Mining Social Media To Discover Your Guest’s Preferences

Your hotel is a bustling hive of activity–business people scurrying off to their next big meeting, lovey-dovey couples cooing and hand-holding, while their horse-drawn carriage awaits, and happy families venturing out for yet another day of adventure in the big city.

So many faces. So many names. Surely, no one expects a lodging as big as yours to know each one of these guests personally. Or do they?


The fact is that each of your customers is a V.I.P. in their own right. They, after all, have chosen your hotel as the setting from which to conduct their important business meetings, romance their significant others, and build treasured family memories.

And, they also have the power to motivate others to either embrace your brand or run the other way, screaming.

So, while you may not roll out the red carpet for every new arrival, you can–and should–make each and every guest feel valued.

What is GuestDriven?

GuestDriven is a Canadian start-up company that provides hotels with a platform that enables them to communicate with guests in real-time throughout their entire stay. Based in Montreal, GuestDriven has already been adopted by 115 hotels in thirty-five cities.

And, thanks to a three million dollar shot in the arm from investors, it is poised to transform the industry–enabling hotels to provide customized client service at a level never before possible.

What does it do?

Imagine being able to anticipate each client’s needs before they even arrive on your premises. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Well, thanks to GuestDriven, your staff will be equipped to do exactly that.

The platform is designed to allow you to get to know your client through a variety of features.

• Social Media Profiles. Thanks to your guest’s social media profiles, you will be able to glean not only valuable demographic information, but you will also have access to their interests. Are they an aspiring artist? If so, your hotel can provide them with information on local galleries or great places to set up a canvas. If their Instagram and Facebook accounts boast a sizeable number of photos of their beloved pooch, you can let them know that your property is pet-friendly and offers services tailored to their canine friend’s needs.

• Wish List. Guests are invited to create a Wish List of the attractions and special events that they’d like to check out while they are visiting your town. This insight will enable your concierge and other staff members to assist them with their planning.

• Direct chatting. Yes, you can even dialogue directly with your clientele. They can ask you questions and you can provide them with assistance and offer them customized deals. GuestDriven better equips you to respond to requests quickly and resolve customer service issues one-on-one.

What about marketing?

GuestDriven, as you can clearly see, is a great tool for increasing customer satisfaction, but how can it be used to attract new business?

• Word of mouth. Obviously, these happy customers will want to return to your hotel after enjoying your first class service, but they will also share their experience with others. Yes, your clientele will clamor to sing your praises on social media channels–tapping in to the best free marketing a business can get.

• Customized campaigns. Finally, you will have the inside scoop on which marketing campaigns will appeal to which clients. You can personalize offers based on individual demographics and interests.

• Cohesive image. Your unique GuestDriven mobile interface can be custom-designed to match your hotel’s image and other marketing platforms. Whether you require a clean modern feel, something funky and fun, or a hint of old Victorian charm, GuestDriven will ensure that your interface is congruent with your brand.

• CRM (Customer Relationship Management). The very fact that you can now relate to your customer directly and access their social media date will enable you to better streamline your CRM. With customers booking on platforms like Expedia, it is increasingly difficult for hotels to keep track of their clientele.

By using a platform like GuestDriven, your Customer Relationship Management team will be able to communicate with guests early in the booking process–providing you with an excellent chance to market your services and ensure that the booking sticks. Check out this article on Integrating your CRM team.

No longer will your clientele be a mere blur of unnameable faces. Thanks to GuestDriven, the hurried businessperson, romantic duo, and hyperactive family of five will be more than just a name and a credit card number. They’ll be multi-dimensional and unique individuals–and you’ll know how to make each one’s stay their best yet. These are your hotel’s VIPs–and red carpet service does not require a red carpet.

What excites you the most about the potential of platforms like GuestDriven? What concerns you?

This post was contributed by Kimberley Laws, a freelance writer, avid blogger, and social media addict. You can follow her neurotic and OCD ramblings at The Embiggens Project and Searching for Barry Weiss.

Image courtesy of photos.com.

Social Media The New PR For Hospitality Industry

As communication and media have increased in type and complexity, traditional disciplines like Public Relations are faced with the reality of a new set of rules. Where once all a business had to worry about was television, radio, and print, now there’s the Internet and social media to contend with in addition.

With the Internet, the old maxim of “Everyone’s a critic!” becomes truer than ever. All you need is a computer, an Internet connection, and the ability to string words together coherently (though there are plenty of examples out there that cast doubt on that third qualification!), and suddenly you can become a reviewer, posting your experiences online for all to read, for better or for worse.

So how does the hospitality industry navigate these new, churning waters?

New technology means new ways of conducting public relations in the hospitality industry

What Is Public Relations?
Let’s start with the fundamentals here. Public relations is the art of maintaining one’s image and reputation, with the intent of swaying people to understand and support you, and thereby influencing their opinions and behavior.

