Social Media and the Voice of the Customer

Mining for customer satisfaction...

Mining for customer satisfaction…

Determining the balance between creepy intrusion and thoughtful personal touches is, for companies focused on personal experience and service, an increasingly tough challenge and opportunity given the data that is available in social media. Companies like the Four Seasons hotel group use analysts to mine the Internet for real-time feedback. In his piece for the Globe and Mail, Craig Offman described the experience of author Janine Driver who

was the keynote speaker at a Nashville conference, and told the audience that the Loews Vanderbilt had gone on to her Facebook page, replicated a photo of her newborn baby and his older brother, framed it, and left it on her hotel nightstand. Ms. Driver raved about the experience. On her Facebook page, her baby was wearing a Loews onesie.

“Social media is a great tool for us to personalize their experience and make them feel special during their stay,” said Loews spokeswoman Christina VerHeul, who added that the hotel tracked down the birthday of a guest through social media and put a cake in her room. The hotel also learned the hobby of an arriving celebrity and had a local store custom-design a Melin brand skate cap with a diamond in its bill.

Chekitan Dev, an associate professor at Cornell’s hotel school, also receives unexpected bounty. An allergy sufferer, he breathed easier when The Breakers Palm Beach offered him a humidifier. New York’s Carlyle Hotel placed initialed pillows on his childrens’ beds. All this information, he said, was gleaned from the public domain. “There’s no downside if this is done well,” he said.

Still, it takes quite a bit of skill to make sure that for a given person a well-intended personal touch doesn’t turn into a big problem if the guest perceives the data mining as creepy and off-putting. TripAdvisor is another vehicle gaining influence in service-oriented sectors like hotels and restaurants.

…upmarket hoteliers nonetheless retain aggregators to comb through, or “scrape,” hundreds of thousands of reviews for the smallest tremors of social-media discontent. “We turn social insight into profitability,” said ReviewPro’s Barcelona-based CEO R.J. Friedlander, whose company works for the Kempinski Hotels, among others. His service can spot a gripe about the shabbiness of a rug or a backhanded barb such as “the room was very small, but well-decorated.” For every 10 raves, he estimates, there is one complaint.

High-end hotels such as Four Seasons and The Ritz-Carlton are the Nadal and Federer of their class, deadlocked in the game of near-perfection. While most of their properties score in the high-80s to low-90s of the Global Review Index – ReviewPro’s consumer report scorecard – every little stroke toward 100 per cent counts.

“We have a 24-7-hour monitoring system,” said Sorya Ingrid Gaulin, Four Seasons’ director of social media and publicity, adding that its hotels have marching orders to respond to complaints within four hours.

On the proactive side, the Four Seasons website posts TripAdvisor reviews (albeit snippets that are uniformly positive), and also uses Revinate to find new customers through keywords and geo-targeting.

“The power has shifted, and we’ve lost control of our reputation,” said Daniel Edward Craig, who runs Reknown, a Vancouver consultancy that works with ReviewPro and TripAdvisor on reputation management. “But there is a lot we can do to regain that control.”

In process excellence, understanding the Voice of the Customer is a critical, one might argue the most critical, element of process design, improvement and management. Social media now ups the ante by dis-aggregating the Voice of the Customer from segments of many to segments of one and by providing the opportunity and challenge of real-time and public feedback on where your service process excels and falls short.

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