Leading in Difficult Times

Jill Ellis | Contributing Blogger | Lifetime Learner

As a female raised in the southern United States, we bless everything and that’s not always a compliment. So naturally, when life gets hot and messy I want to bless it and not in a soft-spoken way but from a place of true grit and tenacity that have sustained me through many difficult seasons of life. However, now I’m a little older and possibly a little wiser, and the stakes are certainly a little higher.

“Bless this mess” is a relatable, quotable phrase that adorns creative signs, mugs, and t-shirts. However, it’s becoming somewhat of an anthem for me based on the meaning versus the catchiness. This little phrase has been on my heart lately, and it’s the guiding thought that walks me through this season of life.

Being stretched across priorities that encompass three states, three generations, and an emerging business is not an unusual passage.  There are many of my friends walking through similar places with some having more and others having less, but it all comes to the same feeling that can leave you drained and empty unless you recognize it’s going to be a mess and stop trying to make it neat, tidy, organized, or structured. I will admit I thrive on making sense of chaos and random or scattered pieces that don’t seem to fit on the surface. I love a hidden story and this season is no different. One day seems like chaos the next is calm and all the variations in-between.

Discovering the hidden story is about going below the surface. It’s not about the piles of unending laundry, the unrelenting list of tasks to accomplish, or the feeling of exhaustion from miles of driving and hours of conference calls and planning sessions. It’s about who and why. Just an example of what I think of when I think of my who and why:

  •  My parents because they walked through the valleys with my brother and I and never left our side. They told us how to love well, even when they weren’t able to be physically present they were always with us. It’s my responsibility and privilege to honor them in a season where their needs are changing.
  • My husband because he’s the person that completes me and never stops loving even when the storms rage and we are holding on to pieces. He deserves the same commitment.
  • Our children because it’s our responsibility to prepare them for adulthood and teach them to honor and love well. The teen years are a roller coaster ride, and we’ve just begun, but we cannot give up or back down just because it’s difficult.
  • My extended family because they are all dealing with similar issues and we are in this together and should support each other.
  • My friends because they are chosen family, and they serve a purpose in this story. It’s the giving and receiving of help with each other. It’s a carousel that goes round and round and sometimes up and down. We fill the gaps for each other and don’t expect anything in return–you just do it.
  • My colleagues because we are not just building a business we are building up people. Our team DNA is rooted in our love for the hospitality industry. We want to serve others, and in the process, we are also building each other up and allowing each to grow into his or her strengths and natural talents. All while navigating what life brings our way. Our people matter.

These relationships are a direct connection to the purpose of my life. They are all a part of my story. So for today, I want to embrace this with joy and see the beauty and meaning.

A few reflections about blessing the mess:

  • The people in your life are there for a reason. Honor them even when that means you cannot keep your to-do list on track.
  • Recognize when you are in a messy season and know it’s just a season that will pass. Look for the good.
  • Know your who and why.
  • Use your experience to encourage another person that may be a few steps behind you.
  • Look for others that may have traveled through a similar season and tap into their encouragement.
  • Love and forgive yourself and reject the lie of perfectionism or comparison.
  • Discover your hidden story in the mess.





Finding Purpose in Your Work

Focusing on the past is not a natural tendency for me.  Yes, I love seeing old photos and remembering fun moments along the way, but most of my thoughts and activities are spent focusing on the future.  According to all the professional personality profile and work style assessments, I’m naturally wired to think future.   What that also means is that I’m not the best at thinking in the present.

This morning, Facebook offered more than my typical scroll through cute photos, inspirational quotes, and political rubbish.   Thanks to the On This Day feature, I was suddenly staring at a memory that holds a special place in my life. Somewhat of a mile marker that I can now look back and see where the journey took a slow but purposeful turn.  It stirs up warm tears for many reasons. At the heart of my tears is this young man in the photo.

At the time this picture was taken, I was working for the IHG Owners Association, an incredibly dedicated and influential group of hotel owners and operators volunteering their time and talents towards collaborating and advocating for owners.  It amazes me to look back and see the amount of time these leaders volunteered to the association on top of running their businesses and living a life.  The association supports Give Kids the World Village, a nonprofit resort in Central Florida that provides weeklong, cost-free vacations to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.  On this occasion, we were volunteering with our Board of Directors to activate a more experiential understanding of this beautiful place we were supporting and asking our thousands of members worldwide to support.

