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Are your hotel rankings in the breakdown lane?
By Brett Patten
As you all know, I have been quite critical of OTA companies and their questionable business practices. With that said, the present reality is that this aspect of our industry is not going away anytime soon, or the amount of influence they seem to have in multiple areas of the hospitality and travel industries. We have to find ways to gain better performance out of the relationships we have with OTA's and their social media rankings.
So, I want to offer some strategies and tactics that would help get your business back on the road to success. I have gone under the hood of the hospitality industry and have looked for the opportunities to tune-up your business strategies, when it comes to your online reviews and ratings, so we can create a more three-dimensional business approach towards building sustainability, accountability and responsibility in this area of your business.
My goal with these strategies is to figuratively move your business out of driving automatic transmission, where the OTA's decide what gear you're business is utilizing and into manual shift, so you have more control over top line revenue aspects with a specific focus around your ADR opportunities, as well as improving your overall online ratings position.
These 10 insights I'm suggesting are not only for helping to elevate your online reputation matrix and revenues, but also to convert these online OTA bookings into becoming loyal customers of your business. I've added additional article links to provide you with more roadside assistance to give you that added insurance for helping you on your journey.
Here are 10 strategies for jump-starting your ratings.
1. Answer the bell every time
When a guest leaves a review, acknowledge it whether it is positive or negative. Be very personable in your responses. It shows that you're taking action, and not just pacifying them. Customers can tell when you're going through the motions or checking something off your managerial to-do list, rather than being empathetic to their concerns. Don't take the positive ones for granted, and don't take the negative ones too personally. They are actually the best ones because the majority of those people want you to be great. It may sound crazy at first. Your guest just had very high expectations of your business that went unfulfilled in some way. Here is the roadside assistance article: Are your hotels online reviews keeping you up at night?
2. Don't over embellish
Be who you are. Just be the best that you can be. Don't feel the pressure to compete with the competition for winning occupancy game. That's a fool's errand in a customer-based economy. Your competition is not the one staying in your hotel, and they are definitely not the ones supporting your business or promoting your brand online. Here is the roadside assistance article: Hotels must stop putting themselves behind the proverbial eight ball.
3. Create employee engagement
Create employee engagement and buy-in by showcasing the employees and managers who are responsible for the positive reviews your hotel receives in your online responses, as well as create recognition and compensation opportunities for your team that supports your cultural development approach. Utilize the reviews to showcase service excellence success stories internally to your team on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. This is a great way to generate a high level of commitment and consistence for delivering the total customer experience initiatives you want your guest to receive. Validating and acknowledging your organization's efforts for taking care of customers is without a doubt one of the fastest ways to elevate all of your customer-related scores. Just stop and think about how your customers or potential customers will feel when they read these reviews about your staff level of commitment for providing an exceptional hospitality experience.
4. Don't compete solely on price
Compete on the total customer experience of your business as a way to differentiate yourself online and in reality. It's all about building a competitive advantage that differentiates your business from the rest and becomes memorable in your customers mind, as well as their heart. Offer a unique hotel experience that not only exceeds your customers' expectations but anticipates them right from the get-go. This will contribute to maintaining your hotel's level of relevance with your customers. Transform your hotel into an all-inclusive hospitality experience that goes well beyond any possibilities of cost comparison conversations with your customers. Offer them an experience to buy into. Don't try to sell them a room for the night. Here is an additional roadside assistance article: Growing your ADR and revenues the old-fashioned way
5. Don't try to be all things to all people
Pick your target market and customer segments and strategically design your entire operation to focus on the total customer experience, and align it to your SDS, i.e., a system for delivering service, or as I like to call it the system for delivering memorable. This has the ability to connect with your customers and help you position the emotions you want to invoke in your hotel experience. This will also allow your brand dynamics around the messaging, promise and values to be more effective and impactful with your online presence. Here is the roadside assistance article: Are you buying or selling?