In other words, PR makes you look good, makes people like you, and makes people act towards you in the manner you want them to. For a business, that means having people frequent it, for instance.

Social Media Rewrites The Rules
Once upon a time, public relations manipulated the three traditional media into giving their clients the coverage they wanted, in order to fulfill the above-mentioned PR goals. Nowadays, the Internet has taken media and split it up into countless little islands or fiefdoms (and in some extreme cases, insane delusional dictatorships), each with its own voice and target audience.

And yet, according to a recent Nielsen survey, editorial (e.g. print) coverage is the fourth most trusted ad source. Clearly, old media’s day isn’t over yet, and there needs to be a balance between the traditional and the modern.

Getting A Social Media Presence
Whether it’s a bar, restaurant, club, or hotel, having not only a website but also a presence on social networks such as Facebook is key. This lets people sign up or like a business’ page, and opens them up to receiving updated information of interest.

By having a website and social network pages (which also link to each other!), a hospitality business has the perfect platform to launch all manner of public relations campaigns, be it promotions, giveaways, or contests. It’s also a good way to keep people informed on new changes; perhaps a hotel has opened a new restaurant, or a casino is featuring a special guest for entertainment.

Closer Contact With Customers
Thanks to social media, a disgruntled hotel or restaurant guest can vent their outrage out onto the Internet with reckless abandon. Hospitality industries that assign someone (perhaps from Marketing or PR proper?) to monitor social networks can find these problems and reach out to the offended party in the hopes of not only making things right, but also of changing their opinion of the establishment and consequently giving a more favorable public review.

This may sound like a lot of work, but this is the reality that businesses find themselves in today. A quick look, maybe twice a day, on various social networks to see what’s being said can really head off problems and bring businesses closer to customers, which in turn increases the likelihood of repeat visits.

But this close contact is not only good for dealing with complaints, but also for adding a personal dimension to communications between host and guest. Some hotel chains use Twitter as a virtual concierge, for instance.

Changing With The Times
Social media has opened up all new possibilities. You can become a hospitality industry innovator like Andrew Sasson by embracing the new technology while still maintaining ties with the traditional ways. Hospitality is at its best when there’s more of a human touch. With social media, that degree of warmth can be met with less effort than you think.

This post was contributed by John Terra who has been a freelance writer since 1985. He is a staunch believer in the power of social media to bring people together.

Photo Credit: wbeem

HootSuite Now Monitors Yelp, Google+ Local, TripAdvisor

Effective this week, HootSuite can now monitor reviews on all major review sites.  The review feed in HootSuite will be powered by a new app called Reputology.

Built by a startup run by MIT grads, the Reputology app not only monitors reviews on all the major business directories, but it will also track industry specific review sites in hospitality, restaurants, retail, health/medicine, auto dealers, weddings and career/workplace.

If you represent a multi-location organization, Reputology lets you monitor activity for all your locations.  The economy hotel Red Roof Inn, for example, monitors about 350 locations nationwide using Reputology.

You can customize each stream by rating, review site, location or status. The status is something the user assigns to a review as a way to keep tabs on how a review is being followed up on. NOTE the list of directories displayed in that screenshot is not a comprehensive list of all the sites Reputology monitors.

The reason businesses should monitor their reviews is that they impact sales and even SEO.  Studies at Harvard and UC Berkeley have shown that reviews can impact sales by as much as 9%.  And just a couple weeks ago, a new study found that Google’s search algorithm weighs review volume and rating over other factors.  In other words, reviews play a significant role in how high a business will rank when someone does a Google search.

But by monitoring reviews, businesses have the chance to respond quickly and even reverse a reviewer’s opinion.  Reputology users have said they can get unhappy reviewers to change their mind about 70% of the time.

If you run multiple locations, you can create a stream for each one. Or if you are a consultant with many clients, you can create a stream for each client. Or you can aggregate everything into one stream.

Here are some links that allow you to monitor reviews in HootSuite:

  • Already a HootSuite user?  Use this link to Install Reputology now.
  • If you don’t have HootSuite account, sign up here to install Reputology.

Let us know what you think of the new app once you try it!

 

 

When In Hospitality, Do As Retailers Do

Hotel receptionAs more and more Americans climb out of the recession, latch onto more profitable careers, and have extra time and cash for vacations, no industry will feel the boom like hotels and motels.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association suggests the good times have already hit, with 2012 showing a 14% growth in income compared to the prior year. For a hotel owner, however, every empty room represents a loss.

How can the hospitality industry learn from retail’s successes of social media?

Optimize Social Standards

The raw numbers of social media and hospitality e-business paint a promising picture for the hospitality industry. Hotel owners save money, reports Buuteeq, whenever they get a booking from a website rather than a travel agent.

Mobile bookings provide the highest profit margin, and hotels with an active social presence get more online bookings than those that go without. Retailers have long since made their operations social-savvy by creating Web content specifically for social platforms. They have even gone so far as to build apps for mobile devices.

