Do you remember in school how jealous you felt when you got a ‘B+' on your English test, while your friend got an ‘A-'? Now that we are all grown up, hopefully, we can safely look back at how insignificant that one grade was in the grand scheme of things. Well, apparently the lesson hasn't been fully learned. Many still look at their overall hotel review score averages, as if it were a university GPA.
Statistical Methods Need to Be Recognized
Is it really important if your property rating on a review website goes from 4.5 to 4.6 within a two-week span? Why are property GM's micromanaging these tiny fluctuations? It's statistically irrelevant. In school, real performance changes were denoted by evaluating your report card handed out at the end of each semester. Much the same way, you can't judge your hotel on a review-by-review basis.
A caveat would be a significant jump (or decline) in rating aggregates. The MBA student in me reasons that a shift of +/- 0.6% or greater would be deemed statistically worthy of note. But how often does a variation like this occur within a two-week or even a month-long span? Ratings typically move a tenth of a percent at a time and you'd be mistaken to fret over a drop of this size. In my mind, numerical micromanagement represents another risk of the Internet, as we are confounded with more metrics than we know how to handle.
It's a double-edged sword though. The solution is not to study the numbers with closer scrutiny, but what the guests are saying. Alas, this isn't baseball; you can't fall back on sabermetrics. Embrace the chatter and respond to deficiencies, rather than worrying about rating points.
Ratings Revealed for Their True Worth
One of the beauties of online review sites is that they give guests an anonymous platform to be honest, rather than just silently dismissing your property for return visits. Word of mouth may be a powerful behind-the-scenes motivator, but word of mouse is open to the public, available for you to study and hopefully learn from. These websites are your opportunity to gain unbiased insight and constructive criticism about your operations. Replying to individual commentators is a great way to broadcast the fact that you are willing to accept outside advice. But all your response efforts will be negligible if you don't take their suggestions to heart and develop a plan of action to correct said mistakes.
You have to evaluate the quality of your hotel based on qualitative data. So, you better grab a pad of paper then start reading each and every commentary, taking notes along the way. After a couple dozen of them, you may start to notice some trends. What are the common criticisms? Was the front desk staff regarded as friendly and cooperative? Housekeeping issues? Room service? Was restaurant food beyond what was expected or just adequate? How does the customer perceive your value equation?
Outliers: What to Do?
Now, from my experience, I've found that a small number of reviews may be written with a very hurtful slant. Don't be frazzled, or worse, obstinate. Every evaluation is an opportunity to learn, even if that wasn't the intent when posted. Furthermore, when you assess such negative remarks against the average and the long-run of things, you'll find that they are much like that one ‘D' you got on a math test back in grade nine. Within a week, the pain is gone and forgotten. The same goes for any direct assaults against your property. Don't discredit the entire online community based on a few rotten eggs. For the most part, they are here to help, but only if you can be bothered to listen.
Going Beyond Your Reviews
So my emphasis is on the long-term versus the short-term. Read reviews, group commonalities, then develop your own quarterly scorecard for measuring qualitative performance over the past three months. Then put this scorecard up against previous metric surveys or past critiques. Is the situation improving? Are specific complaints less prominent or absent all together in the latest series of posts? The benefit of using scorecards is that you can track particulars over a broad period of time; enough breadth for trends to change in a statistically significant manner.
The other crucial tactic is to glance over the reviews of your key competitive set, keeping a lookout for occurrences where they are praised relative to where you are shammed. If their restaurant's food presentation is lauded while yours is just pedestrian, then you best have a meeting with your F&B Director and Executive Chef to address this discrepancy.
To draw upon personal experiences again, I've noticed that most explicit qualms found in online assessments arise from gaps in guest service. Most individuals arrive at your hotel with given expectations set by what they see on your illustrious website homepage and what others talk about on the Internet. Such people will be more obliged to grant you a positive grade if you meet or slightly exceed their standards. However, it's when you slip that your reviews will also fall. That is, your staff jumbled a restaurant reservation, front desk was near oblivious to a guest's needs, or individual requests were never fulfilled, to name a few. Maybe you need to heighten internal communications channels to make sure everyone is on the same page. The point is, take advantage of your hotel reviews to investigate and hone your guest service abilities.
The Bottom Line
I am a heavy proponent of the fact that improving your overall rating aggregate is more dependent on guest service than on large-scale issues that require significant capital investment.
Do yourself a favor, read through the Internet review chatter. Address the guests' issues, not the rating. You'll know when you succeed because the problem will disappear from the latest commentary; or better yet, a recurring customer might even praise you for the initiative. Regardless, hotel review sites are here to stay. The sooner you start paying attention to what people are writing, the sooner you will see your ratings improve.
(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published on eHotelier on May 18, 2011)