Guide to Guest Feedback

No man is an island, and no property can operate efficiently without hearing back from those whose feedback means the most — the guests. Hearing what guests have to say about their experience is vital to any property's operations, since it provides insight into areas where things can be improved upon, where investment is needed, and where guest expectations are being met or exceeded.

Section 1:  Why you need direct guest feedback

In the past, guest feedback has taken place via the ‘pen and paper’ approach of comment cards and feedback forms left in guest rooms or at reception desks. But technologies have evolved, removing the need for guests to fill these out by hand and simplifying the process for hospitality professionals who previously needed to capture this information. It’s easier on both sides for feedback to be digital — meaning that guests’ feedback is recorded without the difficulties of illegible handwriting or comment cards becoming misplaced.

What’s particularly great about automated direct feedback, especially for someone like a general manager when compared to the comment card system, or even online reviews, is that there is no space limit — you can ask all of the questions that you want to ask and get detailed insights into what your guests like and don’t, what they need and want, and who they are. With automated surveys, you can also request feedback at a time that’s convenient for your guests, so you can ask all of the questions that matter, making them as specific as you like, and as they are being filled in away from your property and staff, guests tend to be more honest.

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Section 2: How direct feedback and online reviews work together

When it comes to digital feedback, many immediately think of online reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor, Booking.com or Facebook. And while online reviews are certainly incredibly useful all on their own, it can be difficult to get a full sense of your guests' stays without at least including some form of direct feedback.

Direct feedback can bridge the gap between your perspective of your property and that of your guests, and it can also give you a chance to resolve situations before they become reviews. By providing your guests with the opportunity to address concerns with you directly, they will often feel that their feedback is being taken to heart, and feel less inclined to vent on a public platform. As they say — prevention is better than cure!

Encouraging guests to post on review sites such as TripAdvisor can also prove more difficult than it sounds. In a study done by Cornell University, it was confirmed that reviews on TripAdvisor tend to be overwhelmingly positive or negative, with very few guests providing a review for satisfactory experiences. Getting these guests that fall in between to review your business is incredibly important, not just from a TripAdvisor ranking point-of-view, but to gain an understanding of what an average stay at your property is like.

To illustrate ...

Imagine a business traveller who has had a pleasant flight, whose bus was on time and who was greeted at the reception desk by a smiling face. This guest is shown up to his room, but unfortunately the lock on the door is finicky, and it takes quite a lot of jiggling for him to get the door open. Doors can be like that, it’s no big deal, and he settles in to prepare for his meeting the next day. Everything goes well, and he flies home – no need to leave a review.

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Now imagine a few weeks later a similar business guest comes to stay in the same room with the finicky door, but this time his plane journey was full of turbulence, the airline forgot his vegetarian meal and his bus was 20 minutes late. When he finally gets to the hotel and up to his room, exhausted, hungry and needing to prepare for his meeting, he can’t get in the door. After that nothing seems to go right – now it is time for a scathing review.

Often the difference between a perfectly pleasant stay and an utterly awful one will be the state of mind that a guest is in — based more on the guest’s attitude than their actual experience. But to a guest who’s having a bad day, the smallest inconveniences or faux pas will result in the cloud over their head only darkening, and could result in a negative experience and a bad review. A guest who is in a better state of mind may experience the same inconveniences and be less affected. Getting their feedback will help you know what can be done to improve the experience of future guests.

Finally, while online reviews can give you great insights into guest experiences, they are often only showing you the experience of a portion of your guests — millennials and those that tend to be tech-savvy. This means that if you are only using online reviews to listen to your guests, there is a large portion of them not being heard at all.

Section 3: How guest feedback can help you to connect with and understand guests

A better understanding of guest experiences

Guests are the most important part of any type of accommodation, and while an owner or manager may know their property like the back of their hands — its best features, the spot with the best view, the time of day that it looks most beautiful — knowing what it is about a property that guests love is nearly impossible without feedback.

