c.2013 New York Times News Service
Hotels want to hear your opinion of your stay.
But they no longer feel that it is enough to leave a questionnaire in your guest room and hope for a response, not when TripAdvisor and other public rating sites display customer satisfaction — or dissatisfaction — for all to see.
So they may send guests who have just checked out an email survey asking about their stay, and sometimes an additional email if they do not respond to the first one. And hotels monitor what is being said about them on social media and travel websites.
The data they collect affects both how they treat their guests overall and how they interact with individual travellers.
Customer feedback used to be for internal use only, but as guests increasingly turn to the Web to air their reactions to their stays, hotels view customer satisfaction as even more important to their business. A study from the Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University recently found that hotels with better customer reviews on travel rating sites like Travelocity and TripAdvisor could charge slightly higher rates. Thomas P. Botts, executive vice-president and chief customer officer at Denihan Hospitality Group, said customer satisfaction was so important to his company that a portion of employee compensation was tied to it.
Still, hotels are trying to find the right balance between surveying customers and bothering them. As a result, some questionnaires are now shorter, allowing guests to complete them in a few clicks, and sent to mobile devices to be filled out by customers riding in taxis or waiting at the airport. The Denihan Hospitality Group uses a system created by Posmetrics that rotates five questions on an iPad at the front desk. In the latest Hyatt Hotels post-stay survey, only one question really needs to be answered.
At the same time, some hotel surveys are going beyond the basics of asking about noise, cleanliness and satisfaction. Symon Bridle, chief operating officer of the hotel management company New World Hospitality, said his company’s surveys focused on a customer’s “emotional connection” with the brand, which can come down to interactions with staff members. “It really is the people you have that can make a stay into a great versus an average experience,” he said, “and creating that link with the customer is what’s it’s all about.”
Hotels work on their surveys with a variety of partners. The Dorchester Collection of hotels in the United States and Europe uses the Gallup organization to collect more than 10,000 surveys annually to determine customer loyalty and emotional attachment, according to Ann Brant, director of organizational performance at the Dorchester Collection.
Guests at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills and the Inn at Penn, a Hilton hotel in Philadelphia, can share opinions via in-room iPads using software created by Intelity, a technology provider that focuses on the hospitality industry and works with more than 500 hotel clients worldwide. Wyndham Hotels and Resorts guests receive their post-stay surveys directly from TripAdvisor and can see the consolidated results on Wyndham’s website.
Hyatt Hotels found that customers like to give specific feedback, said Heather Briggs, the company’s vice-president for consumer insights and market research, so there are more text boxes for open-ended answers. Traditionally, market researchers have preferred numeric scales and check boxes to open-ended questions when working with large numbers of surveys because they are easier to tabulate and analyze.
Hyatt, though, uses a system of text recognition and analysis that groups comments from its surveys into subject areas. The system also rates how positive or negative the comments are by which words are used and the use of exclamation points, among other things. The amalgamated survey data is available to all Hyatt Hotel properties.
Hyatt’s system also scans for and analyzes comments from Facebook, Twitter and other social media and feedback sites. Comments that are especially negative or positive set off alerts to the appropriate hotel general manager, who can directly communicate with the guest on that social network. “We live and die by guest feedback,” Briggs said.
Customers may think their survey answers are just used for research, and that their responses are just grouped with a lot of others, but hotels can use their individual answers as well. Hyatt is working to integrate its survey system into its guest profiles and even to have some of that information available as the guest checks in. That way, for example, the front desk staff may notify guests if they are two stays from a rewards program upgrade or assign them a room far from an elevator because of comments on a previous questionnaire.
“We need to balance customer privacy in the information they share with letting them know we are listening to them and want to personalize their stay,” Briggs said.
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Hotels said they had made a variety of changes based on the feedback. A city hotel that heard noise complaints added earplugs to its guest amenity kits. A hotel restaurant that heard grumbling about waiting times increased the number of employees working that shift.
Hotels, of course, are not the only ones in the hospitality industry using these kinds of surveys and then making adjustments. Based on survey feedback from customers on overnight flights, the airline El Al combined the food and beverage service so passengers could finish meals more quickly and get to sleep sooner. The most common customer complaint at Crystal Cruises centred on expensive and confusing pricing for Internet access, so pricing was simplified.
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While young professionals may carry multiple electronic devices, hotels that gather feedback in a variety of formats, including Web and paper, can reach a range of customers. Peter Finamore, senior vice-president for operations of Regent Hotels and Resorts, said of his hotels in Taiwan, “Our customers have culturally been more comfortable using pen and paper, and, in fact, we still do it that way in our restaurants and receive hundreds of responses every day.”
Now, though, he said, his hotels are also asking overnight guests to fill out a 30-second survey on a tablet on the way out, or the hotels send the guests an email when they depart. Paper will still be used for some time, though, Finamore predicted, because of the tough consumer laws in Taiwan.
“In order to send a customer an email, we need to have a physical signature from them saying it is OK,” Finamore said.
Electronic surveys have a higher response rate than paper ones, according to Chris Anderson, a professor at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, but for all of the new variations of hotel surveys and delivery systems, most guests still ignore them.
Jharna Jain, a marketing consultant in the technology industry, may typify those guests. “If I have a really fantastic or really terrible experience, I’ll put it on TripAdvisor so other people know about it,” she said. “But I don’t want to take the time to fill out a hotel survey.”