Managing a hotel is all about making tough decisions and finding answers to difficult questions: Where do you spend your limited budget? Whose side do you take – a valued employee’s or a guest’s? Do you motivate your staff with the carrot or the stick? Does the expensive wifi package really make a difference to guest experience, or could you get away with a cheaper one? How do you find out who is pulling their weight and who is napping in room 8?
Without data to inform your daily decisions, you can be left acting on impulse (or worse, not acting at all) and prioritising what you assume will have the biggest impact on guest experience, not what actually does.
We asked a couple of hotel managers, marketers, and group CEOs how they use GuestRevu's guest feedback technology to help them understand their hotels from multiple perspectives, and gather the data they need to make informed decisions about budget, human resources, and guest experience.
Get all the advice from the hoteliers in this article in this handy infographic
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1. Assign budget where it will matter most to guest experience
Choosing where limited budgets should be spent will always be one of the most important, and most difficult, tasks for hotel managers. However, as Bianca Grobbelaar, General Manager of the Royal Guest House in South Africa, has come to realise, paying attention to guest feedback can help her make more informed choices about where money should be spent.
"We are in a situation now where, budget-wise, we only attend to the most important things affecting our guests," says Bianca, who uses GuestRevu to monitor guest feedback and online reviews. "I thought, for example, that the staff uniforms were not as presentable as they should be. When I got my report, however, I noticed that I was being rated consistently high on staff! Knowing that staff was currently my strongest asset meant that I could redirect the funds to a lower rated aspect to try improve that area instead."
"You know where to spend your budgets, you know where to focus training, you know where to motivate staff or where to paint..."
Bianca Grobbelaar, General Manager, The Royal Guest House
David Campbell, Operations Director of the Coaching Inn Group, has had a similar experience on a larger scale when deciding which properties should be allocated group funds. "We spent a six-figure sum refurbishing the bedrooms [at one of our properties] primarily because our guests were telling us the rooms were very dated and you could see that from their feedback. That helped us make that decision, rather than the manager just saying ‘I need some investment’. We have to listen to our guests. By listening to our guests telling us [what they want], it reinforces our decision to invest in that business."
"Without information, you’re hamstrung in terms of making intelligent decisions around your business. How do you know if investing in a part of your business is the right thing to do? It might just be your opinion rather than listening to your guests. Without that [guest feedback] information, how can you make that decision? I would argue that you just can’t."
David Campbell, Operations Director, Coaching Inn Group
2. Use guest feedback to identify weaknesses you may not otherwise be aware of
We have spoken before about the role that guest feedback can play in exposing the differences between management and guests' perceptions of hotels and their services, and the best hoteliers apply this concept to their daily management tasks.
"Guests experience your hotel in ways that you, as a manager, may not be able to experience, and therefore you are blindsided on certain things," says Tarek Aboudib, General Manager of Sandy Beach Hotel & Resort in the UAE. Using software to collect guest feedback, says Tarek, "truly allows you to build that open bridge between management and customers, get on a more personal level with the guests and see things through their eyes rather than from a management standpoint."
"These insights allow us to understand more of what the customer truly wants and appreciates in the resort. Even the smallest piece of feedback can sometimes make a huge difference in our customers’ overall experience."
Tarek Aboudib, General Manager, Sandy Beach Hotel & Resort
Hoteliers will rarely wilfully ignore problems, but with all the moving parts that need to be juggled when running accommodation, letting inadequacies slip through the cracks does happen. However, using technology to keep a finger on the pulse of guest feedback helps many hotel operators ensure it happens as seldom as possible.
As David Campbell puts it, "You have the accessibility of real-time information giving you perspective of the guest experience. Without that critical information, you might have your head in the sand thinking you are doing a good job when, actually, you might not be."
"Positive criticism helps us to improve in every department – makes us aware of issues we weren't aware of, and places our focus on it!"
Jonel Ackermann, General Manager, Oakhurst Hotel
Marelize du Plooy, Hospitality Manager at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, agrees, saying that using GuestRevu’s technology “helps to point out the smaller issues we need to address," while Nicci Lotriet, Operations Manager at San Lameer also finds that guest feedback technology has "assisted in identifying problem areas which [they] can address."
3. Use guest feedback to promptly correct emerging problems
Dealing with any issues as they arise is critical to giving guests the best experience possible, but becoming aware of issues after the fact is not enough in hospitality. You need to be aware of problems immediately.