6. Spend a nickel to make a dime
Invest in areas of your business that can help you convert OTA bookings into loyal customers of your brand. I'm not talking about a multimillion dollar physical renovation that sometimes only has a short shelf life impact on the business, but rather invest in developing your business strategy approach around your customers, employee engagement and customer loyalty dynamics. Invest in areas that create an emotional connection with your guest, that has the ability to build a strong bond with them. At the end of the day your competition can always meet and exceed the physical aspects and attributions of your business, but it's very difficult for them to duplicate a customer focused business strategic in the other areas of your business. I've just recently written an article that can help to expand on this one a little more as well: Are your customers sleeping around on you?
7. You can be right or you can be smart
Look at everything in your hotel and ask yourself does this add to the guest experience or does it detract from it? Is this focused on the customer, the customer experience, or is it just focused on the business side? Do you have standards of operations, procedures and policies that make you come across cold and distant? That make it difficult for your customers to warm up to your business? Are you creating a hospitality experience that allows your organization the capabilities and opportunities to give your customers a big hospitality hug? It's more about making the customer feel good about themselves before, you safeguard your business, or try to make them feel good about your business. That's how you build relevance, brand equity and customer loyalty that has the ability to result in sustainable financial performance. I have also written an article that expands in this area as well: What is your hotel business playing for in 2014, Customer Usage or Customer Loyalty?
8. Be proactive, not reactive
Create an entire organizational commitment towards being a customer centric business. Don't let problems or negative situations define you as a hospitality enterprise. Move out of the problem and into the opportunity for turning these situations into a customer excellence success story. Create your customer narrative. Don't allow it to be created for you online. Here is an additional article to help you in this area: The hotel industry grades are in and they received another D- from their customers.
9. Make it public
Don't muddy the waters up with your customers with in-house surveys and questionnaires etc. You don't want to exhaust your customer's motivation or enthusiasm for creating online content about your business, because on average 80% of the reviews are positive. The negative ones are like having a mystery shopper in house for free. You can always find the win-win, if you look for the opportunity instead of the problems. It's all about elevating your level of relevance, and in this day and age, that's achieved by generating content for increasing your online index or ranking.
10. A top-down leadership approach
Assemble a diverse group of leaders in your business that is responsible for the reviews being properly answered in a timely manner. Involve as many different departments in the hotel as possible. Also, try to involve as many business disciplines within the entire business network, i.e., HR, Marketing, IT, Sales, Operations, etc. This brings a lot of credibility and legitimacy to the importance of these practices. Don't pawn them off as the ugly redheaded stepchild of the family. By doing so could cost you your business. With over 90% of travelers utilising online reviews to assist them in making the travel decisions, it would behoove you to make this one of your top priorities in your business. Here is the roadside assistance article: Are you running your hotel on the right business strategy?
As you can see! You can really end up positioning your business to benefit from these online reviews. If you design your business through a customer experience design perspective, you open up a whole new level of creativity, innovation and empowerment for transforming your business out of the breakdown lane and passing your competition in the fast lane with your customers properly fastened in the backseat. :)
About the author
Brett Patten is approaching 35 years in the hospitality industry where he has spent those years accumulating invaluable experience in a variety of leadership positions, and business enterprises, to recently completing his education as an executive leadership and engagement coach in the area of customer experience design.
Brett's unique management and business approach consistently transformed hospitality enterprises with sustainable growth results from his days with the prestigious four and five-star hotels like Stouffer's hotels, Pan Pacific Hotels, and Le Meridien hotels, as well as working with prestigious five-star club resort enterprises like Longboat Key and Greenbrier to the launching of a nationally award-winning four-star hospitality brand in 2007. From there, he built a hospitality business strategy platform that he developed and trademarked out of his commitment for achieving customer experience excellence. Brett then turned this business strategy platform into a company called "Five-Star Customer Experience Design." Today, after spending the last 15 years researching, studying and developing customer experience design strategies for the hospitality and tourism industries, he engages with some of the top hotel brands and hospitality groups both nationally and internationally in the industry.
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