For the evening of volunteer time, we were divided up to engage in different areas of the resort.  Some people were serving food, some were painting tattoos and nails, and some were preparing for a talent show. The atmosphere was so magical, and it was easy to forget we were serving families who have no promise of a tomorrow with their child.  They were living in the present and soaking in every moment of magic the village offered.   I was assigned to an area that was hosting kids for the night while their parents had a night out.  What I now understand that I did not know then is that a life-threatening illness takes a huge toll on all members of a family and especially a marriage.  The volunteers for this area lined up, and as the kids arrived, they were allowed to select the volunteer they wanted.   It was so heartwarming to see their eyes light up as they scanned the faces of volunteers and decided who to pick. After I was passed over a few times, I was starting to feel a little inferior.   Then, this young man in the photo arrived, and he chose me!   So off we went to explore all the games and fun activities the village offered.  Honestly, this place is like something you would dream about as a child–games, ice cream, candy, lots of bright colors, happy music, smiling adults and never being told no.

What I learned over the next 4 hours of that evening had such a profound impact on my heart.  This young man (who was the same age as my children at the time) did not want to play games or be entertained.  He just wanted to talk.  He talked for 4 hours, and my words cannot capture the beauty and brilliance this little guy carried.  He talked about everything from movies, to school to science to his life story.   Hearing him talk so plainly about his life with not one ounce of bitterness just shattered my heart and shook me to the core.  Beyond his battle with a brain tumor, he had a tough life.  What he had faced in life even before the illness was more than I could imagine bearing. Yet, here he is sitting in front of me just enjoying the conversation with great enthusiasm.   Later that evening I met his dad and when I shook his hand and looked into his eyes, I will never forget seeing the pain, the anguish, and the fear of living in the unknown.  I can see his eyes now and will never forget them.

The night ended with a talent show and then just as quickly as the day had started it ended.  We said goodbye, and I knew I would never see him again.  I felt so thankful for meeting him yet so empty and longing to listen to him talk more.  The truth is I felt helpless. The bus ride back to our hotel was long and silent although a lot of talking was happening around me.  All the thoughts were slowly unraveling in my head. The first thought was around why.  Why did this child have to endure a painful start to life and now face the terrible odds with this illness?   Why him, why not me? Why not someone else that deserved punishment for evil?  Yes, I thought it all.  The why had no answer that could satisfy my feeling of helplessness.

As the days and weeks after this beautiful encounter unfolded my longing for a concrete why turned into a desire to do more, love more and give more. I had no idea I was on the threshold of some major changes, but this experience prepared me for the journey. Seeking the why is not always about the external factors.   Seeking why is most powerful when it’s rooted and sprouts from the internal.  I stopped asking why and starting asking what am I supposed to do with this experience and let my heart lead the why.  In fact, I continually seek the answer to that question because our purpose expands and shifts.  The world has a lot of brokenness that doesn’t have an explanation, but we have the ability to make it a better place.

So today I smile and feel a little emotional.  This young man may never know what an impact he made, and I hope to have an opportunity to give him a big hug and tell him one day.  Wherever you are, I hope the sun is shining brightly upon you!

Key reflections:

  • Don’t miss what’s happening in the present.  We are not promised tomorrow and the past is behind us.
  • Something beautiful could be happening right in front of you and it could change your life.
  • Sometimes the things that look scary, ugly or messy end up being the most beautiful thing you will ever experience.
  • Someone needs you.  You have unique gifts that someone needs.
  • The people around you have a purpose in your life.  Don’t miss what they offer.
  • Sometimes you just need to listen.
  • Even a brief encounter with a person can have a lasting impact. Don’t miss the opportunities to talk to someone you may not know.
  • Seek your why and let it grow from your heart to reach others.

Jill Ellis, Director at iResponze and enjoys shaking up the landscape and never finds a goal too outrageous or a challenge too big. When she’s not helping her clients achieve their goals, she loves spending time with her family and managing her teenagers’ busy schedules.   iResponze® partners with hotels by responding to online reviews on their behalf. This collaboration allows staff to focus on what they do best – delivering exceptional guest experiences.

Lessons from Marriott International

Lessons from a year-long pilot with Marriott International.