“Guests experience your hotel in ways that you, as a manager, may not be able to experience it, and therefore [managers are] blindsided on certain things.” – Tarek Aboudib, General Manager, Sandy Beach Hotel and Resort

You can make assumptions, based on where others have spent their time, or where you feel that improvements could be made, but without feedback, investments into areas of your property could well be going to waste.

“Without information, you’re hamstrung in terms of making intelligent decisions around your business. If you have an intelligence platform that’s telling you that 65-70% of your guests are saying that you need to spend money, you need that information so that you can make that informed decision. For example, we spent a six-figure sum refurbishing the bedrooms primarily because our guests were telling us the rooms were very dated and you can see that from their feedback.” – David Campbell, The Coaching Inn Group

You may feel that your foyer needs to undergo drastic renovations, but you guests may be more concerned about good quality linen or more breakfast options. Or you could be looking into offering a chatbot concierge or a Netflix account for guests, whereas if most of your guests are less technically minded, or are looking at coming to you for a digital detox, these changes may be unwarranted.

The fact that there is a gap between what management think an experience at their property is like, and what guests expect from the same experience, is not a revelation — in fact, there are five different gaps according to a 1985 study on the subject — but, with open communication between the two sides, this gap can easily be bridged. The trouble is, how can this communication start? The answer is, of course, with guest feedback.

Whether it’s with comment cards, online questionnaires, or simply by asking your guests in person; if guests feel that you are making an effort to hear their opinions and see your property through their eyes, they will often be more than happy to provide the feedback you are after.

We know by now that comment cards have some drawbacks:

  • They may get lost or be illegible,
  • Some guests may not want the confrontation of handing in a comment card or talking to staff directly

Online questionnaires however provide a perfect opportunity to find out from guests exactly what their stay was like and where their expectations for the trip weren’t quite met.

A better connection with guests through personalisation

More than helping you to understand what it is that guests expect when they stay with you, guest feedback can also help you to connect with your guests on another level — a personal one.

 

Personalisation is more than just a buzzword. Over the past few years, it has become less of a novelty catered to by smaller hotels, and more of an expectation. When guests arrive at their accommodation, they expect to be greeted by name, and that their needs will be catered to beyond a room and nothing more. They expect to find a home away from home. They want an experience, and the feedback that you get from them after their stay will help you to provide just that.

Collecting data for personalisation in the pre-stay period

Booking information can tell you more than you would initially think about your guest and the kind of stay that they are looking for. The experience that you can provide to a single guest staying for one night, who has already told you that they will be checking in late and leaving early, will be very different to the experience that you can provide to a family of four, who have asked for an extra bed be made up so that their son can share the room with them, or the couple who have booked your honeymoon suite for Valentines Day.

In the first instance, you can make sure that a staff member is waiting for the late check-in, greeting him by name when he arrives, since you are expecting him. You could offer an early-morning wake-up-call from reception, or ask if he would like to have room service deliver breakfast before he leaves. In the second case, you could make sure that the family of four have extra towels rather than the two that would normally come with the room, and that there is a copy of your children’s menu or list of activities that you provide, along with the number for a local babysitter should they want one. And for the couple, you could have the best table in the restaurant reserved and romantically lit, or have a bottle of complimentary wine waiting in their room.

Collecting data for personalisation during guests stays

During their stays, you have the opportunity to get to know those guests on a more personal level. For example, you may find that the single guest prefers his coffee black with a lot of sugar, that the family love swimming, and that the couple are avid adventure-seekers.

Those are pieces of information that you could never have gleaned from their booking, but it immediately lets you streamline their stay with you: you can give the single guest extra sachets of sugar and fill his cup to the brim, since he won’t need any milk; you can make sure that the swimming towels in the family’s room are replaced daily, rather than making them check towels in and out from reception; and you can tell the couple all about any local adventures that they can find nearby, like diving, bungee jumping, skydiving or just paintballing.

These small gestures won’t see you going too far out of your way, but even the smallest amounts of personalisation can see your guests enjoying their stay more, making them more inclined to think of you when it comes to booking their next trip.

personalisation-data

Finally, the feedback that guests give you after their stays can help you to personalise their next stay with you even further. Hearing your guests tell you what it was that they loved about their trip and what could have been improved upon will help you to better understand not only those guests, but guests like them — other single guests who may be visiting on business, other families and other couples. Better yet, if those customers decide to stay with you again, it’s likely that they’ll end up spending more money with you than a brand new guest would.

