Traveler reviews have had a disruptive effect on traditional rating systems, making a well-run budget hotel as likely to receive a five-star rating as an ultra-luxury hotel. Whether it’s circles on TripAdvisor, happy faces on Travelocity or stars on Google, Expedia, Yelp and Facebook, traveler ratings are shaped less by luxury features than by how well a business meets expectations.
While researching the most recent ReviewPro webinar, Earning Five-star Reviews with Remarkable Service, which attracted over 1,800 registrants worldwide, I asked representatives from a range of top-rated hotels, from economy to luxury, to share their strategies for earning five-star reviews.
1. Make service the No. 1 priority
Travelers may choose a hotel for the first time based on price, location or brand, but it’s the service that gets them writing reviews and brings them back. We polled attendees on the most important factor in driving five-star reviews, and service came out as a clear front-runner, at 72%, followed by value and cleanliness, tied at 11%, room at 5% and amenities at 2%.
“At the end of the day the service sets hotels apart,” said Vitanart Vathanakul, executive director of Thailand’s luxury brand Royal Cliff Hotels Group. “Guests return because they want the waiter who can remember their preferences, the same concierge to recommend local attractions and the manager to welcome them back. For us, style, design and technology are secondary in making a guest repeat their stay and influencing them to write a review.”
Miguel Porras, manager of Artrip Hotel in Madrid, would agree. His 17-room, limited-service property is classified by OTAs as a two-star, yet has an overall traveler rating of 4.5 stars. The hotel ranks No. 1 of 456 hotels in Madrid on TripAdvisor, outranking the city’s most luxurious hotels. Porras estimates that 80% of this success can be attributed to service.
2. Provide service worth remarking about
To earn five-star reviews, hotels must start with the essentials of quality, value and convenience and then go beyond to provide what I call “remarkable service”—service so unexpected, special and memorable guests feel compelled to remark about it in a review.
During the webinar, Darren Ross, COO of Magic Castle Hotel and CEO of Service Freak Hospitality, gave us insight into how his 40-room, three-star-category hotel holds the No. 1 position of 322 hotels in Los Angeles on TripAdvisor. “Our guests generally comment that while the facility isn’t fancy, the service is extraordinary,” he said. “And because people want to talk about extraordinary experiences, good or bad, we get a high volume of reviews.”
Said Adele Gutman, vice president of sales, marketing & revenue at Library Hotel Collection, whose four upscale boutique properties dominate the charts on TripAdvisor in New York, “Any staff member can hand a guest a set of keys efficiently at check in. A great hotelier, however, can take that mundane experience and transform it into a joyful and welcoming human connection that sets the tone for a great stay.”
Remarkable service means different things to different travelers, so being intuitive is a must. Says Vathanaluk of Royal Cliff Hotels, “All of this needs to be done in an unobtrusive manner as too much will lead to a negative review.
3. Focus on what you can control
“We can’t control most of the limitations of our building,” said Ross of Magic Castle Hotel. “We will always be a converted apartment building built in 1957. We will never have an elevator, restaurant or bar. What is within our control is how we make our guests feel. We see ourselves as a customer service company first, that functions as a hotel operator. We are obsessed with service.”
4. Hire employees who are passionate about service
“Starting with the interview process, we make our expectations known to staff,” said Ross. “On their first day, they understand that they need to perform.”
Library Hotel Collection is also very careful about who they hire. “We hire people who are naturally happy, kind, and have a desire to please,” said Gutman. “When you have a person like that, it is easy to coach them to be wonderful to guests.”
5. Train, empower and recognize staff
In Southern California, boutique collection Ayres Hotels ranks #1 on TripAdvisor in an incredible 14 of the 16 regions in which they operate. Matt Hildebrant, corporate director of revenue and marketing, told me that his company’s training programs, performance measurement, incentives and celebrations of success all contribute to this success.
“Staff need someone to show them exactly what great service looks like, feels like and sounds like,” said Gutman of Library Hotel Collection. “Our staff feel so comfortable and confident because they know exactly what we expect from them. They can make decisions on the spot without fear they may get in trouble.”
Royal Cliff Hotels brings in experts to give training seminars. “All of our employees are trained to go out of their way to look after each guest and to take ownership of problems,” said Vathanakul. “We delve deep into every review and use them to guide our training. Every time a compliment is made, we share it with the whole team and reward the respective employee. For complaints we identify the source of the problem and as a team we come up with a solution.”
6. Lead by example
“Fantastic service starts from the top down,” said Hildebrant of Ayres Hotels. “Our owners instill our core values in the team and our general managers lead our team members on a daily basis and set an excellent example to follow. By working together, we’re able to provide excellent service and take care of our guests.”
Said Ross of Magic Castle Hotel, “We really live the culture here—all of us. You can find me most mornings talking with guests in the courtyard during breakfast hours, helping plan their day, clearing dishes, and being involved with the details of the morning. Our other managers do the same thing.”
7. Listen carefully, respond creatively
“We create unique programs that are cost effective, but have a high impact on guests,” said Ross. “For example, whenever we see people out by the pool, a front desk agent puts on white gloves and serves complimentary popsicles. Kids love it, parents love it. Low cost, high impact.” A guiding philosophy is to “listen carefully, respond creatively,” he said.
“We constantly monitor customer comments,” said Vathanuluk of Royal Cliff Hotels. “This exercise has revealed so many useful and interesting insights. It has uncovered numerous hidden issues and allowed us to identify the root causes of the problem. We alert senior managers and the concerned department immediately. Every guest comment, tweet and photo gets a reply from us within 24 hours.”
8. Extend remarkable service to social media
During the webinar, Piper Stevens, director of social media at Loews Hotels & Resorts, which operates upscale hotels in 16 destinations in the U.S. and Canada, discussed her company’s initiatives to harness social media as a service channel.
Loews streamlined Twitter activity from one feed per property to one centralized brand feed. “We went the opposite way of most hotel brands,” said Stevens. “Having one Twitter stream allows for little confusion on the guest front – there is only one place to go to inquire, comment or complain. So from a monitoring standpoint, we are more confident that nothing will slip through the cracks.”
Loews also provides real-time service on social networks. “Whether a guest is inquiring about luggage storage or wants details on a package, we monitor our digital channels very regularly,” said Stevens. “We assign point people at every hotel who will be responsive no matter the time of day or day of the week.” The brand also recently introduced “Social Reservations”, allowing guests to book stays via Twitter utilizing the #BookLoews hashtag.
Lastly, I asked Ross of Magic Castle Hotel how he keeps all the glowing guest feedback from going to his head. “It’s important to stay humble and to focus on the guest,” he said.
Click here to learn more about Reknown’s customized training programs in customer service, social media and reputation management.