Rose Mentrie | Contributing Blogger

When you are a kid in school, testing is not something you look forward to. In fact, for some of us, it can create high levels of anxiety and require many hours of preparation. This was especially true for me as I approached every test with a complex preparation plan that seemed to do little to relieve my anxiety. On test day, no matter how well prepared I might be, I always feared the worst: failure. In this context, we were conditioned to believe that testing had just one outcome – either success or failure. As a full-fledged adult, I’ve learned that testing can be exciting and anxiety-reducing and have multiple results, particularly when an entrepreneurial startup such as iResponze collaborates with a prospective client.

Three Lessons Learned

Earlier this year, we tested our signature online review response system in a pilot program with Marriott International. Four Courtyard® hotels in four different markets participated. We selected these particular hotels so we could measure if impact was similar across multiple factors such as volume of reviews, ratio of positive to negative reviews, and the hotels’ current response rates to reviews. The collaborative approach of the hotels and the brand leadership during the pilot period helped us improve our services, not just in ways that addressed Marriott’s needs but also with improvements that benefit all our clients. Here are three things we learned from this test:

  1. One size does not fit all. While we intuitively know that every hotel is different, our initial implementation used a consistent system for onboarding and using the system. What we learned from our pilot hotels was that, while the system was sound, it needed modification based on individual hotel factors. More specifically, we needed to modify our services based on the staff resources available at the hotel and the level of online interaction generated by the hotel. Those two factors influenced what level of service the hotel desired, leading to development of a tiered service structure offered by iResponze.
  2. Limit GM disruption. In our system, we design alerts for reviews that should be immediately brought to the GM’s attention. What we learned and modified through the test was the types of reviews that generated alerts. From the pilot hotels, we created a list of Red Alerts, those issues raised in reviews that should be quickly shared with the GM. Those Red Alerts generally revolve around five key issues: safety, security, bedbugs, financial, and unusual (those reviews that fall outside of normal feedback patterns). Limiting the disruption to the GM allows that individual to stay focused on what is happening in the hotel at that time, serving today’s guests not responding to yesterday’s.
  3. Trust the connection between hotel and response team. Building trust that someone outside your hotel can respond on behalf of your hotel is the first hurdle we encounter. How can someone who has not been to your hotel respond in a way that reflects your hotel’s voice? We learned through the pilot that we needed to allow for time to establish a comfort level with the iResponze team. Once that important connection was firmly established, the hotel became much more confident that the iResponze team understood their property and could handle guest feedback in voice that was representative of the brand and hotel leadership.

Passing the Test

In the end, we do look for success and failure in testing through pilot programs, but unlike my school days, these tests allow for revision and improvement. The only grade we receive is whether or not the client wants to continue to participate. In this pilot, I would have to give our iResponze team an A+ — not only did we successfully serve the pilot hotels, we learned valuable lessons that benefitted those hotels and will benefit future clients, including additional Marriott hotels.

Letting Go of Test Anxiety

“Learn as you grow” has to be the mantra for a new organization such as iResponze.

Without testing our system, questioning our assumptions, and putting our product to use in real-time, we would not be able to refine our services and discover better ways to benefit our clients. Though it may take me some time to let go of my test anxiety, I am looking forward to testing our strengths – and weaknesses – with other hotels and brands so that our growth leads to increased success for them.

Learn more about the Marriott pilot at www.iresponze.com/marriott.

Rose Mentrie, Chief Innovation Officer, at iResponze, helps hotel management companies create successful strategies for responding to online reviews. As someone who has worked with hotels and hotel brands for three decades, Rose understands that guests ultimately determine success at hotels. iResponze® partners with hotels by responding to online reviews on their behalf. This collaboration allows staff to focus on what they do best – delivering exceptional guest experiences.


Online Booking Trends

When online travel agencies (OTAs) and other third-party booking channels empowered past guests to judge their stay experiences with a star rating, hoteliers had to pay attention. Then guests shared photos and wrote reviews, and hoteliers had to get involved. This evolution has, in turn, shifted the way we do business by changing the paradigm from hotels controlling the message to the consumers controlling the dialogue. This dialogue can ultimately decide the success of a hotel. So, as a hotelier, what can you do? Arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible and follow the emerging best practices as much as you can.

