The Changing Face of Customer Feedback

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In-house surveys, digital or otherwise, are the tip of the iceberg. Up next: simplified tracking of social media commentary on your resort.
Ipads aren't just for playing Angry Birds anymore! Market research has come a long way from mystery shoppers and comment cards. There's a new trend quietly sweeping the ski industry right now-post visit, online guest experience surveys.

For those progressive resorts who are continuously striving to refine their product and services, a guest experience survey supports their evolving business plans, helps anticipate changing guest needs and identifies emerging opportunities to secure repeat business and incremental revenue.

On any weekend at Windham Mountain, N.Y., you may notice a Windham employee with an iPad talking to guests. The employees will introduce themselves, engage in some small talk such as how the guests are enjoying their day, then ask if they would be interested in completing a short survey at their leisure, by providing their e-mail address. This is the start of a series of events that help teach each of Windham's departments how to give guests a better experience that will not only keep them coming back, but become an advocate for the resort.

Beth Barry, media and community relations manager at Windham, feels the switch from long form paper surveys of the past to the new electronic versions has not only made it easier to collect the information, but more appealing for guests to participate. And that gives managers good information to review.

And review they do. According to Barry, "Each day department managers will review the survey results using an online management reporting system. Sometimes we work toward a goal to increase our staff friendliness scores, other times to watch for trends, such as customers requesting healthier food. We all have one goal-we want to know what our guests think, and using new technology has made that pretty easy to do."

As GM/executive VP of Camelback Mountain Resort, Pa., Charles Blier looks at the digital survey feedback he gets as a way to monitor how his company is doing as a whole and find specific places to make improvements. "This business is not getting any easier. Tracking our performance in all departments is critical for our guest driven culture."

Camelback uses iPads and post-visit surveys to get a clearer picture of the needs of each guest and to suss out any issues before they become a problem. Blier says this kind of feedback is helpful in setting up training and incentive programs and even deciding on capital-improvement budgets. "We need to know how to use the data and the comments to understand the main issue. The comments tell the story, not the numbers. Once we understand how to use both, we work smarter. Even though sometimes reading the comments can hurt."

Helping Hands
One company that specializes in building and maintaining tools that deliver the surveys and online reporting is Guest Research, Inc. For the last three years it has been working with resorts to provide a custom marketing research platform that not only tracks data, but reports on it and can even provide benchmark data to see how one resort's scores compare to another. Guest Research is the company behind the iPad teams described above.

Scott Hannah, president of Guest Research, says his company's process goes even further. "Once we receive an e-mail address, a survey is sent by e-mail. All the respondent needs to do is click on the survey to complete it on the web.

"The results are collected and compiled using the net promoter score methodology. Resorts can then see real-time feedback using an online management reporting system. Plus, they can use the e-mails for future marketing campaigns, send promotional offers to their top favorable respondents, respond to any unfavorable comments, pull the data into a CRM system, and even encourage their most favorable reviewers to share their stories on TripAdvisor and Facebook."

Guest Research is not the only company to provide these types of services in the ski industry-RRC Associates and Leisure Trends also provide market intelligence and consumer research.

Reputation Monitoring
The next step is going public. That is, reaping the guest feedback that exists in social media. And, the hospitality industry is already doing this.

Once you have tapped your guests for their opinions, the next logical step is to find ways to make sense of the avalanche of data, both brand data (including e-mail surveys and brand comment cards) and web data (social media sites and resort review sites). And in that, we could take some clues from what the hospitality industry is already doing.

With the emergence of social media, guests are bypassing traditional sources of information and advice and turning to other travelers on review sites and in social networks. Top industry hotels are already doing in-house surveys, just as many winter resorts do, but they have also added reputation monitoring tools to get daily snapshots of who is talking about them on the web, what they are being rated, and how they are doing compared to the competition.

How is that possible? Reputation monitoring tools, such as Revinate, aggregate, organize, and score review data from across the web. They summarize all of the social media mentions relevant to a particular hotel-including such measures as the total number of reviews, overall review rating, percentage of positive reviews, and TripAdvisor market rating-as well as the same information on competitors. And it's all broken down into time increments, such as the past week or month.

New social tools like Revinate keep track of-and, just as important, allows hotel owners and managers to quickly act on-the mountains of public information generated every single day on social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Yahoo and TripAdvisor that could potentially impact their reputation. "Their business lives and dies by guest satisfaction and quality service," says Marc Heyneker, who co-founded Revinate. "We realized that traditional guest-satisfaction measurements of comment cards and e-mail surveys after a stay were now being replaced to a certain degree with public domain, public forum tweeting, Facebook and user-generated content on review sites."

Ipads, e-mails, social media mentions, and travel site reviews are not the only things to watch. With the boom of smart phones, mobile websites, apps, location based check-ins and QR codes, we are now presented with a whole new world of rich feedback to better understand our guests to capture their attention and their dollars. Blier may have said it best when it comes to getting guest feedback and using it to help the bottom line: "It's actually quite simple, just not easy."

Samantha Rufo is president of nxtConcepts, an interactive marketing and media company. For more information on the points in this article, contact her at 1-888-215-0820, sam@nxtconcepts.com.
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