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.

latest-on-line-consumer-booking-trends3
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.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-9-58-53-am

 

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.