Best Western Pioneers Social Feedback Management, Improves the Guest Experience

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Have you ever checked reviews on TripAdvisor before booking a hotel? Of course you have. You and 50 million people every month, according to comScore Media Metrix.

Before a recent multi-city speaking tour, I invested quite a bit of time trying to find hotels that fit my budget and location preferences, while providing a great experience. Same with our family’s last vacation. In both cases, TripAdvisor reviews were a key input to my booking decisions, even though I’m fully aware that you can’t trust all the reviews you see online.

I’m not alone. In 2009, a BDRC survey of 1,000 business travelers found that nearly half (46%) were influenced in their hotel selection by consumer reviews. In 2010, the World Travel Market’s Industry Report found that 35 percent of travelers changed their choice of hotel after browsing a social media website.

Still not convinced consumers reviews are a force to be reckoned with? Then consider a recent academic study by Milan Patel at the University of Nevada, exploring how user-generated review website impact hotel revenue. The study found that “TripAdvisor Popularity Index was, in eight cases out of nine, positively correlated with a hotel’s RevPar [Revenue Per Available Room].”

Best Western Joins the Social Conversation

Social CRM proponents like to talk about consumers controlling the conversation. I agree to a point—it’s certainly true that consumers have many sources of information on the Social Web. But, there’s no law that says companies can’t join that conversation!

That’s what Best Western International (BWI) has been trying the do the past few years. The hotel brand currently has over 4,000 hotels worldwide, each independently owned and managed. It’s not a franchise, however, as explained to me by Michael Morton, Best Western’s VP of Member Services. BWI corporate chiefs can’t just dictate what the hoteliers do; decisions are made more “democratically,” by members serving on various committees.

One of the problems that BWI has struggled with is what to do about negative reviews. It’s not enough to have someone in marketing monitor brand buzz. The real issue is closing the loop with a consumer who has posted a negative review, before it can do long-term damage.

The real issue is closing the loop with a consumer who has posted a negative review, before it can do long-term damage.

You see, while each hotel may be part of a large brand “family,” the day-to-day operation is run by a harried manager who doesn’t have time to monitor social media feedback. But waiting for a complaint to be routed from Best Western’s HQ staff was too slow and not “guest friendly,” says Morton. To be more responsive to guest issues, BWI members developed a collaborative solution, whereby they empowered BWI HQ to resolve issues immediately if possible. If not, then HQ staff would connect with the hotel manager to work things out.

“I Care”

That was one concrete example of a cultural transformation that’s been some five years in the making.

In 2007, Best Western launched a customer care training program called “I Care” for its North American hotels. Later, the program was expanded to help international members. Then an integrated feedback management solution from Medallia was implemented to deliver surveys, analyze responses and distribute feedback to hotel managers. Morton says they now have nearly 100 percent usage in their North America hotels.

But this only addressed solicited, survey-based feedback. Unsolicited social media feedback—on review sites like TripAdvisor but also Facebook, Twitter, and many more—started as a trickle a few years ago, but quickly turned into a torrent. Best Western explored solutions to monitor social media, from vendors like Clarabridge, eBuzz and others, but found solutions too expensive and, more important, not integrated with the feedback management system they had worked so hard to implement.

Unsolicited social media feedback started as a trickle a few years ago, but quickly turned into a torrent.

So Best Western approached Medallia and together they spent the better part of a year developing a new Social Feedback for Hospitality solution that’s fully integrated. Now a hotelier can log in to Medallia and see feedback from both surveys and social media on one dashboard.

The real key, of course, is acting on that feedback. Let’s say a guest has a bad experience at a Best Western hotel, then posts a review on TripAdvisor. The Medallia system harvests the data, associates it with a specific hotel, then sends an email alert to the hotel manager. The manager can then use Medallia to read the review and respond directly to TripAdvisor via an integration.

Has the Guest Experience Improved?

All this sounds good, but the “proof is in the pudding” as the saying goes.

While it’s too soon to say how managing social feedback will improve guest satisfaction and loyalty, the initial feedback has been positive from the 100 hotels tested in 2011. Morton says that hotel managers made it clear they wanted a “one-stop solution” and gave other suggestions that resulted in the email alert, dashboard improvements, etc. In the future, BWI wants to give hotel managers data on how their establishment stacks up with competitors in their local market.

The bigger picture is that BWI is making good strides to improve the guest experience. In 2008, the hotel brand’s ACSI score (a measure of overall loyalty) was an unimpressive 70 vs. the industry average of 75. By 2011, Best Western’s ACSI score improved to 76, although the industry average edged up to 77.

Other surveys also show solid progress towards BWI’s stated goal to “lead the hotel industry in customer care.” In 2010, BWI was ranked the top midscale hotel brand in Brand Keys’ Customer Loyalty Engagement Index. In July 2011, BWI earned a “Better than Most” rating from J.D. Power’s North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study, meaning it scored better than 60% of the companies surveyed in that segment.

Lessons Learned

I like this story because it shows how leadership, collaboration and technology can come together to improve the customer experience and a company’s competitive position.

  1. Best Western’s leadership, specifically the CEO David Kong, decided to focus on customer care, and then backed up the rhetoric with a major investment in the iCare training programs.
  2. The BWI headquarters staff and hotel managers worked collaboratively to respond more quickly to guest issues. Just goes to show you don’t need a dictator to make changes.
  3. Likewise, BWI and Medallia collaborated to “co-innovate” a new solution. Kudos to Medallia for listening and using this opportunity to create a new solution it can also sell more broadly.
  4. Finally, this story shows that integrating multiple feedback channels is essential to improve insight and simplify the lives of front-line managers. Another step on the road to a Voice of Customer Command Center.

Disclosure: This article was prepared through independent research. Selected vendors are mentioned to illustrate specific capabilities and industry developments; no endorsement is implied. Please visit our sponsor page for information on companies that have supported the CustomerThink community in the past year.

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