NB: This is a guest article by Michelle Wohl, Vice President of Marketing at Revinate.
Over the many centuries that the hospitality industry has existed, technology has rarely changed the way that hotels interact with guests during their stay. The last major disruption was the in-room telephone, which allowed guests to call the front desk with a complaint or request.
Now, with the advent of smart phones and social media, we are seeing another major shift in hotel-guest relations so big that even compensation packages are being built around the ability of hotels to adapt.
Itâ€™s no secret that the rise of social media and online review sites, such as TripAdvisor, has had a significant impact on the travel industry.
Whereas travelers once selected hotels based on brand or advice from close personal acquaintances, today nearly everyone reads online reviews or turns to social networks to discover hotels.
In fact, a study by Market Metrix determined that â€ťreputation, recommendations and online reviewsâ€ť are now driving more bookings than even location or price.
Management responses equals increased bookings
Travelers, however, are reading more than just the online reviews from guests. Many review and booking sites are now allowing hotel managers to respond to guest reviews, and studies show that these management responses also play a large role in booking decisions.
A TripAdvisor/Forrester study showed that when deciding between two comparable properties, the presence of management responses to online guest reviews would sway 68 percent of people. As a result, more and more hoteliers are taking the time to craft personal responses to reviews in order to publicly demonstrate that they actively listen to guest feedback and strive to improve the experience of their guests.
But online reviews are impacting more than just consumer booking decisions. Public feedback is actually forcing hotels to change the way they operate.
With real-time intelligence about what guests love and hate about their stays, hotels that actively monitor review sites are in a better position to make changes to policies, services and amenities based on guest needs. Hotels are changing their pricing, parking policies and even remodeling plans based on complaints and suggestions made on review sites and social networks. Many attentive hoteliers are also using public feedback to retrain employees, using real situations from actual reviews as role-play scenarios.
Evolving compensation plans
As a result of the tangible impact that online reviews are having on sales and operations, more and more brands and management companies are incorporating social media metrics into their compensation plans.
Changing the status quo is never easy, and decisions are even more disruptive when they impact peopleâ€™s livelihood.
Traditionally, management compensation packages were based on factors such as financial performance, market share, traditional guest surveys and staff satisfaction. But what these measurements fail to account for are the factors that are driving real booking decisions, such as TripAdvisorâ€™s Popularity Index, online review ratings and management response rates.
Richfield Hospitality is an example of a hotel management group that recently updated its executive team bonus program to take online reputation metrics into consideration.
Their decision was based on a few factors. For one, software solutions are now available that allow hoteliers to accurately measure performance on online review and booking sites. Previously, accurate measurement was elusive, but with todayâ€™s sophisticated technology, brands and management companies can confidently set goals and report on results.
Second, management recognized the significant impact that reviews and online reputation now have on revenue. Since launching their new compensation plans at the beginning of 2012, Richfield has seen a steady increase in online reputation scores, along with greater social media engagement by their hotel teams.
Richfield is a great example of how social media, along with the right tools and the right incentives, presents a significant opportunity for improving bottom line results in the hospitality industry.
The front desk becomes the front lines of social media
With the rise of social platforms like Twitter and Facebook, incentives arenâ€™t just limited to senior management.
Will Loughran, VP of Revenue Management and eCommerce at Sceptre Hospitality Resources, recently told us that many of their properties are offering incentives to front desk teams designed to encourage further engagement on social media channels. As front desk teams are staffed around the clock at hotels, these staff members have the best chance of catching a service incident on Twitter or Facebook before it becomes a major issue.
Because a guestâ€™s first inclination is often to complain on Twitter, rather than visit the front desk, active monitoring of this channel is critical in online reputation management.
By providing incentives to staff members to participate on social media, entrenched behaviors are changing. Where staff used to only provide service on the phone or in person, attention is now also extending to social platforms where hotel staff actively engages with guests on site. There are great examples all over the Web of guests tweeting complaints from their rooms and moments later hearing a knock on the door by a staff member hoping to rectify the situation and win over the guest.
What does the rise of social media and online reviews mean for the future of hotel operations?
For those hoteliers paying attention, there is a huge opportunity to continually improve and deliver better, more personalized service to each guest, thereby strengthening the relationship between brands and their guests.Â While that goal is centuries old, online reviews and social media are changing the way it is achieved.
NB: Successful managerÂ image from Shutterstock