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Section 4: What you can do with guest feedback

You know why you should have guest feedback, how it works together with reputation solutions, and how it can help you to connect with and understand your guests… but what can you actually do with the guest feedback that you get?

From informing operations at your property, to enhancing your marketing strategy and managing your staff, there is a good deal that you can do with the feedback that you get from your guests that goes beyond the basics.

From a financial point of view, budgets are often tight, and investment in your business can only be done one step at a time. Guest feedback can tell you what the priority of those steps should be, ensuring that you are investing in areas of your property that will attract more guests rather than in areas that you think should attract them. It can be hard to take a step back and experience your property from a guest’s perspective, which means that you could be missing out on the intricacies of your stays.

A room could be perfectly neat and tidy, but if you are only ever walking through it in your suit and shoes, you won’t know what the carpet feels like underfoot, and if guests are finding it rough and uncomfortable, or if another small aspect of their room is negatively impacting their stays, like the water taking too long to heat, or the floorboards creaking loudly, it could indicate an improvement that is far more pressing than investing in Roombas for every floor.

“Any hotel operator needs to know what their guests are thinking about their experience; whether that’s good, bad, or indifferent. Otherwise you cannot improve your business. If you do not listen to your guests, you would go out of business very quickly because there is plenty of choice out there in the marketplace” – David Campbell, Operations Director, Coaching Inn Group

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Any property has challenges that need to be juggled in order to provide a seamless experience for their guests:

But when it comes to managing a hotel group, those challenges are multiplied exponentially. Not only does one property face those challenges, but every property in the group would, with the additional challenge of them needing to be kept in line with the group’s ethos and the experience that you want to provide to your guest no matter which of your hotels they choose to visit.

Guest feedback can help you to know which challenges should take precedence, telling you which areas guests are happy with, and which may need a bit more attention than they’re already being given. And, when it comes to groups, the feedback can help to bridge any communication gaps that might exist between each property's manager, and the group managers, owners or stakeholders, making it far easier to keep track of changes which need to be made in individual properties, or across the group, since feedback about one property could tell you about changes that could be made to another. If, for example, a number of guests suggested that the decor at one hotel was outdated, affecting their impression of their room or the hotel in general; an upgrade to decor at hotels throughout the group may be in order, and may be appreciated by guests who had noticed the outdated decor, but never thought to comment on it before. It may even attract guests who had never considered your hotel before, having been looking for something more modern.

Managing staff can be, and often is, a full-time job. But it is a job that guest feedback can make significantly easier. When guests have a great customer service experience, or a not so great one, they will often remember the staff member who helped them, often for years if the memory is a particularly fond one. Asking your guests about any memorable moments that they may have had when interacting with your staff can help you to find out which team members are over- or under-performing — who is going out of their way to provide memorable customer service, and who is doing the bare minimum to get by.

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It’s impossible for management to be everywhere at all times, so it’s not unusual that customer service will sometimes slip. But where guests are finding customer service lacking, their feedback can tell you about it, and help you to quickly address any issues with the relevant staff member or team, and get the level of service back to where it should be.

Rewarding staff for exceptional performances based on guest feedback will see your staff not only being motivated to provide great service, but it will also see them understanding the influence that they have over guest experiences. Even better, it will see your guests being encouraged to give guest feedback — if guests know about rewards, such as employee of the month, they will often make an extra effort to provide you with details about the staff that help them during their stays as a show of appreciation.

Last, but certainly not least, guest feedback can go a long way to enhancing your marketing strategy. Knowing what it is that guests love about you can help you to focus your marketing on those areas to attract others who will appreciate the same things. If, for example, your guest feedback is telling you that your views are spectacular, and that guests appreciate how peaceful their stay with you was, you will market your property very differently than you would if your guest feedback was telling you that the night-life nearby was what drew them to you, or that your restaurant was the highlight of their stay. In one case, you could focus on marketing a peaceful getaway with spectacular views; in the other, you could focus on the entertainment around you, and the excellent dining that you offer.