Create Content To Be Shared

The greatest value in social media comes from followers sharing and re-Tweeting. Yet you need to frame updates, posts, polls, or questions carefully to encourage sharing.

Constant Contact recommends taking at least one of three angles for every update you want to be shared: make it funny, make it interesting, or make it agreeable — these three metrics by and large determine a post’s share rate.

Promote E-Coupons

Whenever a customer logs onto Facebook and sees an offer that saves them money, they are not only a potential sale but also a surefire way to connect to new networks for hotel managers. Knowledge Network reports that digital coupons bring in new customers at a 33 percent higher rate than their paper predecessors.

Take a page from Black Friday-focused retailers like Macy’s that offer customers and followers a better deal on their favorites in exchange for liking a page or sharing a post. Retailers promote coupons on the busiest shopping days of the year to boost customer satisfaction, so consider giving out coupons during the heights of tourist season to enhance your hotel’s reputation.

Show Off Your Scenery

Remember that social media encompasses more than just the 140 characters on Twitter. The rise of micro-video, suggests Forbes Magazine, will dominate and perhaps even replace short updates as users can put a lot more information into a 6-second Vine video than they could in a status update.

Hotels can capitalize on short video updates by showing individual rooms, views of a beach from the window, or showcase a chef in the kitchen. Remember that short videos work better for promotions, since attention span wanes quickly in the digital age.

 

How to Handle Unsatisfied Customers

Complaints are inevitable when you provide products or services to customers, because there is simply no such thing as 100% satisfaction across your entire market. There will always be customers with expectations which you cannot meet, or those who will misunderstand your offerings completely. It is because of this that customer service is a crucial part of any business, and that, in turn, is why customer care call centers are now so common.

But with the boom of social media, handling unsatisfied customers has proven to be a rather big challenge. A few taps and clicks can change the perception of hundreds to thousands of people, and it is every marketing person’s nightmare to be the center of a complaint posted on social media.

Though there is very little you can do about a customer’s posted complaint once it is made public, there are, however, many ways of handling the problem. There even lies the possibility of turning the situation around. So, what are some ways you can serve irate or unsatisfied customers?

1. Apologize for the mistake

Let’s admit it: apologizing and swallowing your pride are two very underrated and underappreciated actions. The more natural response to a complaint would be to get defensive, but that would only lead to fighting fire with fire.

When a person is enraged and unsatisfied, the best way to start off your end of the conversation is to say, “Sorry.”

2. Address the customer right away – publicly

In such situations, the worst thing you can do for your business is to let the situation drag on. Ignoring a person’s negative feedback could only cause more anger to build up, or worse, it could make everyone think that you do not care at all. Remember that social media could work for you too, so do not be afraid to respond to complaints, especially if the mistakes can still be rectified.

Start by showing your customer that you are giving appropriate attention to his or her concern, and that you are publicly taking responsibility for his or her dissatisfaction. Make it clear that you wish to correct the situation.

3.  Offer a precise solution

Without overpromising, try to be clear about the next step. Especially if the solution might require further expenses on the company, or if you (as an administrator of social media accounts) do not have the authority to promise customers whatever they want, be open and transparent about how the situation will proceed.

4.  Offer a re-do or a replacement, along with additional benefits, when possible.

More often than not, the customers simply want to get the best out of what they paid for. If they were not satisfied with your product or service, what you can do is offer them a re-do or a replacement.

If it was a service, assure them that you will be putting them in the hands of your best staff members, who will be doing their best to provide high-quality service. If it was a product, ensure that you will do everything in your power to provide their money’s worth.

5. Take the conversation offline

Although it would be advantageous to show other potential clients how good you are at customer service, try not to discuss the details of your problem and solution in public. It would be best if a representative of your company offered to meet the customer to discuss the issue further. In cases when that would be too much to ask, a management-level representative may also just call the client and present ways by which you can make up for the mistake.

Just remember that, to an irate client, seeing an actual face, or experiencing the actual presence of a company representative will do wonders in letting them know you care.

In the end, the customer is truly king. For as long as their complaints are within reason, and are actually constructive enough for the company to recognize some areas for improvement, there is no reason why negative feedback should be ignored. A simple apology and some effort to make up for a mistake or misunderstanding could go a very long way, and could even develop some good will between clients and your company.

This post was contrbuted by Sheine Austria. Sheine is a professional writer whose passion is digital media, technology and blogging. She also used to do some photography in her college days. Sheine is also a single mother and decided to transfer to California and discover her future there.

How One Destination is Rockin’ Social Media

At the beginning of June, I attended TBEX in Toronto and had the opportunity to chat with many destination marketing organizations to learn more about how they’re integrating social media into their overall marketing. One of the standouts was the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB).

The Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana CVB recently  accepted the award for Outstanding CVB of the Year at the Lt. Governor’s Tourism Summit, as well as an award for having the best Tourism Campaign/Promotion of the Year.

