In my last post, Social Media Ambush, I discussed the growing trend of travelers using social media to voice complaints, often without bringing them to the attention of staff. In this post I discuss two other ways travelers are using social media: requests for special treatment
and threats to write a bad review.
For hotels social networks have performed disappointingly as a booking channel, but for hotel guests they're proving to be a popular and efficient customer service channel. Showing up with increasing frequency on Facebook pages and Twitter feeds are comments like this: "Can't wait to celebrate our anniversary at your hotel-hope you make it special!"
On one hand it's fantastic when guests share their excitement in such a public manner. On the other hand if truffles and pink champagne aren't waiting in an upgraded Princess Suite, what are the risks? What if the guest is a rampant, venomous blogger, a social media overlord who can bring the hotel to its knees with a few blistering words?
Moreover, accommodating all such requests could get cumbersome and expensive. On any given Saturday night, for example, up to half or more of a hotel's rooms might be occupied by guests celebrating a special occasion.
Is social media freeloading becoming a problem? I asked several hoteliers, and they responded with characteristic optimism and good cheer.
"I would prefer to know about a guest's special occasion and delight them than fail to meet expectations and generate dissatisfaction," says Ciarán Fahy, managing director of 230-room The Cavendish in London. The hotel's Facebook page reveals a stream of guest requests and commentary. But Fahy says the volume is quite manageable, and the special treatment the hotel typically extends "has built massive loyalty and repeat business and supports positive reviews on websites too."
At the 2,019-room Hyatt Regency Chicago, social media marketing manager Jennifer Kedinger says, "We get requests for upgrades and rooms with good views. We have seen a huge increase in guest social support questions for directions [and] recommendations for restaurants and events." She says the hotel tries to accommodate all requests, if they have the availability. "We appreciate our guests engaging us on social media regarding their stay."
It's a powerful tool for guests who are being mistreated, and perhaps justifiable, but what if it's the guest who is doing the mistreating? As an example, last month the owner of hotel in Cornwall, England reported to the DailyMail.co.uk that a couple had threatened to post a bad review if he didn't waive the last-minute cancelation fee.
It's becoming an all-too familiar scenario. What's a hotelier to do? Hold your ground, and the consequences might be harmful to reputation and revenue. Give in, and not only do you encourage such behavior, you reward it. And you feel dirty all over no matter how hard your scrub yourself down.
Small properties are especially vulnerable because they receive fewer reviews. "Ninety-nine percent of our guests are genuine and sweet," says Shellie, an innkeeper in Virginia. "One percent is rotten to the core." And yet, she says, "The day in and day out stress of fighting someone like this is not worth it. Ever."
Are hoteliers completely at the mercy of social media intimidators? Not necessarily. Here are a few suggestions for handling either scenario for the best possible outcome.
Requests for special treatment
- Monitor social networks closely using alerts or a monitoring tool, and respond quickly to all requests.
- Inquire about the nature of the occasion and share the excitement, but don't make any promises. If a guest really wants that heart-shaped vibrating bed, he can cough up.
- Flag the reservation and alert the front desk and applicable departments. Prioritize special treatment based on the occasion and availability.
- A personal note and a list of activity suggestions can be as well received as an upgrade or welcome amenity.
- Set aside a promo budget for socially active guests; you'll likely enjoy far better results than from those static print ads.
- Sites like Klout and PeerIndex will help you gauge how influential people are on Twitter, but not how likely they will be to write a review.
- Check back in with guests during or after their stay.
- Take threats seriously, but don't allow them to cloud your judgment. No employee should be held hostage to unreasonable demands and social strong-arming.
- Like with any complaint, remain calm and be unfalteringly professional. Offer options, and do everything within reason to find a resolution.
- A social media policy and guidelines will help staff know where they stand, the options they have, and that upper management will support their decisions.
- Record all details for future reference.
- Few guests will follow through once calmer heads prevail. If they do, post a response to respectfully set the record straight. If claims are false and damaging, dispute the review with the host site.
- The worst-case scenario? A bad review. It hurts, but it's hoteliers, not travelers, who fret over the occasional negative review. Learn from the situation, take comfort in having done your best, support the team and move on.
Daniel Edward Craig is a former general manager turned consultant specializing in online marketing, social media strategy and reputation management. He is the author of three novels set in hotels, and his blog is a popular resource for hoteliers and travel marketers around the world. Visit www.danieledwardcraig.com.