Whichever area you choose to focus your marketing on, you will have the opportunity to attract guests who are looking for exactly what you offer. This is what makes guest feedback so essential. If you offer a spa, but guests are telling you that their experience there is underwhelming, focussing your marketing efforts on your spa will only lead to disappointment. Marketing the right aspect of your property will reach the kind of people who will appreciate what you have to offer, and see a far better return on investment for your business.

Using guest feedback can also help you to remarket your property to those who have stayed with you before. A guest who has thoroughly enjoyed their experience with you could become a repeat customer with the right marketing strategy, and their feedback can help you to not only personalise their stays, but the marketing that they get as well. A single guest  may have little or no interest in a romantic weekend that you are offering on special, but for a couple it may be perfectly timed. And even where a guest had a negative experience, using your marketing to show them the improvements that have been made based on their feedback may see them deciding to give you another try.

Section 5: How to get useful guest feedback

Now you know how important guest feedback is, but how can you make sure that the feedback that you get is actually useful to your business. You could get responses from hundreds of guests, but if all of those guests are simply telling you that their stay was okay, without going into any detail, it will be hard to pinpoint how you could improve and turn an “okay” stay into an excellent one. This is where having a feedback partner can come in particularly handy, and where technology can give you a helping hand.

As we mentioned earlier, having any form of guest feedback can be a huge help, but if you’re getting all of your feedback via comment cards, there isn’t a lot of information that you can be given, simply because there isn’t much space for guests to tell you where improvements can be made. With online questionnaires, on the other hand, space is not a problem in the slightest, and guests can get far more detailed with the information that they provide.

The first step to making sure that you’re getting the most out of your online questionnaires is to make sure that you’re getting enough email addresses. Every time a guest books with you, checks in or emails you, you have an opportunity to capture their email address. Making sure that you have the correct email addresses for your guests will mean that you can send them online questionnaires. So capture correct email addresses right at the start and make sure that you are contacting your guests and asking them for feedback — they’ll often be more than happy to oblige, especially if you tell them upfront what it is that you want to use their address for.

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There are ways to encourage your guests to give you feedback, from having in-house feedback methods, to reminding them about the email that you will send them when they check out. But it’s not uncommon for emails to go unnoticed, unopened, or unclicked. A great subject line can go a long way to convincing guests to open your email, while an obscure one could see them not knowing that the email has come from you, or have them suspecting that it’s spam. The message that your email contains could also see its readers either clicking through straight away to give you the feedback that you need, or it could see them glancing over it and carrying on with their day without taking any action. Making sure that your message is personalised, and that it thanks them for their time with you and stresses how valuable you would find their insight is more likely to see a response than a one-lined link to your questionnaire, and nothing more.

Once you have all of the email addresses at hand and your emails written up, it’s time to send out your questionnaires. If you have a property management system, this can even happen automatically, without you needing to lift a finger. Your guests’ details would already be stored, and your questionnaire could simply be sent immediately on check-out, or a day or two later, according to your preference. Often it’s best to give your guests time to get back home and start to reminisce fondly of their trip before asking for feedback — if you ask immediately, your email may get buried and not be top of their inbox by the time they arrive home. Even if you don’t have a property management system, sending out emails is simple, as long as you’ve got the right contact details for your guests.

And then it comes down to the questionnaire itself. Making sure that you are asking the right questions to get feedback from your guests is absolutely vital — without the right questions, you’re unlikely to get the kind of feedback that you can use for informing operational decisions, managing staff or marketing your property. Start at the beginning by asking more about the kind of stay that the guest was on — business, family, romantic, etc — and find out a little bit more about the guest themselves. These are the kind of questions that will help you with your marketing further down the line. When you get to the questions about your property, don’t ask your guest too many questions or they will be unlikely to finish the survey. If you have a feedback solution that uses smart logic like GuestRevu, this will not be a problem.