Every single person who works at the CVB has a passion for what they do. They absolutely pour everything into making each project as successful as it can be, and it is a tremendous honor to receive statewide recognition for the work accomplished at the CVB on behalf of our destination,” said Shelley Johnson, executive director.

Johnson also stated that over the past year, many of the major projects would not have been possible without the strong partners in tourism and volunteers throughout the community.  The bureau also won an award for its National Tourism Week promotions for the Tourism Campaign/Promotion of the Year category.

I also had the opportunity to interview their Online Content Manager, Amos Orr, to learn more about how they grew their online presence. Amos offers some great advice and first-hand examples of what worked for them!

Q: Growing your Facebook presence by 34,000 fans in a year is totally impressive! How did you do this? (ads? contests? etc)

A: In short we did a little bit of everything, and changed our perspective of how we viewed people that liked our page. Instead of fans people became friends that we wanted to share with and friends we actually wanted to hear from. To grow a number to your page is great but it should not be the end goal; the goal should be to have engaged friends. Here are some steps we took to grow and maintain a respectable level of engagement.

  • Find out who you are, and find out who your friends are.
    What makes your destination or business unique? What do people go crazy over that you have to offer? What is your attitude/personality? We discovered answers to these questions by testing content. We tracked the time of day we posted, the type of content we posted (text, image, video, event), the content of the post (food, attraction, quote, history, event), attitude of post (factual, humorous, somber, aggressive). We looked at all of these things and were able to learn a lot about who we were and what worked best for our friends. Not every Facebook page and audience are equal, but it may help to research other successful Facebook Pages in your category to see what they are doing. You don’t have to copy them exactly, but you can apply general principles.
  • We posted shareable images to get them engaged!
    While money spent wisely can get you friends, it is more important to keep them engaged and interested, because what good are all of the friends in the world if they don’t actually care about you. Images end up being the most interacted with content on Facebook, because they are more visible than a simple text post. Just think how you scroll through hundreds of posts in a minute, which ones jump out at you? We were already posting some images, but they were sporadic with no call to action or direct connection to people. We took a look at who we were as a destination and then focused on what made us unique, as well as what we knew our friends wanted. We quickly found that our food resonated with our friends the best. Then we started asking for their opinion on what they liked, where they got it, and what they liked best. Here is one of my favorite posts the pits two highly craved food items against eat other.

    ‘Like’ for Shrimp and Crab Gumbo or ‘Share’ for Chicken and Sausage Gumbo? Let the battle begin!shrimp and gumbo

    We got quite a few comments on this post and it really helped the page get exposure to our friend’s friends.

    In addition to fun pictures, we keyed into trending posts types such as e-cards and “Keep Calms”. The key to having a successful e-card was to include a witty phrase that someone else might actually say. When it says something they might actually want to tell their friends, they will want to share it. It may not directly lead someone to action but you have to be mindful of Facebook Edgerank (how often Facebook will show your posts to people).crawfish boil

  • Partnered Contests leveraged with Promoted Posts.
    This may be our largest contributor to getting new friends, but all of the other principles keep your friends engaged and coming back. Armed with the fact that we knew people loved our food, we decided to capitalize on it by hosting a contest to win some of it. It was Christmas time, so we decided to run a contest called “Cajun Christmas in a Box.” We knew we wanted to expand our audience outside of our local community, so we reached out to a local business that produces and ships boudin (picture rice/pork casserole in a sausage casing, people go crazy over it) across the country. They offered us their product for free in exchange for mentioning them in the promotion (You don’t need an expensive prize to attract people, just something they are passionate about.) Using the Woobox app (woobox.com) for Facebook, we were able to generate and host the contest in-house. Woobox allowed us to fangate the contest, meaning that people had to ‘Like’ our page in order to enter. Since it is a third party app, this is allowed by Facebook terms and conditions. We then used Promoted Posts to target our driving markets to get them thinking about Southwest Louisiana and our unique cuisine. That contest resulted in over 2,000,000 impressions, 23,000 actions, 2,100 e-news opt-ins and 5,700 new friends. The cost of the promotion was nominal compared to the outcome. cajun christmas in a box
  • Learn that sometimes less is more.
    Posting 10 times a day may begin to annoy people unless it is all good quality content. And if people are not interacting with you posts, Facebook Edgerank will detect that and not feature you in people’s newsfeeds as often. I have found that it is usually better to post one quality post a day. This is not a set-in-stone rule, you can deviate just make sure what you are putting out there is what people want to see.
  • Whenever you post, use a Call to Action.

Whether you want to direct them to your website, sign-up for a newsletter or simply want them to ‘Like/Share’ the post, don’t be afraid to ask them to do it!

