What Soggy Breadsticks Taught Us About Service and Social Listening

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Tech enthusiast. Marketing nut. Content creator. Former CyberSec professional

Breadsticks, of all things, were the reason for a huge backlash at the famous Olive Garden chain of restaurants both from customers and employees.
When the parent company of the restaurant had its board changed, a few policy changes were done including the limitation of free breadsticks to just one plus one refill for every customer.
And the reason? Breadsticks turned soggy quickly, losing their taste and were thus wasted.
Apart from unhappy customer faces, waiters were found scratching their heads taking count of every member in the table repeatedly and giving them their portion of breadsticks. 
An intense text mining of 2500 recent glassdoor reviews showed that the problem behind dropping employee ratings was the frustration of serving the right number of breadsticks as seen in the below image.
Looking at similar sentiments voiced by customers, the restaurant owners were pushed to go back to their initial rules of unlimited breadsticks!

They speak. You better hear!

Customer sentiment lies at the heart of the hospitality industry which is exploding and is expected to reach 211.54 billion by 2026. As lucrative as that may sound, the industry has its own set of challenges with rapidly shifting consumer demands and behaviors.
The hospitality sector is forced to stay in pace with the technological advancements that are imbibed in the everyday life of a customer.
For example, voice-activated searches on Alexa imply having smarter hotel rooms that respond to a guest’s voice commands. When there’s a mobile app to shop and eat, booking agents and hotels are forced to "appify" bookings and services.
Posting experiences online has become second nature to Gen Yers and the ripples they cause can’t be overseen.
76% of Millennials travel based on recommendations from friends with 87% of them being inspired by Facebook posts. 82% of these travelers consider online hotel reviews as vital, reading at least nine reviews before booking.
Studies also reveal that travelers and foodies tend to write about their negative experiences rather than ones that left them satisfied. The frown doesn’t stop with them but is spread to an average of 9 to 15 persons, bringing down the hotel brand reputation.
As scary as the stats may sound, it’s quite reassuring to know that timely responses and engagement initiatives would go a long way in building customer loyalty when brands are ready to listen to their audience. 

Cultivate the art of social listening - Be an online bat

A bat is known to locate its food and avoid obstacles by hearing the sound signals bounced off objects. Taking a cue from the nocturnal mammal, hotel brands can tune in to the online chatter voiced on various channels like - 
  1. Social Media: Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube
  2. Online review and booking websites: TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Google listings, Yelp, Foursquare, Expedia, Trust Pilot
  3. Brand mentions on blogs and online news articles
Hotel review monitoring done over these platforms go in vain when their true intent and context are not perceived clearly. Apart from finding if your brand has a positive or negative influence on people, business owners can utilize the insights gleaned for various other aspects as specified below.

1. Gain clarity on market segments

When your hotel caters to a global audience traveling for a number of reasons in different seasons, giving a customized travel experience becomes vital. For example, identifying the rising trend of “bleisure” travel among Gen Y, The Marriott has opened two chains of hotel - the MOXY for leisure loving Millenials and the AC hotel for business travelers. 
While standard market research and surveys are carried out for market segmentation, customers leave a wealth of information through online content, stating their likes and dislikes outright.
It’s all about asking the right questions and the answers are there hidden in plain sight.
Few questions you could pose include  - 
  1. People from which nationality like your services better?
  2. Are people from one particular region complaining by any particular service of yours? If so, are you making a mistake with any of their societal practices?
  3. Are you striking the right chord with your target age group?
  4. During which time period is a spike in bookings seen from a geographic location?
  5. What are the reasons for travel undertaken by people of different backgrounds?
  6. What criteria does a guest look for in their stay? - Do they belong to the budget-friendly, luxury, or comfort-seeking category?
Take a look at the information that can be gathered from the below review of a luxury hotel in Sweden.
Insights derived about the customer -  Name, geographic location, age group, time of stay, reason for preferring the hotel. 
Segmenting and thereby promoting your hotel offerings to people of similar age groups and demographics would now become more focused.

2. Devise well-targeted marketing strategies

With enough guest insights gathered from online hotel reviews, CRM, and other analytics tools, it becomes easier to relate to your customers and know their expectations and problems in a deeper way.
Customer personas could then be developed to segment and further plan marketing campaigns that reach out to your audience at the right time in their preferred channel with the right messaging. 
Emails, which surprisingly have the highest conversion rates to date, when thoughtfully crafted and sent to segmented audience is found to yield a 760% increase in total email revenue.
Landing in your customers’ mailboxes with the most relevant content would boost bookings and thus revenue per guest.
Loyalty programs and attractive rewards that would make your customers feel valued and lead them to pick you over the rest can be built for different customer groups.
Planning your hotel ambience, choosing music that appeals to the biggest chunk of your audience, and making your premises more Instagrammable are small steps that add to a satisfactory guest experience.
Rich and relevant content frequently updated on social media handles, blogs, and hotel websites ensure that guests’ have your brand name on their mind during their next booking.

