Those emails hotels send their guests asking for feedback and satisfaction levels may continue pouring into travelers’ inboxes for the time being, but the big chains have indicated these surveys are hardly the most important way of gauging guest satisfaction.

Social media is one obvious intermediary between hotels wanting to pick guests’ brains and guests either begrudgingly or eagerly offering thoughts on what they liked and disliked about their stay.

And we can’t pass over TripAdvisor which has a product called Reviews Express designed for independent hotels to craft post-stay surveys and tabulate feedback. Many guests think of TripAdvisor first when thinking to leave a hotel review and Reviews Express also gathers all TripAdvisor reviews for a property and sends them to the management team.

But leaving reviews directly on brands’ sites is a strategy hotels like Starwood and IHG have pushed more aggressively over the past few years.

For Starwood, guest reviews reverberating with the good, bad, and everything in between about a stay make it onto properties’ websites, provided a guest doesn’t use profanity or name a particular staff member. Allowing negative reviews on a site may be a risky move but then again transparency is now a hotel’s currency and Starwood said being open has so far paid off.

General managers responding to negative reviews has led to increased conversion across all Starwood brands, said Matt Valenti, a spokesperson for guest experience intelligence who helps design Starwood’s brand surveys.

Glancing over the Westin Times Square’s site reviews shows plenty of responses to both positive and negative reviews with general managers thanking guests for feedback and taking accountability for any upsets.

“We overhauled our entire survey in 2011 to narrow that time and space between when a guest provided feedback and when action was actually taken,” said Valenti. “We listened to our guests during this overhaul and one of the things we heard from them was that they really like our brand and wanted to complete our surveys, but they wanted us to show them that we used their feedback and said they’ll give us more if they saw that.”

“We moved into asking guests to compare their expectations of their stays versus how their stays actually were and that’s important because for us to be able to provide the best guest experience your expectations will change depending on your trip persona. A seven for you on the ten-point scale might not be a seven for me.”

Starwood’s Survey Overhaul

A guest leaving a review on a property’s site is emphatically different than someone completing a survey with pointed questions measuring the satisfaction of multiple aspects of a stay. While hotels give guests’ various options to express how their stay was and provide convenience this of course makes hotels’ work more difficult to determine how they weigh a negative review left on a site against a negative survey.

“We would describe [surveys and reviews] more as complimentary because we know that people choose to give feedback at certain points,” said Valenti. “Someone might choose to complete a survey and someone else will choose to complete a review. Part of this overhaul was to make sure that our surveys are also aligned with our ratings and reviews.” 

“While we do have numeric ratings in our surveys we have gone the expectations route. You’re essentially telling us whether we met your expectations or not and then there’s the question of what those numeric number ratings actually mean?”

How questions are phrased also got a refresh in some cases, such as asking for the guest’s satisfaction of the functionality of the room rather than the decor which Valenti said resulted from testing new questions on W Hotel guests.

“It’s less about the questions themselves and more about the utility of the question whether it’s open-ended or a rating. The merit of a question is ultimately how it will get used and what level of insight it will provide.”

IHG said post-stay surveys remain a valuable tool to securing guest feedback but that they’re not the focal point of gauging satisfaction.

“We offer guest reviews on our websites so that people can make travel decisions based on real feedback from real guests and we have a very high volume of reviews on our websites,” said Heather Balsley, a spokesperson for IHG Americas.

IHG didn’t comment on its survey it’s now serving to its site visitors (screenshot below) informing them of the availability of reviews on its sites, but it’s an indication of how much the hotel values them given direct bookings are increasingly more desirable.

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Experimenting with Reviews During a Stay

Armed with knowledge that guests have their devices in their hands and pockets at all times, Starwood isn’t passing up the opportunity to gather guest feedback more instantaneously and sooner than post-stay.

“Things are still built around the post-day survey and that still provides a high volume of feedback that’s very useful,” said Valenti. “Part of our survey overhaul was also making it easier to complete surveys on a smartphone, so making them shorter was important for mobile devices.”

“But the experience is shaped both before, during and after a stay so we’ve also looked to create surveys to be completed during the guest’s stay as well. The big example for that is with food and beverage that wouldn’t be a great fit for a post-stay survey and the other example is related to SPG keyless so that we can really get your feedback right as you’re using that in the hotel.”

Facebook Testing New Reviews Product

Hotel reviews on Facebook aren’t a novelty but the social network giant’s strategy to coax guests to leave them is rather cutting-edge.

In the past guests could leave reviews for a property by navigating to its Facebook page but now it appears Facebook is asking guests directly to leave reviews (at least on mobile). Its new reviews product appears in users’ newsfeeds based on a check-in either they made at a hotel or someone they stayed with made at the hotel. It reminds a user what date they checked-in on Facebook at the property and prompts them to write a review. Below is a screenshot of the product as it would appear in New York City.

The company was tight-lipped about the new product as it’s still in beta and currently only served to select users. But Facebook told Skift it’s “refining the product design, targeting and delivery for people who are the most relevant to be exposed to the experience.”

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Guests Say They’re Satisfied

Overall U.S. hotel guest satisfaction reached a record-high milestone this year.

J.D. Power’s 2015 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study is based on responses gathered between June 2014 and May 2015 from more than 62,000 guests in Canada and the U.S. who stayed at a hotel in North America between May 2014 and May 2015. The study considered all hotel room types from economy to luxury and found that overall guest satisfaction is up 20 points from 2014 mostly driven by a 20% reduction from 2014 in the number of guests who report experiencing a problem during their stay, the lowest incidence since 2006.

About 85 brands are part of this study and J.D. Power didn’t compare its findings to survey responses hotels themselves receive.

“About 90% of the time our data is reflective of their own studies,” said Jennifer Corwin, a spokesperson for J.D. Power. “We use a benchmark to compare across brands, how brands stack up to everyone else. That’s what hotels are missing in their own surveys, looking at the bigger picture of how their guest satisfaction compares to that at another brand.”

Below are four charts showing which brands guests were satisfied with the most during the past year and how they rank compared to the average satisfaction level for their respective sectors:

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Source: J.D. Power 2015 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study

Photo Credit: Guests enjoy the lobby area of the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto. Dan Peltier / Skift