Join Our Webinar on Managing Digital Communications


Digital technology is changing the way companies interact with customers. Increasingly, communications are taking place not in person or by phone but through mobile apps, SMS, social media and automated messaging.

And yet many employees lack the skills, guidelines and training necessary to communicate effectively on these new channels, and customers often end up angry, confused or frustrated.

In the next installment of ReviewPro’s free webinar series for hoteliers, we discuss how to manage guest communications in the digital age. Topics include digital communication tools, the do’s and don’ts of digital messaging, and how to establish guidelines and procedures for employees.

Guest speaker Marcos Cadena, VP Digital, Ecommerce & Distribution at Minor Hotels, will discuss why digital communication with guests is so important, the tools and technology his company has in place or planned, and how to overcome some of the challenges of digital communications.

Tim Towle, Co-founder of ReviewPro, will discuss how hotels can use his company’s new Guest Messaging Hub to communicate with guests on a range of messaging services from SMS and email to Facebook Messenger and WeChat.

Don’t miss this ground-breaking webinar on Wednesday, September 27, 2017! Click here to register. If you are unable to attend the live webinar, register anyway and you’ll receive a link to the recorded webinar after the broadcast.

See you there!

 

6 Lessons I’ve Learned About Managing Online Reviews

By Daniel E. Craig, Founder, Reknown

Through my work over the past decade helping hotels and travel businesses build and leverage a positive online reputation, I’ve learned a few lessons. Here are the top six.

1. Stop ranting about bad reviews.
Yes, negative comments can sting, and you’re passionate about your business, but ranting only makes things worse. Show leadership by respecting your critics and inspiring staff to learn from feedback and constantly strive to improve. Besides, a few snarky or untrue comments are harmless compared to the true injustices in the world.

Let it go. Channel that energy toward fixing problems and earning positive reviews.

2. Stop over-promising.
Gone are the days of luring in customers with fairy-tale descriptions and fantasy photos and then failing to deliver on promises. Consumers expect transparency, authenticity and accountability from businesses today, and when they don’t receive it they share their disappointment on social media.

By under-promising and over-delivering, you will earn trust, advocacy and loyalty from customers.

3. Know when and how to respond.
It’s great that you’re taking the time to respond to customer feedback, but if you post meaningless, canned responses to every review, you’re missing the point. Respond selectively to reviews that call for an apology, an explanation or a simple thank-you, and focus on writing brief, thoughtful and meaningful responses.

As a rule, engage and appease detractors, thank advocates and ignore trolls.

4. Empower your employees.
Do your employees understand why reviews are so important to your business, and the role they play in shaping customer impressions? Are they trained to be alert to signs of trouble and empowered to resolve onsite issues and prevent them from escalating to online complaints?

By investing in ongoing training and on-the-job coaching, you will keep staff members engaged in optimizing the customer experience.

5. Stop pressuring customers to write reviews.
Send a follow-up email requesting a review, but don’t allow employees to badger customers to write reviews and mention them by name. It’s awkward and unseemly, and it can backfire.

Focus on providing remarkable experiences, and the rave reviews will flow organically.

6. Recognize your staff.
Use negative feedback as a constructive learning tool, and use positive feedback to recognize and motivate staff. It was years ago, but I still keep copies of letters from my general manager commending me for positive feedback from guests, which came with a crisp $5 bill. It wasn’t about the money, it was about recognition. Although rewards help too.

© 2017 Daniel E. Craig

 

What Does TripAdvisor’s New “Best Value” Ranking Mean for Hotels?

By Daniel E. Craig, Founder, Reknown

Travelers have spoken, and TripAdvisor has heeded their wishes. According to the 2016 TripBarometer Study, 93 percent of TripAdvisor survey respondents ranked price as the most importance influence on accommodation booking decisions.

To that end, TripAdvisor recently introduced the latest, and possibly the most disruptive, change in its repositioning from a review site to a place to plan, share and book travel experiences—and above all to get the best deals on hotels.

Now, when travelers search a destination on TripAdvisor, hotels are no longer displayed according to the Popularity Ranking; the new default ranking is called “Best Value.” The change was rolled out system-wide on May 30, 2017 along with other updates.

