NB: This is an article by DJ Vallauri , Founder and President of Lodging Interactive
Can you remember the days when your hotel’s social media marketing was so simple, when you didn’t have to pay Facebook to have your posts seen by your organic followers? And when “tweeting” meant that everyone who followed you on Twitter would see your posts in their Twitter streams? Those were the good ole days, indeed.
Well, brace yourself and get ready to dig deep… real deep into your marketing coffers. Those days are gone, and they’re not coming back. It was inevitable that Facebook and Twitter would have to someday become profitable, and now that both are publicly traded companies, the free marketing opportunities your hotel once enjoyed are gone forever.
But there’s an even stronger social media undercurrent beginning to play out for hotels and resorts. I call this emergence Social Media 2.0. What we have come to know as social media marketing is now morphing into social media customer service, also known as social media customer care. I predict 2017 will be breakout year where the hospitality industry will be forced into investing in technology, infrastructure and personnel to effectively manage the progression of social media customer service as demanded by customers.
Consumers are increasingly hanging up on the 800-call center model and turning to social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, to attain customer service satisfaction. The hospitality industry should consider 2016 as its training season prior to the big game. This year is the time to experiment and evaluate solution providers and agencies that can provide social media customer care services 24/7, 365-days a year.
Creating and supporting near real-time experiences
An American Express study reported the top three reasons U.S. customers use social media networks for customer service purposes:
- Seeking an actual response from a company about a service issue (50%);
- Praising a company for a great service experience (48%); and
- Venting frustration about a poor service experience (46%).
Social customer service is about listening and engaging with customer comments on a near real-time basis. After all, if consumers want to engage with you via social media instead of the telephone, we have to expect they want a near real-time experience. More on the “near real time basis” in a moment.
Our experience has shown that consumers posting on Facebook expect same-day responses while consumers using Twitter expect a response in less than one hour. And with hotel brands testing Facebook’s Messenger application and other SMS texting platforms, consumer response time is expected in mere minutes.
Hyatt Hotels Corporation is testing the Facebook Messenger application that allows customers to communicate openly with Hyatt’s social customer service team on a wide variety of topics. Given Facebook has more than 700 million monthly active users engaging with Messenger, Hyatt is going where the masses are, and this makes a lot of sense. In fact, I anticipate Facebook Messenger becoming an important voice in the social customer service wheelhouse in the very near future and certainly by 2017.
Listening and engaging with customer comments
When it comes to dealing and responding to guest service issues via social media platforms, hoteliers have another incentive to jump on board: TripAdvisor. Experience has shown that if you can quickly acknowledge and engage with an unhappy guest who is using social media to broadcast their dissatisfaction with your hotel, you will keep them from posting a negative review on TripAdvisor or Yelp.
On the flip side, timely responses and engagement with hotel guests – past, present and future – can create a feeling of “goodwill and loyalty.” This can be converted into positive reviews and comments on the major review sites. Social media customer service is all about listening and engaging with customer comments on a near real-time basis.
Now let’s look at what’s also coming down the road: Real-time social customer service. Online technology customer service players, such as Live Chat and Live Person, are finally going to get the respect they deserve. These companies are making it so easy for any hotel website to be powered with real-time customer service technology. Simply add a snippet of code onto your website, and you have the technology infrastructure to provide around-the-clock social customer service.
So the real question for your hotel is, how do you add the human element? Notice I said “how” not “when.” As I previously stated, 2016 is the year for your hotel to try different solutions so your property doesn’t fall behind consumer expectations.
Finding opportunities to move market share
Real-time social customer service equals increased real-time revenue opportunities and bookings for hotels. According to a Forrester’s 2014 study, 55 percent of U.S. adults online are likely to abandon their purchase if they can’t find a quick answer to their question.
In addition to hotel websites having robust FAQ pages, like we’ve come to expect on product e-commerce sites such as Amazon and Best Buy, sharp hotel operators should be monitoring competitor social customer service channels for opportunities to engage with consumers of a competitive brand.
For example, it is not uncommon for a hotel branded property to interject itself into an opportunistic social customer service conversation happening with another brand. Something like, “We know you’re not staying with us this time, but we can help you with that dinner reservation.” This type of engagement shows the customer who is listening and most attentive to their social media customer service inquiry and can actually move market share as well as create new loyal guests.
Fitting social media customer service into your overall strategy
So where does social media customer service belong in your hotel’s overall strategy? Is it a function of the marketing department or hotel operations?
When we look at Twitter, the most widely used social media support channel, we see that the large hotel brands have set up dedicated Twitter accounts for customer services. For example, Hilton Worldwide has @hiltonhelp and Starwood Hotels & Resorts has set up @spgassist. This allows the brands to separate regular brand mentions from actual support requests that, in turn, allows support agents to focus purely on support issues.
However, for the hotel property-specific environment, I would recommend only one Twitter account covering both social media marketing and social media customer service activities. I recommend this approach, as the level of support tweets simply doesn’t justify the management of two Twitter accounts and separate support teams.
Social media marketing platforms continue to evolve and morph into next generation social media customer service platforms, and as savvy hoteliers, we need to stay current and evolve with them. After all, our customers are rapidly evolving with these platforms. Hoteliers need to invest the resources, both financially and from an intellectual property standpoint, to meet their customers where they “hang out” – on the platforms of their choosing, not the hotel’s.
Considerations for providing superior hotel social customer service
Make the commitment and get the required resources.
Social customer service is no longer an option for hotels. Hotels are in the hospitality business, and now hospitality is extended online by way of social customer service. Management needs to buy into this strategy and needs to budget for the appropriate resources to get the job done as expected by your guests. You will need personnel, technology applications and training, which are all ongoing expenses.
Find the right people for your social customer service team.
Find the right team member(s) in your operation who understand your brand’s voice and values. Good writing skills are a must. Your social customer service team members should have an especially good grasp of tone and the English language. They need to be able to respond to customers in a positive, helpful and authentic tone, which is not always an easy task in writing.
Be socially “available” all the time.
Social customer service is not a 9-to-5 job. Rather, your hotel needs to be online and always available to engage and provide assistance to your customers, 24/7/365. Remember, you need to be available on your customers’ preferred social media platforms so you can be there when it matters.
Empower your social customer team to get the job done, the first time.
Remember, fast customer acknowledgment and providing efficient solutions are key when providing social customer service. We always advise our hotel clients to make sure all social customer service team members have direct access to either the manager on duty or the general manager, 24/7/365. It’s all about quick engagement and solutions.
Seek out variations in your hotel’s name to not miss out on guest interactions.
Studies have shown that only 3 percent of consumers use the proper brand account name when taking their customer service issues public on Twitter. This means your hotel needs to monitor for variations of your hotel’s name in order to capture customer service opportunities. For example, if your hotel’s Twitter account is @HotelNikkoSF, you should be monitoring for “Hotel Nikko SFO” or “San Fran Nikko Hotel.”
Always be on the lookout for engagement opportunities between your competitors and their customers.
You never know when someone staying with your competitor is looking for help related to dinner reservations or local attraction information. Should such an occasion arise, jump into the conversation in a non-salesy way and offer to help… even if they’re not staying with you this time around. This is how business is won in 2016.