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Move Beyond Rants and Raves to Get Measurable Guest Feedback

With all of the recent press touting the importance of using online review content to evaluate a hotel’s performance, it is time to step back and not lose sight of “best practices” for assessing hotel guest attitudes. First and foremost, the most reliable way to ensure an efficient allocation of resources and an effective approach to operational improvement is to collect feedback from a statistically valid sample of guest experiences. Second, that sampling process should be maintained and consistent over time.
Newer approaches to the analysis of guest feedback fall short in providing the required basics and core aspects of a sound, on-going, and statistically valid guest feedback program. These offerings, mostly by reputation management providers, may provide marketplace transparency, but lack the reliability necessary to function effectively in a competitive marketplace. Let’s compare:
What you get with transparent online content:
Random rants and raves
Inconsistent feedback over time
Word bias derived from content
No clarity on actionable steps toward improvement
No historical reference to determine trends over time
What you get with a structured guest feedback program:
Statistically valid sample of guest experiences
Reliable sampling over time
Response history with trending over time
Benchmarked performance by market segment
Clearly defined actionable opportunities for improvement
Statistical assessment of what is important to guests
Key drivers of guest intent to recommend
Goal-setting based on statistically valid data
There’s no question that a sound marketing strategy includes the monitoring of your online reputation.  However, a sound operational strategy must include the ability to understand where you’ve been, where you are now, and what needs to be done to drive you to where you want to be. If you only rely on the transparent online content available at any given moment in time, you will never know if you’ve gotten to where you want to be.
Analyzing the rants and raves cannot supply the statistical validity needed to understand how your average guest feels about their experience at your hotel. Furthermore, statistical reliability only comes from soliciting feedback on a consistent basis in order to achieve the required sample size of your guest population needed to perform valid statistics on your feedback data. These newer approaches for soliciting transparent online content are missing those essential components which may result in misleading operational information derived from conjecture. Simply knowing how many times a word has been used by a guest or the arbitrary assignment of that word to a negative or positive context cannot provide a sense of what is statistically important to guests or supply any correlative data in terms of guest intent to recommend. The only value derived from looking at transparent online content is to ensure guests are being asked the right actionable survey questions in a feedback program that encompass issues surrounding potential capital expenditures and/or operational improvements.
Additionally, transparent online content is simply a moment in time. At the core of any valid guest feedback system is the ability to retain history and report trends both of which are vital to short and long term investment decisions, as well as operational interventions that would garner greater guest satisfaction and intentions to recommend your hotel to others. From a goal setting perspective, your momentary online content provides little in terms of performance levels that may be improving or in decline. Without the proper tracking of historical data through a formal guest feedback program, it is not possible to implement a valid goal-setting program.
The fact is, nearly all hotels are forced to compete more aggressively within their defined markets (which are no longer strictly geographic in nature) based on their online reputations. Those hotels with the best online reputations are driving incremental room nights, especially in the leisure market segment and with those guests who are not in brand loyalty programs. Doesn’t it make sense to have a reliable weapon in your arsenal that will continually provide you with a statistical advantage over your competition? Having the insight that a true feedback program provides will put you at an advantage over those operations that are relying solely on the transparent and “spotty” feedback provided online. UniFocus is one company that offers structured guest feedback that provides operators with actionable feedback and insights.
You need to monitor and respond to online reviews and content on a regular and on-going basis. You need to be professional and consistent in your responses.  Mostly all operators are aware of the importance of this, whether they practice it or not. Any decision that utilizes valuable resources must be data-driven and focused on issues that are important to hotel guests.  If you’re only evaluating your performance by monitoring the active content on the web, you are not making data-driven decisions and run the risk of making resource allocation decisions that are based on unreliable and invalid data.
The outcome of acting upon these insights should be an increase in positive online reviews and content, an improvement in local OTA review rankings, and an all-around “best of both worlds” approach to responding to your guests – all to drive loyalty, at every opportunity.
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