What TripAdvisor Knows About Your Guests

Let’s take a look at the newest findings that PhocusWright completed as an independent study on behalf of TripAdvisor in 2015. They reported:

  • 86% of TripAdvisor users would recommend TripAdvisor to others for trip planning
  • 84% of users consider reviews “extremely” or “highly” important when booking a hotel
  • 63% percent of respondents prefer one location where they can read reviews, compare prices, and make their reservations

You probably can see that this is not new information, but the percentages keep getting higher and higher year over year. One data point stood out to me: 63% of the respondent prefer ONE LOCATION where they can read, compare and make their reservations. This growing contingent has pushed many brands to post guest reviews on their own websites in hope of keeping their loyal customers from booking on other channels.

The study also uncovered more booking behavior by looking at the top-performing hotels, noting:

  • More page views: Hotels with higher engagement receive nearly four times more page views, meaning you should be highly engaged on their platform on a daily basis
  • Higher market visibility: The average popularity ranking for highly engaged hotels was 63% higher than their non-engaged counterparts, meaning these hotels are seen by two of every three travelers searching that market
  • More revenue: The study revealed that highly engaged hotels see 30 to 40% more travelers booking their hotel rooms

We have assumed that more customer postings about their experiences equals better ratings (just like brand guest satisfaction surveys). TripAdvisor confirmed the assumption, noting “The quantity and frequency of your TripAdvisor reviews influences your TripAdvisor Popularity Index ranking — in part because the more reviews your property has, the more the good reviews will outweigh the bad.”

For TripAdvisor, recent reviews carry more weight in your ranking; older reviews have less impact over time. This requires that you must make sure to keep encouraging guests to share their feedback online on an ongoing basis. Even more important, age of reviews now plays a larger role in consumer decision making, with 44% of consumers preferring to read a review that was written within 1 month.

Continue reading “Online Booking Trends”

How to Respond to Online Reviews

Dana Barker | Contributing blogger

You’ve been asked to handle the responses to reviews for your hotel. You’re seen as the person on staff who is the most social media savvy, so you are the obvious choice. Right? Perhaps. But being a consumer of social media doesn’t always lead to success when managing feedback on online channels. In my experience with our iResponze customers, they are enthusiastic about striking the right tone in responses but have many questions about what to say and what to do with the feedback. Here are my top five actions to take when responding to online reviews.

 1. Always say thank you

No matter how disappointed, angry, or downright rude a reviewer is, say thank you for the feedback. This seems simple, but coming across as sincere can be challenging. The best way to do so is to vary the language you use for thanking guests in your responses. If your potential guests see that every response begins with, “Thank you for your feedback on your stay,” they will know that you are on auto-pilot with your responses.

2. Keep it brief

Absolutely keep your response to the point. You do not need to explain in detail the resolution that you are taking – it is more important to inspire confidence that you will take action. Rather than talk about a training program that you have in place that may not have been used, assure your guest that you brought this issue to the attention of the individual who can ensure that proper training is in place.

3. Proofread and proofread again

It seems a bit silly, but having grammatical errors or misspellings will make your response seem less credible. Ask someone else to review your response before you post it, especially if you are responding to several at one time. Your ability to see what is written versus what you meant to write is diminished the more times you see the same content.

4. Tailor to details in review

Vary your language for each response and make sure you respond to the details of the review. Try to be as specific as possible, which lets guests know that you are paying attention. The last impression you want to give is that you have a “one size fits all” response. Each review deserves specific attention, just as each guest in your hotel deserves personal attention.

5. Alert the GM when relevant

The GM probably does not want to know every time someone complains about the parking, but the GM should know if a guest raises a serious problem or you spot a recurring theme. If the issue relates to any of the following, alert the GM immediately: liability to the hotel, unresolved security issues, bed bugs (not other insects), or doubtful reviews.



While many hotels can manage responding in a timely manner that meets brand or industry standards, it can be challenging to stay current.

At iResponze, we know that responding to reviews requires consistent attention and a strategy for developing and maintaining your hotel’s personality. We have helped many clients meet the challenge, and we have learned a lot about how to be successful with your current and future guests. If you apply the action items listed above, you can meet the challenges of responding. Of course, we would welcome the opportunity to show how we can meet the challenge for you and your staff, leaving all of you more time to interact with the guests in front of you.


