As has often been stated, “information is power,” and the information that is available to us today in the hospitality industry is no exception. The information that we have access to relative to how our customers view us is readily available, highly visible, and unfortunately, woefully under-appreciated.
Here’s what we mean: customer comments & feedback come to us today through a variety of mechanisms. Online channels such as TripAdvisor and Google readily come to mind, but there are scores of others. In certain cases, it is possible to batch all online feedback via certain products, which makes it even easier for us to see what the customer has to say about their experiences with us. Long before these online channels made it so easy for customers to share their experiences, hospitality professionals took very seriously their responsibility to respond to such feedback, with a designated function being to reply to each letter that a property received from a guest. Today, however, the incredible ease with which communications can flow to and from has inadvertently created a bit of a ‘monster;’ we now receive far more guest comments than ever before, and we can sometimes be severely challenged when it comes to responding to such comments.
Accepting the fact that we now receive far more customer comments than ever before due to almost-daily improvements in technology, we must have a proper plan in place to deal with these comments. You may be surprised to learn (as we were!) that some of the major hotel brands have utilized a “good news is no news” policy, whereby favorable comments by guests are not responded to. In other words, if the customer has something positive to say about their experience with us, they should not expect to receive a response from certain brands. Only in the case of negative commentary would properties from these certain brands give the courtesy of a response.
Customer feedback is an incredibly valuable tool, though not only as a mechanism for understanding what the guest thinks we are doing well and what the guests thinks we need to improve. A guest who shares their experiences with us is an engaged guest, exactly the type of customer that we want to pull even closer into our circle of customers. If that guest has taken the time to contact us, regardless of the nature of that contact, it is absolutely our obligation as hospitality professionals to respond to that guest. The notion of “the guest was not complaining so therefore they don’t need a response” is simply unacceptable.
With that said, we must go even further in defining a “proper” guest response. We have all seen those hotels that use the same verbiage to reply to multiple customer comments. As the volume of guest comments reaching us has increased with technology, so too has the tendency of hoteliers to use what is essentially a form letter as their means of response. While a form letter to a customer is never proper in the world of hospitality, it is “even more never” appropriate when replying to a customer who has taken the time to voice their opinion of our business. Yes, it takes longer, yes it can be a chore, but there is simply no substitute for a personal response to customer feedback.
If the General Managers of our hotels don’t have the time to respond to every guest comment, this is understandable. However, a personal note from a suitable property representative, reflecting the fact that the author has clearly read and understood the guest’s comments, is the only appropriate response and can easily be delegated to an experienced department head. Falling into the trap of being lazy when dealing with our customers’ views is a sure step down the path of losing customers to our competition.