  • Have fun, it doesn’t always have to be about business.
    People are on social networks usually to have fun and socialize. THEY DO NOT WANT TO BE SOLD TO! (or at least they don’t want to know they are being sold to) Treat them as you would treat a friend, give them advice or better yet, get them to give you advice. It’s a two-way conversation.
  • Share cross-platform.
    Direct your fans from twitter to facebook, facebook to twitter, pinterest to facebook, etc.
  • You don’t always have to Create, you can also Curate content.
    Interact with you friends. If you see them share a great photo, let them know and them ask them for permission to share it. The is a couple reasons for asking permission:

    1. It’s polite!
    2. You can avoid content stealing issues
    3. It makes them aware that you are there and interested in them

I have yet to be turned down when asking to share content. The most anyone has asked me to do is to give them credit in the post. Instagram also provides a great platform to curate photos, just remember to ask permission.

Q: I love your YouTube presence with the various “how to” videos! What made you decide to do these? Are they easy to do? Do you manage everything in-house?
A: We are still developing our YouTube presence. We have, as you pointed out, done very well with recent how to videos. Our thought behind creating them is that if done properly, they could become timeless resources that people search for on a regular basis. Our area is known for eating crawfish, since it is such a unique aspect of our culinary culture, we thought it would be perfect for instructing people not from the area. They can be very simple or complex. I shot a “How to Eat a Crab” video on my Samsung Galaxy S4, gave it some quick titles through Power Director (an inexpensive video editing software) and loaded it to Facebook. It did surprisingly well for a virtually $0 budget film, but apparently people are very passionate on the best way to peel a crab and began to critique the star of the video on how he could have done it better! LOL It started a great conversation, but just be aware that you should really know the best “How to” for your “How to …” video. For the crawfish videos, we had those produced by a local videographer. It did take quite a bit of time to get the final product, but they did very well and have received a ton of views.

Q: I noticed you don’t have Instagram listed with the other social icons in your email signature. Are you guys on Instagram? How does your presence (or lack of) play into your overall social strategy?

A: Thanks for pointing that out, I might go in and change that. We actually do have an Instagram account at http://instagram.com/visitlakecharles. We primarily use it for content curation, since I don’t always have a ton of time to get out of the office. This allows me to leverage our friends and followers to do some of the heavy lifting for me by collecting their content. We started out by downloading the InstaRepost App on IOS and Android. Then we searched hashtags that we know people were already using in reference to our area such as #lakecharles, #swla, #lakechuck, etc. When we would come upon images we liked we would send the user a comment such as “Great Photo! I love the shot of that gator! Do you mind if I share it on the Visit Lake Charles social media channels? Just reply to @visitlakecharles and tag any other photos with #visitlakecharles.” We adopted the hashtag #VisitLakeCharles and began promoting the use of it on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Just by reaching out this way, people began to organically share photos and content, even people we didn’t reach out to! You must be consistent and active on it, just like any other social media. It has not been my focus but it does provide great content and multiple truly unique perspectives that can be very eye catching.

Thanks to Amos and Megan at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana CVB for taking the time to speak with me and offer this valuable insight!

 

How to Use Internet Marketing to Get Repeat Sales

It’s Monday morning, and George and Elizabeth have just checked out of your hotel after enjoying a wonderful weekend stay. Will you ever see them again? They are completely satisfied with the services your hotel provided and have fond memories of their stay, but have you implemented strategies to bring them back for another stay?

With 57% of all travel bookings now being made online, it’s critical that you leverage internet marketing to encourage your visitors to make a return visit.

Do you have an online marketing plan that does the following?

  • Encourages guests to return for another visit
  • Encourages guests to tell their friends about your hotel
  • Leverages your guests’ positive experience to close the sale with other prospects
family travel

Photo Credit – Holiday Extras on Flickr

3 Internet Marketing Tools You Can Use To Encourage Repeat Visits

Social Media

Encourage your customers to connect with you via social media; then carefully manage and leverage the relationship.

  1. Choose your weapon. Many businesses make the mistake of trying to use too many social networks. It’s best to choose 1-3 social networks. For most hotels, Facebook should be the primary network used. Twitter, Google+, or Pinterest (great for hotels in photogenic locations) are possible second choices.
  2. Get connected. How can you encourage your customers to connect with you (i.e. like/follow your profile) on Facebook or other social networks? Print special business cards or postcards inviting customers to connect with your hotel’s social media profile(s). Train front desk staff to provide every customer with one of these cards at checkout. Also consider offering an incentive such as a monthly giveaway on your Facebook page.
  3. Manage the relationship. Nobody wants to be friends with someone who takes and takes but never gives. The same is true for hotels on social media. Your customers are likely to unfollow your profile if you don’t provide them something of value that they like. What can you give to your contacts on Facebook? Monthly giveaways? Stunning photos of your location? Fun photos or videos of events?
  4. Leverage the relationship. Finally, use your social media connections for marketing goals. Post occasional promotional offers, promote your latest content pieces via your social media profiles and ask your contacts to share your content, promotions and other posts with their friends.

Always remember: What’s in it for them?

Email Marketing

Encourage your customers to subscribe to your email newsletter; then carefully manage and leverage the relationship.

