Turning Social Data into Customer Intelligence

“My kids love the pool,” a mom gushes in an online hotel review. On the surface, the comment seems completely positive, especially if it motivates a prospective customer to book the hotel for their next family vacation. But a positive sentiment may not always yield positive results. A young couple could read that same review and think to themselves, “No way in hell!” After seeing a number of those kid-friendly hotel comments, the sales and marketing team starts to understand why a property’s romantic weekend getaway package is performing poorly.

Travelers constantly share their hotel experiences—the good, the bad, and the ugly—on social media and online review sites. Guests are talking about everything from the check-in process and behavior of the front desk agent to Wi-Fi speeds and mattress comfort. With so much data at their fingertips, hotels can easily get lost. However, with the right approach, properties can leverage user-generated content to better understand their reputation in the marketplace, improve operations, and ensure their service is aligned with their marketing and branding strategies. “I see huge potential and lots of insights locked up in this text data,” says Kelly McGuire, vice president of advanced analytics for Wyndham Destination Network and former executive director of hospitality and travel global practices for SAS. “But you have to understand what it is and what place it has in your organization.”

By now, most hotels have a handle on tracking and monitoring operational feedback, responding when appropriate, and taking corrective action internally, McGuire says. “We’ve definitely gotten much better at that, thanks to reputation management vendors that have been helping hotels gather that data and make sense of it.” Where some properties are missing the mark, however, is mining social data to gain a better understanding of their guest segments. “You can see in their own words what elements of your service proposition are resonating with the customer base,” McGuire explains.


For instance, hotels can search for clues to section off its business traveler reviews, and then dig into the text to find out what’s resonating with that particular group. “Taking that next step of content analysis can really help inform marketing departments regarding what’s going on in broad stroke areas,” McGuire says.

Hotels also still have a lot of opportunity when it comes to reputation as part of a pricing strategy. If a hotel is a leader in its market, consumers will see a value proposition and gravitate toward it, which gives the hotel more pricing power, McGuire says. “If you understand how that reputation is a part of your whole package in terms of value for the consumer, that’s where you can make some of these strategic positioning decisions.”

To avoid information overload, McGuire recommends hotels define the business problem first, and then decide how they’re going to use the social data to support it. “To keep yourself from getting distracted, think about the business problem you’re trying to solve and figure out how this reputation data will fit in with the analysis.”

While gathering data from online reviews and social media clearly pays off, it doesn’t provide a complete picture of a hotel’s customer base, McGuire warns. “I really believe this 24/7 focus group augments your existing method of collecting satisfaction data, it doesn’t replace it.” It’s imperative for hotels to collect guest feedback through traditional mechanisms as well, McGuire adds. Rather than only hearing from people who like to talk (and what they like to talk about), hotels can survey a representative sampling of their customer base and control what questions they ask. “It’s important to understand what people online are saying and to cultivate reviews, because people are paying attention,” McGuire says, “but if you really want that 360-degree view of your business, you have to take it from both perspectives.”


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