TripAdvisor and Twitter have given millions of travellers and consumers very public outlets to voice their experiences.
While the public may embrace online review sites, many hoteliers supported Dragons' Den star Duncan Bannatyne when he campaigned earlier this year against TripAdvisor, following a bad review on the site for his luxury hotel.
But you have to be where your customers are and right now they're on these sites. You can choose to ignore them, but your competitors won't. Ten years ago it was "why do we need a website?". Now no one could imagine not having one. We are at the same tipping point with online review sites and social media where customers are choosing accommodation, booking restaurants and making decisions. Embrace these new communication channels, using customer feedback to improve your customer service, and you can have a competitive advantage.
Train staff to understand that feedback can help your business to be the best. The interaction you have with customers is the experience that they have of your business. You can forgive the occasional burnt sausage but you can't forgive indifferent service.
Online review sites and social media are public and it's understandable that some hoteliers feel these sites are outside their control. Customers can put up feedback that businesses don't want - and certainly don't want to display.
Savvy owners and managers see online media as a way of addressing a customer complaint, including those that haven't been handled well, face to face. I took my elderly aunt to lunch at a Best Western hotel. The experience was dismal but I decided not to make a fuss. When we were leaving the restaurant manager asked if everything was alright - I told him that it wasn't. He clearly didn't want to hear that sort of feedback!
I tweeted about the experience, saying it wasn't what I expected from a Best Western hotel. Best Western came back and asked to discuss what had happened. My experience at the hotel wasn't good, and I wouldn't be inclined to go back to that particular hotel, but it hasn't put me off Best Western. I'm encouraged that as a customer I matter to them. Someone from Best Western clearly monitors Twitter and gets back to customers within a few hours. They seem to have a strategy in place that works at a head office level.
Treat difficult customers the same, whether it's face to face, in a letter, or on Twitter. Some customers just want to be heard, while others want a situation rectified. Customers aren't always right, but they are always important however difficult they are being. We can listen and see what we can learn from the experience.
All good customer service starts at the top and senior managers must include social media and online review sites in strategic planning. Put systems in place to monitor and act on customer feedback - don't give it to the new recruit just because she has a Facebook page. At the Crown Spa hotel in Scarborough, the manager monitors TripAdvisor every day and responds to customer feedback personally.
Smaller businesses are creating communities on Twitter, using it as a way to build customer loyalty. Two holiday cottage businesses I follow thank their visitors on Twitter for leaving the cottages in wonderful condition and say how much they have enjoyed having them to stay. It's easy but very clever to leave a positive comment about your guests.
Hotel chains can use social and online media in a similar way to appear less corporate and more personal. A manager can tweet "thank you" to departing guests and ask them to leave a comment on TripAdvisor. Positive we hope!
INCORPORATING FEEDBACK INTO THE DAILY ROUTINE CROWN SPA HOTEL, SCARBOROUGH TripAdvisor has shaken up customer service - we have seen a massive increase in guests who go online to check and leave comments about their stay. We have responded to this trend by incorporating online feedback - good and bad - into tailored training to ensure that our staff deliver outstanding customer service.
Our manager monitors TripAdvisor every day and responds to each comment. We read comments out at team meetings and post them on noticeboards. Sometimes a guest will mention a member of staff by name who has gone the extra mile and we will use that in our training. A recent example was a customer in our bar who was disappointed to be missing a football match. One of our bar staff went off to find out the score for him and he mentioned her by name on TripAdvisor!
We can see the difference the training makes straight away just by looking at customer feedback. We have a "five foot rule" - staff must smile and acknowledge anyone who comes within five feet of them - which we include in the training. Our guests frequently comment on the fact that our staff smile and remember them. Some 40% of our guests are repeat visitors so our investment in customer service training is critical.
Vicky Riley, HR manager, the Crown Spa hotel, Scarborough
HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF ONLINE REVIEWS
â- Check TripAdvisor, use Google alerts and monitor Twitter daily
â- Ensure the person monitoring online reviews and social media has the authority, processes and contacts to know how to respond to customer comments, including negative feedback
â- Engage with anyone posting a complaint. Ask for details, apologise and see how you can put it right. Keep these conversations online or you risk irritating the person - others who have spotted the conversation will be keen to see how you respond
â- Eâ'mail your customers and ask them to write a short review on TripAdvisor. Actively seek their feedback. In your eâ'mails, add a link to the right web page so that you make it as easy as possible for them to just click, write and submit in seconds
â- Include some low-resolution photos with your logo and suggest they may like to include a photo with their review
â- Incorporate online reviews into all your customer service training, including induction. Use examples of comments, good and bad, to illustrate how important each individual member of staff is to delivering outstanding customer service and experience
â- Use positive TripAdvisor comments to motivate staff - pin up reviews on noticeboards or post on intranets
DENISE HOWARD, WELCOMETRAINING.COM
Tourism entrepreneur Denise Howard and business partner David Andrews, who was CEO of the former Yorkshire Tourist Board, run Welcometraining.com, helping tourism businesses with Welcome Host and other courses across Yorkshire and the North East.
They have recently introduced tips and advice on responding to customer review sites and social media in their training courses.
Howard's passion for delivering outstanding customer service has won her national accolades, including Tourism Trainer of the Year and a National Training Award, and in 2001 she was awarded an OBE for her services to the tourism industry.