3. Play to your competitor’s weaknesses

Observing reviews and online content of hotels operating in your vicinity reveals a ton of information on prices and amenities offered (or not offered) by them. Pricing strategies can be tweaked accordingly and strategic decisions that would attract customers who had a negative experience with rival businesses to yours can be framed. 
Say my flight arrives at 2 pm but the cut off time to check-in at the hotel I booked is 12 pm and I’m forced to pay a day’s extra charges. I ain’t a happy guest and I would take to TripAdvisor to warn fellow travelers of the rigid timings.
A shrewd hotelier like you would notice my review and extend or make check-in timings flexible and further highlight the feature in your advertising campaigns. Unhappy folks like me would then throng to your hotel and a spike in revenue is not to be missed.
Variations in food and beverages menu, uninterrupted WiFi, cleanliness of rooms, staff attitude, leisure activities, and transportation facilities are areas of concern voiced by guests online. Identifying where your opponents lack and making necessary changes in your premises goes a long way in staying ahead of the competition. 
Keeping a close watch on your competitors also helps you differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack and stand out amidst the number of options a customer has.

4. Keep your brand reputation intact

The value of a brand name is an enigma by itself. The intangible asset of a brand name invokes trust and confidence for the brand among people. 
It takes years of patient customer service, constant innovation, and a deep commitment to brand promise in order to create a strong brand voice.
But the bricks you add to building your hotel brand reputation could come tumbling down with a handful of bad experiences shared vividly over social media and online review platforms. 
When ignored, negative reviews have the power to wade off 70% of potential customers if more than 3 negative articles about your business are found on the first google search page!
Yet, all’s not lost as timely responses by hotel owners could save and also increase their impression when done in a polite and genuine manner.
Timing is the key here. Listening to the online lament, a bad ending could even be turned to a memorable one when immediate action is taken.
Who wouldn’t like a box of chocolates and a handwritten note promising rooms with better views when you tweeted that the view from your rooms was ugly?
Nice gesture, Delta hotels!

5. Build brand loyalty with an engaged audience

2008 saw a novel open innovation campaign titled “My Starbucks Idea” that did more than just crowdsourcing suggestions. Coffee lovers over the world could share their ideas on improving the overall business, with fellow users upvoting and commenting on others’ ideas.
Starbucks representatives who were also part of the community would manage and monitor the suggestions, showing that the brand genuinely took interest in what their customers had to say.
Through this campaign, customers felt more important, involved, and soon became part of the Starbucks family. And who wouldn’t endorse their own family?
A study reveals that most travelers are willing to pay more - anywhere between $10 to $50, to stay in the brand they prefer and are loyal to. People are even willing to forgive occasional mistakes made by establishments that have earned their respect in the past.
Listening to customers online, gauging their sentiments, and responding with thoughtful comments and witty posts on social media help grow a vibrant fan base and thereby increase brand loyalty.

6. Review and renew business strategies periodically

Trends and fads among people keep changing from time to time and so do their taste and preferences. Sticking to a safe business strategy that only partially fulfills consumer demands isn’t going to be profitable in the hospitality sector. 
Constantly reinventing the way your brand operates and interacts with people is a mandate. Hence, a retrospection of your hotel online reputation (in terms of reviews, social media, and news mentions) is necessary to know what influenced people to choose or turn away from your hotel.
The review activity can be done quarterly, biannually or annually, and you can find answers to  -
  1. When you have a spike in your bookings and what’s the reason behind those ups? Can you capitalize further during the peak seasons?
  2. Customers from which demographic choose your brand more and what positives do they cite?
  3. Is there a recurring complaint you’ve missed to address?
  4. How do guests respond to any changes you’ve made to your operations or prices?
  5. Are there new activities or local attractions that can be included in your packages?
Reports can be generated to analyze booking patterns and useful insights can be drawn to make strategic business decisions.

Discover true customer sentiment and accelerate your brand growth

The hospitality industry revolves around customer satisfaction and to gratify people’s needs it’s imperative to heed to their voice. Hotel online reputation management goes way beyond calculating ratings and identifying negative words in a review.
The context and intent of a customer’s statement are to be examined which would reveal what their true experience was. 
Opinion mining or sentiment analysis is a growing field of determining the actual attitude and feelings expressed in textual content. It helps hotel brands feel the pulse of the customer and align business goals accordingly, ensuring a rise in revenue. 
If you’re still wondering if a hotel online reputation management solution is needed for your establishment, I would highly recommend you to go for it.
Disclosure: I work for X-tract.io. We can help you listen to your customers with its NLP-based online reputation management solution that provides valuable insights for you to act on.



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