Hotels have learned over the years that guest reviews are just part of the feedback process, many of which are now thrust on to the web via sites such as TripAdvisor.
From the old review cards at the reception to the mounds of user generated content online, reviews are still the best way of getting feedback about a service or product.
Right, so where does GuestComment come in to all this?
The company officially launches this week with a electronic kiosk system which can be used my hoteliers to encourage guests to leave a review when they check-out.
Fronted by reputation management advisor Andy Beal (ex-Fortune Interactive , WebSourced and NCeptive), GuestComment is privately funded and is targeting US hoteliers initially, with plans to roll out internationally and into other areas such as restaurants in the future.
The idea is two-fold: hotels can get instant feedback on services but also use the reviews to populate their own site. Managers can also create alerts within the system to notify them of particular issues or situations that need fixing or dealing with immediately.
The company gets revenue from a set-up cost to provide hotels with the kiosk units, iPad, software and dashboard system, as well as a subsequent monthly fee for reporting and trend charts, email and SMS alerts (for promos) and integration into the property's website.
Q&A with CEO Andy Beal:
How is the way you are solving this problem more special or effective than previous attempts you or the market has seen before and how different do you have to be to succeed?
We're solving the problem at a much earlier stage. By placing GuestComment's digital review kiosk onsite, hotel guests are able to communicate feedback, praise or complaints directly to the hotel management, in real time.
Hotels are able to respond to any feedback, resolve any issues, and virtually eliminate fraudulent, fictitious, or competitor reviews.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
With GuestComment, hotel guests can share reviews, ratings, and feedback, knowing that it will be instantly shared with hotel management. In return, the hotel can optionally offer an incentive--such as a half-price appetizer--via a coupon automatically emailed or sent by SMS to the guest.
Hotel guests and hotel management can connect at a much earlier stage, leading to a better hotel experience, and a more positive tone in any subsequent Tripadvisor or Yelp review.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
Our aim is to improve hotel reputations one guest at a time. We plan to reach out to each hotel and demonstrate just how easy--and turn-key--our solution is and how effective it can be in reducing negative reviews, encourage positive feedback, and increasing hotel revenue.
Over the long-term, our co-branded kiosks will be instantly recognizable by guests, leading to a demand to use them at all of the hotels where they stay.
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
All feedback we have received thus far suggests that GuestComment will be an outstanding success. However, we eat our own dog food, so we're listening carefully to feedback and suggestions for improving GuestComment.
Being a small and nimble company we can quickly and willingly adapt our offering to suit the market.
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
We know not to try and build a product that has every single whistle and bell imaginable. Do one thing, and do it well. We won't be in any hurry to try and expand into other markets, or offer new services, until we have listened to the needs of hotels in the US and tailored our solution accordingly.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
It's not that the travel review system is completely broken, it's that the current solutions are akin to using a scalpel, when the best solution would have been to take our vitamins earlier.
GuestComment aims to build a communication platform between hotels and their guests at a much earlier stage. Such an approach will lead to more satisfied guests, fewer negative reviews, and greater revenues for hotels.
GuestComment says the marketplace for its system is "huge", with 150,000 hotels just in the US alone. There is obviously an increasing drive by hoteliers to interact with guests via reviews, but this generally seems to take place on the omnipresent TripAdvisor, rather than with on-the-spot systems.
For a wholly digital service in the back-end, it will somewhat ironically be the actual physical placement of the devices in the hotels themselves that will determine whether it is a success or not.
A device left lazily on a desk or pedestal will probably not perform as well as those where a concierge or other member of staff actively approaches guests during their stay or when they check out from the property, encouraging them to participate.
This is perhaps where the promo side of the service can help, allowing hoteliers to offer incentives to guests if they leave a comment on the devices.
NB:TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.