  1. Encourage customers to subscribe to your email newsletter. Use the same card to promote your email newsletter that you use to promote your social media profiles. Add a newsletter opt-in box to your website, and set your online booking process to add customers to your newsletter by default.
  2. Manage the relationship. Just like with social media, you need to provide value to your subscribers. In most cases, coupons and promotions aren’t enough (your subscribers likely want things they can enjoy without spending money). Send content that provides enjoyment to your subscribers. Photos, videos and fun facts about local sites, events and attractions can be very effective. Not only will they provide enjoyment to your subscribers, but also, they will subtly remind those past guests of how much fun they could have during another stay at your hotel.
  3. Leverage the relationship. Use your newsletter to promote special offers, encourage repeat visits and promote your content. Unobtrusively, suggest that subscribers forward your newsletter to a friend.

Online Reviews

Encourage your customers to leave a positive review for your company at key online sites.

  1. Choose your weapon. There are hundreds of review sites online, but you’ll need to focus on 1-3 sites. In most cases, it is recommended to work with TripAdvisor and Google Places.
  2. Encourage customers to write a review. You can request a review on the same card you use to promote your social media profiles and email newsletter. To comply with review site guidelines, it’s important that you do not offer customers an incentive for writing a review.

5 Ideas for Free Gifts

Free bonuses can be highly effective strategies to attract more customers to subscribe to your newsletter or connect with your social media profiles. Here are a few ideas to use as bonus offerings.

  1. Free room service item. For example, offer free chocolates delivered to the room during the guest’s next stay.
  2. Free local tour. Partner with a local attraction or tour guide that offers an inexpensive tour in your area. They may be willing to sell you tickets at a steep discount (for you to giveaway) in exchange for the free publicity and new customers.
  3. Free night’s stay. Consider giving away a free night’s stay during your quiet season/time. This will be a high value gift with low cost to you.
  4. Free meal at a local restaurant. A local restaurant may be willing to sell you gift cards at a steep discount in exchange for publicity and new customers.
  5. Local gift item. Give away a book or gift basket relevant to your area.

What strategies do you use to bring customers back for another stay?

This post was contributed by Lorena Starkey. Lauren is the Director of Sales and Marketing at Minot Hyatt House hotel in Minot, ND. You can connect with them on Facebook.

5 Facts About Brands on Instagram

Nitrogram, the advanced analytics and engagement platform for brands on Instagram, has just released their first Guide on Instagram for Brands and other professionals.

Instagram adoption by brands of the Millward-Brown Brandz Index

Some of the facts underlied in this Guide about brand presence on Instagram include:

  1. Nitrogram believes ALL brands are on Instagram, either via their official account or through the hashtagged photos of their customers and fans. What matters on Instagram is building a great community of people sharing interests. The true Instagram equation for brands is: Community = Followers + Contributors
  2. 70% of top Brands (90 of the 130 entries from the Millward-Brown Brandz Index) have an official presence on Instagram
  3. Leading sectors for Instagram adoption from the index: Cars (10/10), Fast food (10/10) and soft drinks (9/10)
  4. However, the top 10 cars brands on Instagram have 7 times more photos with their hashtags than they have followers
  5. More importantly, the 30% of Millward-Brown Brandz Index brands not leveraging Instagram are ignoring 10 million photos mentioning hashtags relevant to them, with 1 million new ones shared every month

They’ve also included helpful tips for brands already on Instagram as well as those thinking of joining the conversation soon on how to better profile their followers and leverage hashtags to be more discoverable.

Lastly, Nitrogram analyzed three successful Instagram campaigns brands can learn from: Oreo, Lipton and Mercedez-Benz. Each played on different specificities of Instagram to engage their communities online.

Click here to download the full Instgaram Guide, available complimentary.

Instagram community equation

How to Turn Guest Complaints Into Compliments

The hotel industry is notorious for guest complaints. If you’ve ever worked retail, you know the saying “the customer is always right.” This applies to the hotel industry as well since the customer is buying a room for a night or more. How customer complaints are handled is often key to keeping that customer and gaining more.

I recently stayed at The Damai Resort in Orlando FL and overheard a very upset guest’s reaction to the pool being closed for routine clean up. While I was also looking forward to the pool that day, I understand that routine maintenance must happen. But what I was most impressed with was how the staff member handled this upset guest and seemed to turn his attitude around by the end of the conversation. It seemed that by simply listening to the guy and giving value to his concerns and offering fun Orlando alternatives, the guest left happy and content.

Here’s what I learned:

THE EASY FIX

A guest calling to request an extra blanket or towel isn’t complaining, yet. But that request can turn into a complaint if not handled properly. At current hotel prices per night, a customer expects his request to be met quickly. Maybe the call was placed and the customer left the room for a few hours. That blanket should be on the bed waiting for the customer upon return. There should never be a second call for a simple request.

LISTEN AND L.E.A.R.N.

