Are hotel surveys really helping to serve guests?

July 5, 2016 Maarten Plesman

Recently, I stayed at a hotel and following my stay they requested that I complete a guest satisfaction survey. I’m always happy to help businesses learn and improve. The problem? This survey was 56 screens. I kid you not.

That length was a bit much, and I began to think about hotels and their surveys. What are hotels truly learning from all those answers? Are they getting to know their guests? Or just their own hotel?

After discussing this with hoteliers and other industry professionals, I have come to realize the reasons that some hoteliers have for sending surveys may not be the right reasons. Let me explain.

The hotel’s perspective

In many cases, almost immediately after checking out of a hotel, guests are delivered an electronic survey designed to ask about their experiences. It’s becoming common practice and in some ways it is understandable: with today’s systems it is easy to do, and the guest does most of the work.

The feedback from these types of surveys are used for operational improvements and for Key Performance Metrics for Hotel Managers. But do these metrics give a clear picture of what should actually be improved in the hotel to serve future guests?

Many hoteliers think they don’t. They tell me they look at the metrics coming out of detailed Guest Satisfaction Surveys (GSS) reports and notice that many metrics, and perhaps even most, are not changing significantly month-over-month. They scan for the operational aspects in yellow or red boxes (or, those that indicate the current performance does not meet guest expectations), and ask their teams to change something.

But there is a problem: not all changes can be implemented overnight. Improvements like the quality of beds or the wifi installation require budget and planning.

The good news is, there is that one thing that can be changed overnight and which is also highly impactful to the guest experience: staff behavior. Simple things like welcoming everyone who walks in or thanking someone for being cheerful in the morning may sound strange to some, but could also lead to a very different guest experience. And because we are able to test the guest reaction so quickly, learning and adjusting as a team every day should be within a hotel’s reach.

One more thing: for hotel brands that can afford a centralized quality department, things might be more complicated. While corporate teams with elaborate GSS data have the ability to run advanced correlations and highlight problematic metrics to the General Managers of the brand’s properties, the guest-facing staff doesn’t necessarily understand the numbers. This leads to the difficult choice at the property level between doing what “the boss at headquarters says” and “doing what’s right for the guest” as discussed locally with the team.

The guest’s perspective

Whenever I take a trip, my booking process usually starts with researching options for hotels online and comparing online reviews. I’m aware of any issues in advance and assume the hotel would be reading about them and fixing them. So even if some old complaints exist, if those complaints stopped fairly recently, it might be a good indicator that it’s an acceptable option to book.

Investigating one step further, I hit the hotel website. What you find is that most hotels declare their Brand Promise. It’s usually about personalized service or unique guest experiences. This leaves me with a feeling of comfort and trust that I’ll be treated fairly. Then, I make the booking on whatever site gives me the best combination of price and terms.

Following checkout or just after my stay at the hotel, the post-stay survey is delivered to my inbox, and good heavens! With all those questions it feels like an operational quality audit questionnaire!

What about those promises of personalization and uniqueness? Did you ask me if my guest experience was aligned with what you promised? If my guest experience is aligned with all your marketing and operational intentions? Presenting me with this kind of survey doesn’t really align with understanding how my experience matched what you promised. In fact, you have just asked me a lot of questions which don’t align at all with your prior communications or what your website says – this questionnaire is just a technical review of your operational processes. And it creates a feeling of “you see, hotels all behave the same after all.”

Marrying perspectives and getting real insight into the guest experience

To start with, hotels should consider measuring their processes and operational details with their own observations. Hoteliers are the professionals and they live and breathe the hotel operational experience every day. If they need help with more data, they can use outside audit firms and/or mystery shopping services. But using the guest to outsource detailed quality checks may not fit into the guest’s promised experience. If anything, it makes guests less likely to complete your surveys, and it may leave them with a less-than-stellar impression of your hotel. With lower survey completion rates, you get less data. Additionally, when you ask guests to fill out long and tedious surveys, you may be damaging your relationship with them, making them less likely to book with you in the future.

Instead, guest questionnaires could be used to check in on the brand promise they made to prospective visitors. For example, suppose a hotel wishes to differentiate by offering a “connected environment where you feel welcome”. In this example, the hotel could ask if guests felt connected with the staff. Or they could ask whether guests felt the staff provided a welcoming experience.

And you know what? According to the hoteliers we talk to, staff behavior is the top influencer of the guest experience. It also happens to be the one thing you can change overnight, every night, if you really wanted to. An inspired GM can mobilize his or her team based on the brand promise and guest feedback on experience, instead of half-hearted answers to lengthy operational quality questionnaires. And he/she can make it really fun to keep trying and learning new things as a team.

This also holds a powerful promise of more brand promoters: by bringing the brand promise alive in your service delivery, your surveys and your marketing messages, the brand promise truly comes alive in the hotel – and you might just see more loyal supporters and repeat guests.

I’ve been working on ways to actually do this with some of our hotel partners, and I’m eager to hear from more hoteliers on their experiences on the topic of surveys. As a hotel, what are you measuring and then doing with that information? Any good examples out there?

Want to learn more about how you can make the most out of your guest feedback? CLICK HERE to register for our webinar with Tnooz. We’ll discuss how to leverage your guest feedback to improve on TripAdvisor, according to findings from a recent Cornell study.

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