"We know there are services out there that provide social media and online travel site comment harvesting," said Michael Morton, vice president of member services at Best Western. However, though there are many social media monitoring services that are useful for tracking overall sentiment toward a brand, "from an operations perspective, that didn't sit well for us. Hotels need to understand it from a specific property level."
Working with Medallia, a firm that already manages solicited feedback in the form of surveys for Best Western, the hotel chain is implementing monitoring for social feedback that can be passed through to hotel operators at individual locations. So far implemented at just three pilot locations in San Francisco, Ottowa, and Montana, the application will be offered to about 2,200 locations in North America within the next 30 to 45 days, according to Morton.
Because Best Western operates as a membership organization that offers cooperative marketing services to independently owned hotels, it will have a choice of whether to adopt the unsolicited feedback analytics, but Morton is optimistic given that 98% of the hotels in North America are using Medallia for solicited feedback. "In most cases, that is daily or at least weekly usage by the hotels," he said.
[Even short-form Twitter can provide a window into consumer preferences. Read more in Do Tweets Predict The Future?.]
Making social media data available on the same dashboard managers consult to see structured survey responses is also more useful than providing social analytics as a separate application, Morton said. Because the social data is public, hotel managers will also be able to see what people are saying about their competitor down the street.
The Medallia application Best Western has had in place for the past four years was based on getting users to a survey website, either in response to a follow-up email or because they went to the Web address advertised on their statement. The program also takes in some survey data on paper, "although we're trying to phase that out," Morton said.
However, some disgruntled guests who won't fill in the survey, or even stop by the front desk to register their complaints on the way out, prove all too willing to share their complaints with the world on social media and travel websites, Morton said.
There have always been questions about the accuracy of reviews on TripAdvisor and some other sites that don't necessarily verify that those posting actually stayed at a given property. But it's also true that people use these sites to vent their dissatisfaction, particularly when hotel staff might not have been responsive.
Ratings on these sites can have a huge impact on how much business a hotel gets, so managers need to know when those complaints have been registered, and they need to be able to respond, Morton said. Unfortunately, at the same time all this feedback is becoming more important, it's also becoming more time consuming to monitor on a manual basis, he said. Hotel owner-operators "don't have time to visit every travel site, every day to see what's out there," he said.
Medallia wants to bring this social feedback to other industries but is addressing hospitality first because it's one the company knows well, director of product marketing Sam Keninger said. He said that Medallia's strategy for integrating social and structured survey data is very much along the same lines as HP's efforts to meld social and enterprise data.
"What we want to do is really enable front lines," Keninger said. A hotel manager at a Best Western in Montana "wants to see what kind of impact these social review sites are having specific to that property," he said. If someone is airing complaints, that manager should have the opportunity "to try to make nice before a thousand other people make booking decisions on that post," he said.
In combination with its survey programs, Medallia is trying to encourage more hotel guests to share their opinions on social media, Keninger said. Because guests tend to vent on social media "as a last stand" when they don't feel they've been listened to, "there are too many negative reviews, and they are not necessarily normalized" to reflect the average guest's experience, he said.
Although it would technically be possible to present that prompt only to guests who said positive things on the survey, so far hotel operators seem to be willing to extend the invitation more broadly, Keninger said. Besides the damage that can be done by negative reviews, some locations are hurt by not having enough reviews, period, and need to get guests talking about them more, he said.
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