How does Best Value change search results?
The popularity ranking is still around, but it is now called “Traveler Ranked,” and to access it in hotel searches users must switch the sorting option at the top of the page.

The Best Value sort presents a significantly altered portrait of top hotels in a destination. For example, when I searched hotels in New York City on a given date, the Row NYC Hotel, which ranks #346 of 467 hotels on the Popularity Ranking, came up on top as the “#1 Best Value.” That’s quite a jump in visibility for a hotel with lackluster reviews.

Meanwhile, the Hotel 50 Bowery NYC, which ranks #1 in New York City on the popularity ranking, was barely on the radar, coming up as the “#32 Best Value” hotel.

What does this mean for hotels? While it’s too early to assess the full impact, one thing seems certain: if you wish to maximize visibility and booking referrals on TripAdvisor, rave reviews and a high popularity ranking are no longer enough.

What exactly does “Best Value” mean?
Over the past decade, I’ve worked with TripAdvisor and hundreds of hotels and brands around the world to help hotels build and leverage a positive online reputation. The Popularity Ranking has always been a source of mystery for hoteliers—and sometimes frustration. The new Best Value sort stands to be even more perplexing.

TripAdvisor defines Best Value as “Hotels ranked using exclusive TripAdvisor data, including traveler ratings, prices, booking popularity, location and personal user preferences.”

Compare that to the Popularity Ranking, which is based on the quality, recency and quantity of traveler reviews and now seems comparatively simple. Read more »

Will Technology Replace Customer Service in Hotels?

By Daniel E. Craig, Founder, Reknown

On recent travels, I’ve noticed an increasing number of hotels using digital technology to interact with guests. Hotels have used technology for decades, of course, but the latest wave brings it out of the back-of-house and into the hands of guests.

The question is, do travelers want these options? And are they using them?

According to a Cognizant survey, over half of U.S. travelers want more automation in hotels. This includes using their mobile device to check in (54%), open their door (50%), communicate with staff (49%), and check out (57%). The numbers were significantly higher for frequent business travelers. (Phocuswright, 2016.)

But humans are strange creatures. Just because we say we want something doesn’t mean we will use it. And by many accounts adoption of guest-facing technology has been slow.

Digital Check-in
Take check-in kiosks, for example. Several years ago, big-box hotels began installing lobby kiosks at a frenzied rate, gleefully anticipating huge savings in labor costs. Then guests more or less ignored them.

A 2016 Market Force survey found that only 3 percent of U.S. consumers checked in online, 2 percent used an app, and a mere 1 percent used a self-service kiosk. The vast majority—93 percent—checked in with reception.

Why the resistance? No doubt our perception has been soured by airport kiosks, which may make check-in less labor-intensive for airlines but make it more onerous for passengers.

More than anything, however, I think that consumers are reluctant to give up one of the last bastions of good customer service: hotels.

While other businesses make it increasingly difficult to reach a human being in customer service, obliging us to wait in line or on hold, navigate voice systems, fill out online forms and converse with chatbots, hotels make it as easy as picking up the phone or walking up to the front desk. Hotel employees are so approachable they practically encourage complaints.

Now that so much of the trip-planning process is digital and self-directed, it’s no wonder that travelers rush into the arms of employees the moment they arrive at a hotel.

And yet so often, upon approaching hotel employees, I encounter not a smiling, eager face but a lowered head. Travelers may be resistant to technology in hotels, but employees can’t seem to unglue their eyes from their computers and electronic devices.

And what are the first words out of the front desk agent’s mouth? “Credit card and ID, please.”

I expect this type of greeting from a kiosk, not a hotel employee. If staff can’t deliver the fundamentals of hospitality—eye contact, a warm welcome, a smile, intuitive service, the ability to go off script—they might as well be replaced by computers and kiosks.  Read more »

So You Want to Be a Consultant

By Daniel E. Craig, Founder, Reknown

People often approach me looking for advice on becoming a consultant, and my first impulse is to cry, “Don’t give up your day job!”

