Best Western’s strategy to engage in the moment has allowed the company to increase hotel guest satisfaction. And, it’s enabled the chain to innovate at scale.
Tools that help hotel owners and operators understand their guests are essential to the customer experience strategy — especially during tumultuous times that can often test customer loyalty.
Look to hospitality giant Best Western® Hotels & Resorts, which has used Medallia’s voice-of-the-customer solutions for over 10 years, as an example. When the COVID-19 outbreak began, the company did what it had always done: used feedback and verbatim comments in text analytics to help understand guest sentiment around safety and cleanliness protocols. A/B testing changes in operations and procedures allowed the company to see the impact certain areas had on satisfaction. This enabled Best Western to create a “We Care Clean®” program, completely driven by guest feedback.
I recently sat down with Colby Hutchinson, Director of Customer Experience, Education and Training at Best Western, to learn more about the company’s experience this past year and how the hotel chain has relied on customer feedback to make operational improvements as well as increase hotel guest satisfaction and loyalty.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Colby! We’d love to get your insight on some of the changes you’re seeing in the hospitality and travel industry. Can you tell us what are the biggest challenges or obstacles to providing a great customer experience today?
Sure. The first one is being able to gather, analyze and operationalize guest signals from multiple channels within a rapidly changing marketplace to deliver a meaningful experience based on those fast-changing expectations. And second would be creating opportunities for our hotels and their frontline staff to personalize experiences based on individual preferences in a way that grows brand advocates and loyalty.
With that in mind, what is something you’ve learned during the past year about your customers that has surprised you?
The impact engaging with guests has on loyalty has been a surprise. We assumed engaging with guests was important, but the recent research we conducted in partnership with Medallia and Cornell proved how impactful it can be.
When we can create tools and the opportunities that allow our individual hotels to quickly and easily respond to guests in their channel of choice, it creates a virtuous circle where our hotels learn what guests love and what they don’t. This knowledge lets operators innovate at scale to produce an experience better aligned with guest expectations. Through the dialog, the guest feels heard and is able to create an emotional connection, with both the individual hotel and our brand. They know someone is listening and cares. The connection increases intent to return and to recommend, which helps start the cycle over again.
A big takeaway is that we learned the interactions we strive for in hospitality are happening in person as well as digitally. In both instances, we have the ability to demonstrate our care, concern and hospitality for our customers.
What customer experience metrics or KPIs are most important in your strategy, and why?
We use NPS® and overall experience. Through our work with Medallia Institute we’ve been able to isolate some of the most important factors that drive them, such as cleanliness and breakfast.
But in general, I would advise all customer experience professionals to look long and hard at their customers’ feedback. What is a core contributor to overall satisfaction may change over time. Something that drives tremendous impact to guest loyalty now may fade or completely change. That’s why it’s so critical to have an active voice-of-the-customer program built around listening and engaging. Customers will tell us where they want us to go. They’ll tell us what we get right and where we have opportunities to improve.
The ability to review, measure, test and adapt in real time is a defining criteria to me for companies that were relevant yesterday, maintain that relevance today and will continue to be relevant tomorrow in their respective marketplaces.
You’re a wealth of knowledge, with over 25 years working in hospitality. What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the industry?
At its core, hospitality is about serving others. My advice for those starting out would be to learn how to take joy in serving, and really seek out the opportunities to create memories for people. Each guest, both internal and external, is unique and has unique needs. Finding ways to create memories for guests and colleagues is a transferable skill that will reward you for your entire career and in life. It helps provide the foundation for relationships and friendships that will last a lifetime.
I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me today, Colby. One last question for you. What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned so far in your career?
I’ve found tremendous value in striving to be a credit maker, not a credit taker. Sustained success is only achievable by a team of engaged people working collaboratively toward a clear and understood goal. Being a credit maker shows respect for team members and demonstrates high emotional intelligence. In my experience, it’s helped to grow teams that operate with very high levels of trust. It’s the team working together that drives results. No one can do it alone, and everyone wants to feel someone has their back and is invested in seeing them succeed.