The word LEARN is an acronym for how best to handle a customer with a complaint. First, you need to L or listen. This is absolutely the most important because it’s only by listening that you can assess exactly how best to handle the situation. Allow the guest to explain the problem.

or empathize is next. Be empathetic to the situation by recognizing the inconvenience or disruption. Don’t point fingers or try to explain why something isn’t your fault. It may be that the customer is upset about something else and the complaint is a way of blowing off steam. Regardless of reason, convey sorrow that the customer is upset.

A is for act. After listening and understanding, you must act. If the room is dirty or the bill is wrong, see to it immediately or as soon as humanly possible. Wasting time or putting off repairing the situation will only make it worse.

R means a report must be made. In order to keep the same thing from happening, report the problem to the supervisor so it can be addressed in a staff meeting. Sometimes, discussing a complaint can lead to innovative solutions and fewer repeats of the issue.

N is for notify. Notify the customer that the problem has been handled. If the customer is already aware that the problem is handled, simply check with the customer later. You can do this on the same day or the next, but be sure to find out if everything else is ok or if there is anything else that needs to be done. A little extra attention after a complaint goes a long way toward making the customer feel he matters.

ATTITUDE

The overall attitude of the staff has a lot to do with customer satisfaction. If guests hear staff gathered in groups complaining, it lowers the satisfaction level. When bringing a problem to the attention of staff, a guest doesn’t want to hear the staff complain or explain why something didn’t happen correctly. After all, it’s the guest paying for the room and amenities.

Bottom line is that there are several ways to turn around a disgruntled guest. Many times it ends up being something small that could have and should have been fixed and doesn’t. If you can manage to turn around a frustrated customer, you’ll have a repeat customer for sure and may even get new business from them as well. Whether it’s the fault of the staff or the hotel or not, the end goal should still be a happy guest. That is the goal of customer satisfaction after all.

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This post was contributed by Carla C. Burton. Carla is a self-employed Mummy blogger with a BBA in Business Administration from Bond University.  Although a Gold Coast native, Carla moved to Melbourne in 2008 to further her writing career and raise her children.  Carla has become a top contributor to many blogs worldwide and thoroughly enjoys the freedom that self-employment has provided her.  To find out more about Carla or to follow her other posts, follow her on Twitter @CarlaCBurton.

Q&A with “Talk to the Manager”

An ancient relic of the hospitality industry has been revived to help navigate the ever-important digital conversation between businesses and its customers. Talk To The Manager (TTTM) is the prodigy of the primitive comment card that used to adorn nearly all businesses who wanted to gain customer feedback.

TTTM doesn’t rely on metrics that traditional comment cards can measure. Instead, they’ve realized that a customer’s perception is priority number one and what better way to make a great impression than to let the customers ask the questions rather than default to a business’s pre-scripted survey. Along with TTTM’s analytics, customers help hone the exact tools that business can implement to improve the quality of their experience in real-time.

The way it works is: when you sign up with TTTM, you receive a unique phone number that customers can text their anonymous comments to whereupon the management staff can respond. The applications for this simple yet effective app can be used by any business to tailor their experience to meet customer expectations.

We recently had a chance to interview the creators of Talk To The Manager. Their business model is proof that tackling tough issues in the hospitality industry don’t always demand complex solutions.

What kinds of variables do you track besides the negative and positive feedback?

We’re currently building out a TON of new features in the dashboard that will provide much deeper analytics, but be displayed in an easy-to-understand (and actually use!) format. However, until they’re completed we’re unable to disclose exactly what they are, but keep an eye out in the coming months. They should all be released within the next three months (hopefully much sooner).

Your service seems like a more proactive approach to customer satisfaction opposed to reading about  performance and food on websites like Yelp. Do you think your service will facilitate not only better reviews, but also relationships that create repeat customers?

We definitely believe our service to be a proactive approach. And you hit the nail on the head, we built this specifically to help get better reviews and create brand loyalty. We don’t want to stop reviews, because that would be silly, they can be a great tool and are never going away. But we want businesses to get a chance to respond to issues privately before they end up on public review sites, that way they can resolve issues and get better reviews. A lot of people today are talking about online reputation management (ORM) but we like to think of our service as preventative online reputation management.

Have you considered building a space online where people who use your service get to post a review on your site instead of Yelp?

No. We don’t want to be another review site. The point of our service is to get private feedback directly to on-site management in real-time so they can resolve issues. We are all about privacy. We keep both the manager’s and the customer’s phone numbers hidden from each other, and all feedback is kept in our dashboard for private viewing by the business. We like to think of it as their diary. Sometimes you make mistakes and have bad days, hopefully with our service you get a chance to correct those mistakes and they don’t have to be written on a public review site for everyone to see.

On the other hand we have found that over 75% of the messages from customers are positive, so we have created a way for the business to share these positive anonymous customer testimonials on their Facebook and Twitter profiles if they would like, but that is their choice.

