Best Western Managers’ Social Savvy Drives Satisfaction
By Cindy Waxer
Some of the best marketing shares a blurry line with customer service. Best Western shifted its approach to both by adding a few thousand helping hands to its “social marketing team.”
As travel review websites such as TripAdvisor and Expedia transform the hospitality industry, many hotel chains are building vast marketing teams focused exclusively on managing a brand’s online reputation. But Best Western Hotels & Resorts is taking a different tack by converting its hotel managers into social media-savvy brand ambassadors.
In the past Best Western relied on paper-based, post-stay surveys to gauge guest satisfaction and solicit feedback. But as social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter began to crop up, the hotel chain needed a new, more effective and instantaneous way to empower its frontline to capture and systematically respond to social media feedback. The hotel chain turned to Medallia’s Social Feedback for Hospitality solution to support its new approach to guest interactions.
Today, hotel managers from more than 4,200 Best Western properties in over 100 countries and territories respond directly to social media posts using Medallia Social Feedback. Rather than sift through multiple review sites to check for feedback manually, employees simply log in to the system to view both solicited and social feedback in a single view.
Medallia continuously gathers social feedback from sites including TripAdvisor, Facebook, and Twitter, and notifies managers of mentions in real time so they can respond quickly. The solution also collects feedback from more than 1.5 million solicited surveys per year — data that Best Western compares with social media scores to determine if a negative post is an anomaly or a sign of a more serious and systemic problem. In addition, built-in text analytics let Best Western detect emerging trends that may impact customer loyalty without having to read every comment.
The impact of social media on hospitality
Since ramping up its social media monitoring efforts, online guest reviews of Best Western have grown dramatically, says Colby Hutchinson, Best Western’s senior manager of customer care and guest feedback. “We’ve seen our volume of social media mentions increase exponentially in the past five years,” he says. “We’re up almost 500 percent.”
The influence of travel review websites has also grown. According to a BrightLocal consumer review study, 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Positive reviews make 73% of consumers trust a local business more; and nearly half of consumers — 49 percent — need at least a four-star rating before they choose to use a business.
“Social media is a revolution that has completely changed hospitality forever,” Hutchinson says. “Guests want individualized experiences, and they want to understand what the experience is like for others and utilize that knowledge as a basis for their buying decisions.”
In response to this changing consumer climate, Best Western could have delegated social media monitoring and analysis to highly skilled marketing teams while limiting its hotel managers to operational matters.
Instead, the company took advantage of its unique status as a membership organization whose branches are independently owned and operated. Best Western’s hotel owners around the world are provided with social solutions to engage with customers directly, responding to their questions and addressing their service needs in a tailored and personalized fashion.
Strategies for effective social media monitoring
Because “guests no longer believe traditional marketing channels in hospitality,” Hutchinson says Best Western decided to take a new approach to empowering
For starters, Best Western created a collaborative relationship between its executive marketing team and individual hotel operators. “Social media is one of those weird animals that’s half operations and half marketing,” Hutchinson says. “We have a Marketing Activation team that’s responsible for monitoring the social feeds for the hotels and helping to coach our hotel owners and management teams on responses.”
At any given time, a hotel manager can reach out to a Marketing Activation team member to receive advice on how to respond to a certain piece of feedback. It’s a critical offering given that tardy replies and simple responses to customer feedback can easily be interpreted as uncaring or insensitive in social media circles, and unintentionally exacerbate a situation — publicly.
Another strategy for social success: implementing change based specifically on social media feedback. “Your online reputation is critical in today’s market,” Hutchinson says. “Winners are hotels that are able to listen to that guest feedback, embrace it, and celebrate their successes.” However, he adds, they must also “learn from their mistakes, learn from guest pain points, and work to reduce them to improve satisfaction.”
For instance, Best Western’s hotel managers used to take longer addressing customer queries and concerns, Hutchinson says. That changed when Best Western’s social feedback monitoring revealed that today’s customers expect faster response times — within two days or less. As a result, “we stopped taking a long time to respond to guests,” Hutchinson says. “We committed to a fast turnaround time, especially in the instance of a guest who is dissatisfied.”
Social feedback can also drive positive changes. Consider, for example, Best Western’s Build Your Own Breakfast program, which was created after analyzing more than 1.5 million guest surveys, as well as social feedback, and discovering an increasing customer demand for healthier and higher quality complimentary breakfasts. Since launching the program, Best Western has outranked its competitors, receiving the top spot in the category of food and beverage for midscale, according to J.D. Power’s 2017 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study.
Says Hutchinson: “The decision making that went on behind that [breakfast program] was directly because of the feedback that we were getting from guests.”
Speedy responses deliver positive results
By empowering its hotel managers to respond quickly to guest feedback, Best Western has increased its Net Promoter Score by 27 points over the past five years, setting consecutive records in guest satisfaction. Over the same period, the hotel chain has increased its average social media score from 4.0 to 4.2 — a “significant” jump given Best Western’s size, Hutchinson says.
And then there’s the sheer volume of feedback Best Western now monitors. The hotel chain gathers more than 1.3 million pieces of social feedback each year — up from 500,000 in 2012, providing the company with plenty of insight into customer experience and satisfaction. And a year ago, Best Western began asking its 1.5 million survey respondents if they’d consider leaving customer feedback on either Google or TripAdvisor. Today, 83 percent of all reviews solicited by the survey are 4- to 5-star reviews.
Proof that “when you engage with guests,” Hutchinson says, “it only helps to deepen the relationships they have with your brand.”
About the Author
Cindy Waxer is a freelance writer and editor who covers technology, human resources, marketing, and finance for publications including The Economist, MIT Technology Review, Computerworld, CIO, CNNMoney.com, and TIME. She creates custom content for clients including Cisco, Oracle, Dell, Microsoft, Teradata, and Fujitsu.
Cindy also works as an analyst writing data-driven research reports in the areas of clean tech, workforce management, marketing technology, telephony, and healthcare.
Find Cindy on LinkedIn and @cwaxer.