Tarek Aboudib believes that guest feedback technology is key to achieving this: "It has definitely simplified that path for me as a manager, allowing me to act promptly to any unsatisfied customer and any problem that I may have missed out on," and Bianca Grobbelaar agrees. "For organisation and prioritisation, it is the only way forward," she says. "The automated invitations mean there is contact with each and every guest after checkout with no input from me, and, when dealing with responses, Hot Alerts ensure that unhappy guests are always prioritised, and at the click of a button a guest’s response details and history can be accessed."
It’s not only about problem prevention, however, as minimising the chance that a small issue turns into a negative review in the public sphere is also vital.
"It enables us to ensure our guests are having a good time and that there are no potential problems looming. If there are, we can address them."
Charlene Watson, Marketing Manager, Sibuya Game Reserve
As Group Operations Manager of the Coaching Inn Group, Adam Charity has the daunting task of ensuring that all properties in the group are meeting the required standards, and that no one property damages the reputation of the group.
He finds that paying attention to their guest feedback data, with the help of technology, makes this feat more achievable. "When we’re doing business reviews with the general managers, [the guest feedback] will give us proof to say if there are any issues on the horizon," says Adam. "Service is a big one, and if we see any of the sites dip on the service it gives us a structured conversation with backup proof to say to the [general managers], ‘Look, something has changed fundamentally. What is it? We need to get this sorted to make sure the feedback is better’."
"GuestRevu is a natural add-on to our site business meetings. We can also see repeating issues and therefore are able to deal with them faster"
Kevin Charity, CEO, Coaching Inn Group
4. Use guest feedback to help manage, motivate and train staff
Any discussion of priorities in hospitality wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the immense importance of your staff. They are on the front lines of guest experience, and an interaction with a single team member can turn a simple serviced apartment stay into a personal, exceptional experience, or can sully even the most sublime of spa experiences.
This means that knowing what aspects of staff training need to be emphasised or revisited, and which members of the team need to be rewarded vital to ensuring you provide excellent experiences for your guests.
Nick Fox of Sibuya Game Reserve uses guest feedback to keep track of where staff performance is excelling or slipping. "It's very helpful for internal control," says Nick, "as we use the private and detailed feedback that we get from our guests to highlight to staff the areas where they’re doing well, and areas that they need to improve on."
"We can report weekly and monthly, and the GMs are trying harder than ever to impress and going the extra mile, and the individual team members on site also strive to get positive mentions."
Adam Charity, Group Operations Manager, Coaching Inn Group
Managing staff can sometimes feel like you need to have eyes everywhere, and when used appropriately and with the help of the right technology, your guest feedback can help provide a few extra sets of eyes. "This [guest feedback] tool has been even more useful in the last few weeks as we took our annual holiday," says Jonathan Kaye, Operations Director at Cedar Manor Hotel. "We were able to send out the questionnaire after we returned and get feedback on our temporary managers."
Often criticism, and even praise, can lack validity in the eyes of team members when it's based solely on the opinions of management, and guest feedback can be a great motivator for improving service. "It helps to improve on things and when talking to staff, it’s not coming from Management," says Sarah Swanepoel, owner of Dune Ridge, "the suggestions and feedback come from guests, which hits home."
"Reviews often mention the names of the staff who performed well, and have become an excellent tool for me to use to further motivate them. We use GuestRevu to remain aware of everything that happens at the Lodge - it is one of the best things we ever introduced."
Andries van Schalkwyk, Managing Director, Buffelsdrift Game Lodge
Finally, there are always tough times in any hotel manager's career where they have to deal with complaints against team members they trust, or are even friendly with. Getting a balanced perspective of these complains and weighing up both sides of any issues that arise will help ensure all parties are treated fairly. As Adam Charity from the Coaching Inn Group discovered, having the right guest feedback technology in place can go a long way towards making this happen.
"Recently, I received a complaint through our central office regarding one of our GMs and the way that he handled a certain situation at site," says Adam. "I listened to this complaint and started looking into the problems and I was about to call the GM to find out why he spoke to the guest the way he did. I pulled up the GuestRevu survey and the guest was extremely rude about one of [the GM’s] team and used inappropriate language, so actually it added weight to why the GM was a little bit defensive in what he was saying. [...] In that instance, there would have normally been a bit of a tough conversation with a GM because he had an upset guest, but actually, it just so happened that this guest was really quite rude to one of their team members, and openly so on the GuestRevu survey. It gives a balanced view."
Keeping track of guest feedback is obviously vitally important to successfully prioritising human resource issues, time, budget, and operational concerns when managing a hotel or hotel group. While this can be done to some extent using online review platforms and comment cards, the most effective way is with guest intelligence technology.