Disruptive technology is a big topic that’s discussed right now. Did you consider how your service would change the traditional conventions of how restaurants will run their kitchens and services?

In all fairness most things being created for the restaurant industry today would be disruptive if they were actually adopted. The restaurant tech industry has so much competition right now because there really hasn’t been too many tech advances adopted by the industry as a whole, so there are some MAJOR opportunities. That’s a big reason our technology is so simple. We’re not some new app you and your customers have to download, or some website you have to visit, instead we are a simple text messaging service that requires absolutely no set-up. At our most recent trade show we had an older gentleman who owned a chain of restaurants pull out an old flip-phone from probably 2003 and ask us if our service would work on his phone. He was kind of being snide and joking until we told him yes it would work no problem and his jaw about hit the floor. He has since signed up.

So I guess in answer to your question, yes, we absolutely understand the possibilities of how our service could ‘disrupt’ the industry, and have a ton of additional features/products in the pipeline that can help it get there, but for now we are only worried about proving to the restaurant industry how simple our tool is and that it is a tool that is ACTUALLY USEFUL.

Some argue that this trend is a step toward the digital obsession with people and their electronic devices. How do you respond to this type of commentary?

There’s really not much that can be said at this point to stop the digital revolution. A lot of people don’t like the fact that consumers are becoming so addicted to their devices. As a company we don’t have an opinion whether or not this is a good or bad thing, we just see opportunity and pursue it. We’re entrepreneurs.

How to Handle Negative Restaurant Reviews

The culinary industry thrives on word-of-mouth. It takes more than a restaurant’s advertising campaign to bring customers in, as hearing about a great little burger joint from a friend of a friend goes a long way in bringing in business.

As the name implies, the service industry relies on its ability to deliver. When people hear about great service they flock to experience it for themselves. In contrast, when people find out that there is much to be desired in the food or service they are less likely to ever go in the first place.

How to handle negative restaurant reviews

The truth of our modern digital age is that information can be spread very rapidly. As a result, negative information is spread just as rapidly because of the technology we have at our hands. Knowing how to handle negative reviews online is extremely important.

In the past, a bad restaurant review would be printed in a circulated newspaper, giving you little opportunity to respond. In fact, the traditional way to address a review was to invite the food critic to return. Now, with numerous sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon not only can customers post their experiences, but the restaurants can also respond to those reviews.

As a restaurant owner you have very limited control over what someone says online, but you do have control over how you handle bad publicity. Fortunately, this builds positive rapport with restaurant goers that has the potential to turn any negative attention into an opportunity to strengthen credibility within the hospitality industry.

Take a deep breath

The natural response to being attacked is to quickly defend yourself. The problem here is that a quick response means you did not spend a lot of time thinking it through. Before you respond to any criticism, stop, take a deep breath, and walk away. Give yourself a day to think it through and sleep on it. When you have had sufficient time to flush out your angry adrenaline, then you can come back to dealing with the criticism.

Accept the criticism for what it is

Whether a critique is good or bad, accept it for the opportunity that it presents to grow and develop. A gleaming customer review points out where the strengths are in your experience. If they loved the way their steak was cooked then you know you’ve got a chef doing something right in your kitchen, if they liked the service, then you probably have a waiter or waitress that could teach the other members of the staff a few things.

The common belief when reading a negative review is that it is exaggerated. While it is certainly true that people have a tendency to blow things out of proportion, don’t immediately dismiss a negative review because you think it may have been exaggerated. Instead, carefully consider what was said. Did they complain about a particular server, was the restaurant too noisy, or maybe their dinnerware was dirty.

Ask the server in question if they remember the customer and the incident. Maybe you can turn down the music in your dining room. And dirty dishes might be an indicator that a dishwasher, man or machine, may be in need of some attention.

Be cool and respond

After you have had some time to handle the problem on your end, now is the time to respond to the criticism. Most reviewing sites offer a way for the business to respond, either by posting to the same review board or by personally contacting the people posting reviews.

Don’t open a response with an attack. Be apologetic, thank the person for coming and offer your sincere wishes to address the concern and improve their experience if they choose to return. If the situation is about to escalate into an internet nuclear war, then just walk away. Getting involved in a confrontation almost always ends up with your business looking like the bad guy. Be polite, apologize, and let it go.

Don’t just focus on the negative

You might find that handling bad reviews can be a little time consuming. Although, if you spend all your time dealing with complaints this is a sure sign that something in your business plan needs to be seriously evaluated. Even if you try and address the situation and offer amends, some people just want to vent their anger, and others can never be appeased.

It’s easy to be distracted by negative comments and reviews, but don’t let that monopolize your time. If a customer leaves a good review, thank them for the experience and for taking the time to write the review.

By taking the time to relax and address concerns with a clear head, you’ll show that your business is not only professional, but cares about its customers as well.

This article was contributed by Cassie Corbett. Cassie is a writer and culinary enthusiast with the cookware suppliers at World Kitchen.