The Digital Age we are in is a blast. (Did I just date myself using “blast?”) At Standing Dog Interactive, we really enjoy developing and executing digital strategies. I am constantly thinking of how we can add more value for our clients and challenging myself and our team to come up with innovative ways to help our partners achieve greater success and, ultimately, more revenue. When taking a holistic view of the business during the strategy phase, we always discuss the importance of great customer service and its impact to online reviews, Facebook posts, Tweets, etc. There is no substitute for great customer service — except outstanding service. Now, however, the importance grows even greater with the evolution of social media and our 24/7-connected customers.
Recently, I was on a trip to L.A. and purposely did not book a room in advance because I wanted to try out HotelTonight. I am partial to the Century City/Beverly Hills area from my days with Hilton Hotels Corp. (they were based just around the corner from the Beverly Hills Police Department made famous by “Beverly Hills Cop,” and I am a movie geek because I like seeing where movies were filmed). I selected the Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills, got a great rate of $180 for the night and literally arrived 10 minutes later. The property is a boutique hotel in a great location on West Olympic Boulevard. (Neither HotelTonight nor the Avalon Hotel is our client, but if you know them, don’t hesitate to mention us).
Knowing what I know about the hospitality industry, I was concerned that I may get a less-than-stellar room since I booked a discounted rate through a third-party site. I am always preaching that hotels should treat all guests the same because the guests who book a discounted rate are typically very Internet savvy and will be more likely to write a bad review or send a negative tweet if they are given a sub-par room. In essence, these third-party shoppers should be embraced as an opportunity, a chance to wow guests and make them advocates instead of adversaries.
When I checked in, the young man and woman at the front desk could not have been nicer or more sincere. They were thrilled that I was trying out their hotel and gave me a choice of two room types: a smaller room that was closer to the lobby and had a view or a larger room in the adjacent building with not so great of a view but much more silence. I opted for the larger, quieter room since I’m in my 40s. (40 is the new 30 right?) The young man then walked with me to the room while telling me all about the hotel, restaurant and surrounding area. Walked me there? When was the last time you were walked to your room, especially if you paid less than $200 a night?
Later, when I came back to the lobby, I was greeted and asked how my room was and if I needed anything. You know what happened the next morning? More of the same. It was a fantastic experience all around. The accommodations were great. The food at the restaurant (Kale Caesar Salad) was delicious, and the service was phenomenal. This experience got me thinking: How does great customer service impact your digital strategy?
- Word of mouth: I am writing this post about my experience. I wrote a TripAdvisor review. And, I tweeted about the Avalon Hotel. I also have told many people (in the physical world) about my experience. Yes, there is still “traditional” word of mouth beyond the social media world.
- Engagement/real-time content marketing: Avalon Hotel is listening to its customers online. The hotel used my tweet as an opportunity to interact – a new brand advocate – and share the message. My tweet was re-tweeted, and the hotel also sent me a thank you. “A new study conducted by the Internet Advertising Bureau has found that 90 percent of consumers would recommend a brand to others after interacting with them on social media.” I am already recommending the hotel and feel my brand advocacy went even higher by the acknowledgment of my tweet. It means the hotel is listening, and its staff cares. And many more people will see the brand’s interaction with me to help support current and future advocates. The GM also wrote a personalized reply to my review on TripAdvisor, not some generic response.
- Social search: Anytime one of my Facebook friends searches TripAdvisor or Bing for a hotel in L.A. and is connected, they will most likely see a recommendation from me. How many times will they see this? How much is this worth? It may be difficult to put an exact price on it, but it’s worth a lot! When I see recommendations from my friends, it carries more weight for my decisions. “Ninety-two percent of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as word of mouth and recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising — an increase of 18 percent since 2007, according to a new study from Nielsen, a leading global provider of information and insights into what consumers watch and buy. Online consumer reviews are the second most trusted form of advertising with 70 percent of global consumers surveyed online indicating they trust this platform, an increase of 15 percent in four years” - Nielsen Global Trust Survey.
- Reaping the rewards of reputation: Any positive comments help the hotel’s online and offline reputation. And positive reviews on TripAdvisor help its rating and popularity index. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of a booking. We see it with our customers when conversions increase as rankings go higher on TripAdvisor.
- Brand advocates: If you develop and nurture brand advocates, they will not only promote you but in many cases come to your defense. Sure, there are those out there who just want to try and get something for free. When you know it’s a shakedown, you will be in a much better place to stand your ground when you have strong brand advocates – like me.
- Repeat business: Unless they still have an outstanding rate on HotelTonight, I will book direct with the hotel next time I am in L.A. This will give the hotel a commission-free booking so they make more money on my next stay. It also validates the use of HotelTonight to find new guests with a greater lifetime value as well as lifetime social value based upon all of the social benefits listed above.
There are likely more impacts that will come to mind as I continue to think on this topic. Share your thoughts and similar stories in the comments section below.