Dana Barker, Client Engagement Team Director at iResponze, helps hotels establish the distinctive voice for responding to online reviews. Leading a team of responders, Dana has mastered the art of striking the right tone for each hotel. iResponze® partners with hotels by responding to online reviews on their behalf. This collaboration allows staff to focus on what they do best – delivering exceptional guest experiences.



Managing Your Online Reputation

Jill Ellis | Contributing Blogger

In just two years with a startup, I feel like I’ve learned a lifetime of lessons.  This seems to be a recurring theme with other entrepreneurs, and although I was fortunate to work with many successful entrepreneurs in the hotel industry, I didn’t understand what they faced until I was on the inside of a startup. In a short period, I have experienced how to approach the unknowns, how to learn on the run, and how to respond and adjust course in real time. I find it hard to think of operating any other way now, and I’ve come to understand that on a daily basis, hotels face the same opportunity to listen, respond and react to feedback, which their guests are sharing more and more frequently.

Your guests are talking about you – not necessarily in person but in online reviews – and what they’re writing makes an impact on your hotel’s revenues. Online reviews do impact purchase decisions. Any number of resources confirm that your guests are looking for confirmation of everything from hotel selection to clothing choices. While you cannot control that conversation, you can control how your hotel is perceived and maximize your influence on selection and purchase.

Here are three ways responding to reviews can improve your hotel’s guest loyalty and satisfaction.

Continue reading “Managing Your Online Reputation”

Three Steps to Social Media Success

Penny Fondy | Guest Blogger

Earlier this fall, I attended a large luncheon at an upscale hotel. As an event planner myself, I am always tuned into the details of the event. This particular one was flawlessly executed, with an energetic atmosphere, excellent service, and all of the other elements that make a memorable event. And then all 500 of us departed and headed to the valet (this particular hotel offered no self-parking option). An hour and half later, I finally left the hotel. During my unexpected delay, I did what everyone does – checked social media. The event’s hashtag was lighting up with critiques about the valet situation. What had been a memorable event for good reasons would now be remembered for disappointing many. Even more damaging, those posts remain in the digital world accessible for future guests.

This experience led me to think about what hotels and event planners really do to engage with their clients’ social media. In my experience, we know very little about how the client is promoting the event – and by extension – your hotel, in their social media strategy. We just don’t ask. And, I think it’s time that we did.

Three steps to social success

  • First, let’s start by asking. Do the organization and the event have Twitter or Instagram handles? Will they be promoting the event on Facebook? Make this information part of your event planning, and then provide your hotel’s social media handles to the organization. Ask them to tag you in relevant postings, which helps build your social presence.
  • Next, follow the organization and event on social media. You can, of course, do this through the social media platforms, or you can set up a Google alert to automatically notify you. Share the posts with your hotel team, either as a way to alert them to potential issues or to praise them for compliments. I would recommend following the organization and event before, during, and after to keep an eye for any issues that might come up.
  • Finally, respond. Retweet, share, like, comment. Whatever the platform allows, take time to promote the organization and its events to your followers. The event attendees and organization members will see your participation and view it positively, and your followers will have an opportunity to experience an event at your hotel without attending. If anything negative arises, respond with a promise to right the issue, not with a dissertation on why the individual needs to think differently.


One more activity for the “to do” list

I realize that meeting planners and event coordinators are busy with multiple clients and multiple events, but I believe to continue to ignore the impact of social media on group and meetings business is a greater risk than adding another element. Our world is driven now by the real-time postings and commentary of our guests. In fact, we want them to drive the commentary, because other guests trust their responses more than our content. One study revealed that millennials are 50% more likely to trust user-generated content than other media.

More interaction with hotels and their hosted events can only help generate future business for our hotels and greater success for our clients. I think it’s time we embraced social media as another tool to leverage our investments in meetings and groups at our hotels. If you and your hotel team are already social media savvy for events, you’re ahead of the curve. Would you share what best practices you’re using for social media success with events? The more we all know, the more our industry will continue to innovate and see growth.

iResponze® partners with hotels by responding to online reviews on their behalf. This collaboration allows staff to focus on what they do best – deliver exceptional guest experiences.

Penny Fondy, ISHC, is a partner with Wits’ End Productions, which has delivered big solutions for corporate meetings and events in the most creative, unique ways for 30 years. She describes the company’s role as a ‘Wits’ Army Knife’ for clients, operating as a trusted extension of client teams.