Self-employment is not for the faint of heart or the needy. Many people get a dose of the spotty income and solitude, and run screaming back to a real job.

But if you’re self-motivated and content with your own company, the life of an independent consultant can offer tremendous flexibility and lucrative opportunities.

Having survived and thrived as a consultant for almost ten years, I’ve learned a few ins and outs. Here’s a summary of my top recommendations.

Do you have what it takes? Really?
Be aware that calling yourself a consultant can raise eyebrows. The consulting profession has a rather sketchy reputation because virtually anyone can claim to be a consultant. The title is often used as a euphemism for unemployed.

As a qualified consultant, you should have extensive experience and expertise in a given field. Companies or individuals must be willing to pay for your advice, analysis and problem solving, and you should be able to help them improve their business.

Excellent communication skills are critical too. You will need to convey information and ideas clearly and credibly, in writing, in visuals, and in front of groups.

Getting started
Creating a clever name and a slick website can be fun, but at the outset your priority should be finding paid work. Besides, your services are likely to evolve over time.

When I started out I used my name as my business and built a simple web page.  A few years later, after I had established a viable business, I created my company name, Reknown, and invested in a more elaborate (but still simple) website.

If possible, keep your day job until you have lined up enough work to pay the bills for six months or more. That means securing solid commitments and contracts. Those clients who promised to follow you when you break out on your own have a way of disappearing.  Read more »

High Rates, High Expectations: How to Maintain Guest Satisfaction During the Busy Season


During high season, as hotel rates and occupancy climb so do the expectations of guests. And yet with rooms running at full capacity and staff scrambling to accommodate the insatiable needs of leisure travelers, the guest experience often suffers.

The end result? Bad reviews about long waits, crowds, slow service and poor value.  And a drop in ratings and rankings on review sites that can take months or more to recover from.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In the next installment of ReviewPro’s webinar series, we show you how to buck the trend by maintaining high guest satisfaction ratings even when rates soar and employees are taxed to the max.

Topics include:

  • Why do review scores go down when occupancy goes up?
  • Understanding the unique needs of peak-season travelers
  • How to exceed expectations and prevent bad reviews
  • Balancing financial needs with operational needs
  • Plus tips, examples and data for achieving your most successful busy season ever

Join me on May 31, 2017 for this free webinar from ReviewPro, with expert panelists Nicholas Gandossi, General Manager of Opus Hotel, and Neil James, VP of Account Management at ReviewPro.

Click here for more information.

 

Brand Storytelling in the Era of Fake News

Here Len Stein, president of Visibility Public Relations, recaps my presentation at HSMAI’s Digital Marketing Conference in New York last month. The article was originally published in Branding magazine. – DC

By Len Stein

Daniel E. Craig, who recently discussed the importance of strategic digital storytelling at the HSMAI Digital Marketing Strategy Conference 2017, New York City, first learned about the power of digital storytelling in 2006 as general manager of Opus Hotel, Vancouver, when he launched the hotel industry’s first blog.

“In our blog, we talked about issues most hotels would not discuss, like why we overbooked and sometimes relocated, how we dealt with difficult guests, and what it felt like to get a bad review,” said Craig, whose blog attracted a worldwide following and helped to put the hotel on the map.

He then moved on to his second career as a mystery writer whose lead character is a hotel manager who becomes a house detective in Murder at the Universe and two sequels.

Today Craig, founder of Reknown, is a marketing consultant to hotels, technology companies, and travel organizations, helping shape their brand stories, content and messaging.

People have been telling stories for millennia, and exaggeration has been a staple device. What’s new are the digital platforms for sharing stories, the unprecedented audiences, and the new formats, which present marketers new opportunities and challenges. With low barriers to entry, there are virtually no filters in social storytelling. Anyone can say or share whatever they wish, which has given rise to an era of fake news, misinformation, and so-called alternative facts. As citizens of this post-truth era, it’s hard to know whom to trust and what to believe.

In fact, Edelman’s 2017 “Trust Barometer” found that trust has eroded globally 30 percent across the board over 2016. Marketers must recognize they are dealing with a cynical and skeptical public, and they must accept part of the blame for this situation. As has long been the case, there’s still too much misinformation in marketing today, especially in the travel sector.

