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For Hotels, Online Reputation Management Starts on Property.
By Daniel Edward Craig
Wednesday, 16th May 2012
 
'How is everything going with your stay?' the doorman asked as I waited for a taxi.

'Oh, fine, I said automatically, but wait—it wasn't fine. The hotel had lost my reservation, and my room had been downgraded. Eventually they had sorted things out and had offered to move me, but by then it was too late.

But he asked, so I told him.

"I'm very sorry about that," he said. "Is there anything we can do to make it up to you?"

"No, no … Actually, yes. I could use a late checkout."

"Let me see what I can do." He left to make a call.

A moment later, as I was climbing into a taxi, he hurried over. "Will 2:00 work?"

"That would be perfect."

As the taxi pulled away I reflected on the interaction. How is everything going with your stay?, he had asked. It's a question asked all too rarely, and yet it strikes me as one of the most important a hotel can ask its guests these days.

Why? Because if there's a problem, they can try to fix it before the guest departs. If everything is fine, it's an opportunity to engage the guest or even to find a way to enhance his or her stay. Yet most hotels wait until checkout—or don't ask at all.
 
They say reputation is what people say about you after you leave the room. For hotels, reputation is what guests say after checkout. Increasingly, travelers are voicing—and seeking—opinions on review sites and social networks, propelling reputation to a level of importance that rivals price, location and brand in influencing purchase decisions.

There is much hotels can do online to manage reputation: monitor feedback, share helpful content, respond to reviews. But above all reputation management starts on property. If a hotel isn't consistently meeting guest expectations, it won't matter how smart its sales, marketing and revenue management activities are, it will have a difficult time attracting new and repeat guests.

Here's a look at some of the essentials of offline reputation management.

Formalize the Function

Like revenue management fifteen years ago, reputation management is still in its infancy, but changes in the ways travelers research trips, make decisions and share experiences are making it essential to long-term sustainability. That calls for a formalized, systemic approach: integrating reputation management principles and practices into daily operations and culture.

Keep Score

Social media is a game-changer because it takes feedback into the public realm. Unlike electronic surveys, the results of which are kept private, online reviews enable travelers to compare the opinions of other travelers. And they allow hotels to compare performance against competitors.

With the help of a reputation monitoring tool like ReviewPro (whom I collaborate with), hotels can aggregate, manage and score reviews from across the Web. The volume of available data is unprecedented, but it's what hotels do with the data that is key.

Create a Guest-centric Culture

Part of Amazon's enormous success can be attributed to its customer-centric culture, and it starts at the top. CEO Jeff Bezos insists on placing an empty chair in all major meetings to represent the customer.

The voice of the guest deserves equal prominence in hotel meetings, and it's represented by reviews. Guest feedback and reputation metrics should be included in daily briefings and departmental meetings, posted on the staff bulletin board, and integrated into weekly reports, month-end reports and annual plans.

Find the Resources

To facilitate the process you'll need a leader to champion efforts and a gatekeeper to monitor and disseminate feedback. But rather than call for greater resources, it's a matter of formalizing roles and reallocating existing resources.

Are you still pumping dollars into traditional marketing activities that have diminished in effectiveness? A recent Nielsen survey of 28,000 internet consumers in 56 countries found that consumers trust the recommendations of people they know (92%) and online consumer opinions (70%) more than any other advertising source. (Nielsen, 2012).

Mobilizing guests as your number one marketing force requires the reallocation of resources from paid media like advertising and print collateral to owned and earned media: review sites, social networks, your website and blog.

Reputation Management and Human Resources

More than anything, employees shape a hotel's reputation. Guest feedback must be integrated into recruitment, orientation and training programs. Will that job candidate consistently meet or exceed brand expectations? If in doubt, keep looking. And remember that job-seekers check hotels out on TripAdvisor and Facebook too; a positive reputation will help you attract star candidates.

"Service is marketing," says Adele Gutman, VP of Sales & Marketing at HKHotels in New York. She should know. By setting bold reputation goals and mobilizing all staff, her company placed all four of its properties in the top rankings of New York hotels on TripAdvisor. Now almost 50% of bookings are generated direct through the hotels' websites.

Train and Empower

Guest feedback provides a wealth of information for guiding improvements, but prevention is the primary objective. Some problems can't easily be fixed, but even then all hope is not lost. Often negative reviews are less about the problem than about how employees handled the problem: "We brought it to their attention, but they did nothing" or "they didn't care."

With proper training and empowerment, employees can overcome lapses in service and quality. The basics of service haven't changed; social media has simply raised the stakes. By listening, empathizing, apologizing, offering solutions and following up, employees can prevent on-property issues from escalating to online complaints. Encourage staff to go that extra mile by recognizing and rewarding for positive feedback and celebrating the achievement of reputation goals.

Make the Ask

So why don't staff ask guests how their stay is going? For many, it's because they're afraid of the answer. If there's a problem, they'll be expected to fix it.

That doorman's second question was as important as the first: "Is there anything we can do to make it up to you?" All too often employees impose a solution without consulting the guest. For me, a fruit basket or discount would have had no value. The late checkout did, but he wouldn't have known if he hadn't asked.

Temperature checks can also bring out minor nuisances that show up in reviews. If the room attendant asks a guest how everything is in the room, it might prompt a mention of the faulty iron, the burned-out light bulb or the missing menu. It's an opportunity to fix things not only for that guest but for future guests. And yet how often do we hear that question?

Making reputation management part of your hotel's DNA requires close cooperation and communication throughout the property. With proper training and support, any employee, like that doorman, can turn a potential detractor into an advocate.

Join Josiah Mackenzie of ReviewPro and me on Thursday, May 24 for a free webinar on Reputation Management Essentials. For details, click here: https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/757281526 

About ReviewPro
ReviewPro aggregates hundreds of millions of social media mentions, in over 20 languages, from hundreds of the most relevant online travel agencies, review websites and social media platforms. Consultant and former hotel manager Daniel Edward Craig recently began collaborating with ReviewPro as Industry Advisor, Client Engagement. Visit
ReviewPro.com or www.DanielEdwardCraig.com

Copyright 2012 Daniel Edward Craig. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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