.  As you would expect, they all probe the global players such as Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor and Expedia.

In terms of the rankings that they retrieve and how they aggregate them into an overall score for the hotels there is uniformity. However, all these leading providers also incorporate an ability to derive guest sentiment from freeform guest reviews and posts using their natural language processing (NLP) sentiment analysis tools, and form the output into meaningful customer sentiment metrics. Even local language freeform reviews can be analyzed, although there are differing opinions on how to handle this. newBrandAnalytics sees merit in first normalizing the freeform reviews to English so that its proprietary sentiment analysis tools will be comparing like-to-like, while others may wish to derive sentiment directly from the original language text. Nevertheless, subscribing to any of these tools creates huge opportunities for a hotel to fully understand what it is they are doing (or not doing) to cause the satisfaction needle to move left or right. It is also possible to benchmark the hotel against the same apple-to-apple satisfaction metrics of its competitive set. 

Now the hotel has access to all this focused information distilled and normalized from all corners of the globe– what they’re doing very well, what they’re are doing very poorly, and everything in between, even down to the level of an individual service provider on the hotel staff. Now what? 

Interestingly, this is where we have identified a recurring shortcoming on the hotel side while uncovering the root causes of why a particular hotel or collection of hotels is failing in one or more of their balanced scorecard areas. Although just a component part of the initial discovery methodology, it includes a very detailed examination of the hotel’s online guest reviews. Specifically looking for recurring mentions of a particular topic, it is qualified as a positive or negative sentiment, and then the intensity of the sentiment is qualified.  We review interesting outlier mentions that may also point to an otherwise opaque sentiment. This provides a targeted and actionable list on which to follow up.     

The benefit of descending to the more detailed level of review than just the rating summary scores is that down here you can see why a property or brand scored poorly.

For example, service may be driving a low aggregate score, and sentiment analysis identifies a recurring theme related to the bar. In particular, comments related to the “grumpy barman who serves a great cocktail and gets drinks served quickly but often offends the clientele while doing so,”needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.

Rooms may be getting a lower than expected score tracing back to recurring comments about the “bedside clocks which cannot be moved to face the bed due to a too short electrical lead… which makes them pretty much useless.” This should lead to a quick fix but may need to be done in all 320 of the hotel’s rooms.

Being in hyper-proximity to your real-world brand reputation and to qualified customer sentiment of your products and services has never been easier than it is today. The technology to put you there is readily available. However, as with any investment made in technology tools, the return on your investment will come not only by using them, but much more importantly, by acting upon the information they provide. 

Transforming this insight into an actionable and ongoing improvement roadmap that addresses the negative and leverages the positive is essential to driving performance improvements, the measure of which being seen in month-over-month higher rankings throughout those points of exposure that have the greatest impact on stimulating a guest’s booking decision, in other words, positive sentiment scores increasing, negative decreasing and a measurable gain against the competitive set. The hotel should also incorporate these guest sentiment metrics as KPIs in the hotel’s balanced scorecard so that it has full exposure to the hotel’s management, investors and owners.

In the hospitality industry, every customer’s voice deserves to be listened to, responded to and acted upon. The benefits of doing so are highly stacked in the favor of the hotelier and the tools to make this a task rather than a chore are now readily available.

Mark B. Hoare, is a partner with The Prism Partnership LLC, a consultancy servicing the global hospitality industry.  He has experience in all aspects of hospitality technology and operations. For more information, please visit: www.theprismpartnership.com.

©2013 Hospitality Upgrade
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