“I like to joke that the hotel industry can be credited with creating fake news because of its tradition of featuring fairytale descriptions and fantasy photos in marketing materials, in hopes that guests won’t notice the grimmer reality of the property when they arrive,” said Craig. “For instance, hotels regularly shorten their distance from airports and beaches and to downtown, exaggerate views, and liberally toss around words like ‘luxurious’ and ‘five star.’”

What’s the biggest fake news story in the hotel business today? “Book direct for the best deals.” While it’s sometimes true, consumers who take the time to search online often find better deals. “And travelers should beware of the phrase ‘best available rate,’ which might more accurately be called ‘bestish,’” said Craig. When consumers can find better deals elsewhere, trust in the hotel industry erodes.

It’s no wonder that travelers turn to social media to consult trip information and advice from the source they trust most – other travelers. But the social space poses problems too – from fake reviews to false information to bad advice. Many people turn to Facebook to crowdsource recommendations, but again not all our friends share the same tastes. The end result is that this skepticism is directed toward other consumers and even to people within our personal networks.

In this environment, how can marketers earn trust? Storytelling in marketing is basically about shaping brand messaging to resonate with one’s audience, said Craig. A good story, well told, captures attention, makes people sit up and listen, and compels them to share the story. With so much noise in the digital space, good storytelling is a way for hotels and brands to stand out. But to compel action (from likes to shares to bookings), marketers must build trust with consumers—in the products and services they promote and in the content they share.  Read more »

Disruption 2017: Three Major Trends in the Global Hotel Business


By Daniel E. Craig

We can certainly say that 2017 is poised to be a year of disruption in American politics. Does the same apply to the global hotel industry?

Disruption can be defined as a radical change in an industry, especially involving the introduction of a new product or service that creates a new market. It often brings disorder and confusion, and companies that don’t adapt risk becoming obsolete.

In my next webinar with ReviewPro, we explore three major disruptive forces in the hotel industry:

1. Rise of Megabrands
In recent years we have witnessed massive consolidation among hotel companies and online travel agencies, and in 2017 we’ll start to see the full impact of these changes.

According to Lodging Econometrics’ Q4 2015 report, the three biggest hotel conglomerates, Hilton, Marriott and IHG, accounted for 37 percent of worldwide hotel construction, with 11,130 development projects in the pipeline. Snapping at their heels is AccorHotels Group, with more than 4,000 hotels in its portfolio and ambitious plans to grow and diversify.

On the OTA front, Priceline Group and Expedia Inc. continue to grow at a much faster pace than hotel companies, commanding a virtual duopoly on an international scale. Yet Ctrip.com is proving to be a veritable force as it extends its reach beyond China.

“To stay competitive in a mega brand and OTA-driven world, it’s really a matter of personalized vs. one-size-fits-all,” says Simone Puorto, director of global accounts and quality manager at WIHP. “Hoteliers have a number of tools at their disposal, from opaque rates to metasearch advertising, and from tailor-made services to AI travel assistants.”

Puorto will be one of my co-presenters on the webinar, along with Fiona Gillen, vice president of marketing at ReviewPro.

2. Growth of Private Rentals Sector
As much as some hotel executives may be in denial, the rapidly-expanding private rentals sector represents another disruptive force in the hotel industry today. You can read more on this topic in my article, The Incredible Shrinking Hotel Industry.

3. Digital Customer Service
A third disruptive force that’s still in its infancy is the rise of digital customer service. Increasingly, travelers are turning to digital platforms to plan trips, make inquiries with businesses and share experiences.

Whether it’s online check-in, messaging apps, chatbots, voice-activated technology or even humanoid robots, an increasing number of tasks in the hospitality business that were previously performed by humans now have the potential to be performed by computers.

Join us on Tuesday, January 31 for this free one-hour webinar, when we’ll discuss what these trends mean and how hoteliers can adapt and stay competitive in 2017 and beyond.

If you miss the webinar, you can download it and all previous webinars and guides in ReviewPro’s Resource Hub.