For me, stories are the best way to learn how new technology is relevant for my situation. I can learn from someone’s experiences by transferring their approach to the context of my business.
When I heard Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff tell a story of a hotel that used Twitter to provide timely, personal service – I knew I needed to hear the story from that company: Corinthia Hotels.
Below, Jason Potter and Vanessa Coleiro share not only their experiences with using digital listening for sales and service – but how they raised internal support and built an infrastructure that enables their 5-star hotel brand to act as a virtual concierge.
"Our customer-first mantra drives everything we think, say and do - online and off."
It’s an approach any travel company would benefit from learning from, so here is the story in their words…
"The customer is at the center of everything we do."
Social media is all about the customers. We’re trying to build a culture around the brand where customers feel comfortable to come and talk to us: to ask questions or discuss things they are interested in.
We’re trying to encourage conversation at all stages: before, during and after the trip. We want to be there for the customer wherever they want us.
"We aim to respond to all queries within an hour."
We set up strict guidelines in our social strategy to try our best to respond to all customers within an hour – whether it is to solve the issue then and there, or if it is to let them know that we’re working on the issue.
We have a very broad social media policy that is not at all restrictive. It’s mostly about defining the communication lines among our employees.
We are working on documents that will define things such as our expected tone of voice, because we want to communicate not so much as a business but as a person. We try to stay away from corporate lingo.
We want to stay professional, but not sound like a billboard or advertisement. We want it to simply be a person communicating with another person.
Using service through social media to build trust
Whether guests are curious about something, or have had a negative experience that requires immediate response, we’re there.
It’s quite risky for hotel group to put customer service on social media platforms and public websites, but we’re willing to take that risk. The reality of the social web is that whether we engage or not, the conversations about our brand are happening anyway.
Customers have all sorts of expectations and it is therefore impossible to keep every customer 100% happy, 100% of the time. So it’s better to view this as a way to build relationships. We’re turning negatives into positives. We’re transparent in reacting to issues in front of everyone.
That helps our customers trust us.
Convincing the whole team
A key part of launching this program was getting our senior management team to fully understand social media and how it works for business.
Showing it to them from "the eyes of the customer". Social media isn’t just a platform for advertising, or as a sales tool to push promotional packages. And that perception is still a massive challenge we face in the industry today.
So as much as we focus on external marketing, there is a massive internal awareness marketing and education program in place at Corinthia.
This is for everyone at the floor level to executive management. That hasn’t stopped since we started the program and we don’t think it can ever stop.
We had to start our social media program with minimum resource budgets to prove our case. Our executive team understood it was something they needed to address. They said to go ahead and set it up, and then prove that it is worth it.
Show the business value, and share success stories
Going back to the opening example of when Benioff mentioned the hotel group in his keynote address – he was going through the Salesforce launch of Cloudforce. Marc happened to be staying at the Corinthia Hotel London.
He was doing a keynote speech about the social divide, and I think his experience with us fit in well with what he was presenting about.
So he was staying at our London hotel and tweeted about how he had a hard day traveling. We tweeted:
"How are you doing? Hope you enjoy our spa!"
It was a very simple conversation – but that’s what we use Twitter for. Connecting with customers before they come to our hotel, while they’re staying with us, and after they leave. And it resulted in a great mention in his keynote.
But Corinthia’s approach goes far beyond tweeting with celebrities like Benioff.
Monitoring the social web for service and sales
Our team is not only monitoring mentions of our hotel names, but also using saved social searches to monitor relevant conversations and identify ways and opportunities we can help.
For example, we once picked up a conversation where someone was having a bad experience at a competitor hotel in our city. We had been tweeting with him before, and noticed he had a bad experience at this spa with his girlfriend.
We contacted him saying we were really sorry about that experience, and asked if he knew we had a spa at our hotel. He said he didn’t know, but would check it out next time.
Conversations like this illustrate why we’re monitoring conversations not just about our brand, but for general conversations in our destinations as well.
Another example: We had a gentleman who was checking into one of our hotels in Lisbon when unfortunately his arrival at the hotel coincided with a large group check-in, which meant that he had to wait longer than usual before he could go to his room.
While he was waiting, he tweeted – not to the hotel but to his followers – that he had a nightmare check-in experience.
This was of course negative for us – we had a customer who was upset inside the hotel. We immediately picked up his tweet through our alerts system, and tweeted back saying we’re really sorry to hear about this – it isn’t something that we expect happening in our hotels – so let us help.
We used Twitter direct messaging to get some information to connect with him at the hotel, and notified the management team immediately. They resolved the issue and an hour later the guest tweeted:
"Forget my last tweet. Amazing service at the Corinthia Hotel. They really care about their customers."
For the next three days, he was tweeting all about our hotels, and became a loyal advocate for the rest of his stay – talking about how much he liked the management, the customer service and our different outlets.
It is stories like this that demonstrate why customers are right at the top of our social media strategy. As a business, our ultimate goal is to increase revenue by generating more sales. But we’re not only increasing sales by selling directly: we do it through customer service too.
Building communities that help each other
A few months ago, we had a local problem with one of our hotels. Our phone line was down, and a customer couldn’t get through to us – so she posted on our Facebook wall.
After seeing it, one of our other customers replied to the person on our wall to try to solve the problem before we got to it. When you see customers helping customers, that’s when you know you’ve built a true community.
We encourage community naturally by the way we talk with our customers. We try not to speak in corporate lingo or “brand talk,” but rather make the conversations as friendly as possible. Often when we start a conversation with one customer, another customer will come and join the conversation. So it’s a natural evolution.
We had a great guest contribution recently: a photo of a little kid leaving the hotel with a suitcase. His mom posted it on our Facebook wall. Our fans started replying to it, saying:
"What a beautiful shot, I hope you enjoyed your stay."
You can’t buy things like that.
Once guests have experienced your brand in this way, they feel they work for the brand. There is a sense of pride and ownership.
Using social media analytics to improve performance
Social media monitoring and review analytics play a central role in how we provide service to guests and manage our online presence. We use a system to collect customer feedback from all the major review sites and social media networks in one dashboard.
A tool gives our properties an overall summary score of guest satisfaction across all these review websites, and also provides us with competitive insight for each department.
Semantic analysis of customer feedback reveals specific areas we can improve in or train our staff on. As we’ve begun implementing this program, we have held training meetings to make sure our team is fully using these processes throughout our organization.
The feedback response process
We are using their messaging and workflow tools to share insights for action with people internally. We encourage them to take time to identify where and why an incident happened. If there’s a customer complaint, we think through how we can prevent that from happening again.
For us, it is critical to make sure we have solved the problem and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Our public review responses give us the opportunity to go back to the customer and communicate the specific steps we took to resolve an issue. Usually, we only get one opportunity to respond on the review site.
So we make sure we’ve gone through the whole internal resolution process before we write that public management response.
Once we’ve resolved the issue and it’s time to leave the response, we always make sure it’s the general managers who respond. Not a single review is answered in the same way. Every general manager has a unique tone of voice – as they would have when talking with customers inside the hotel.
Our team now has a monthly meeting dedicated to the insights we gather in social media and review sites. We sit down with management and review our progress in guest satisfaction.
As we get more buy-in from general managers, we expect them to review new data in their daily morning team briefing. It must become part of their regular management routines.
We really believe in it that much.
NB: Find Corinthia Hotels on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.
NB2: Disclosure - Corinthia Hotels is a ReviewPro client.