A young woman checked into a hotel, walked into her room and immediately noticed something unexpected. There was a welcome note held in place by a towel that had been elaborately folded into the shape of an elephant.
The guest was delighted. In the old days, she would have smiled to herself at the extra effort. Not anymore. This time, she posted a picture of the elephant on Instagram, gushing. She captioned it: "How did they do it? Got to learn from housekeeping team."
Among those who noticed the post was a team from Marriott who alerted the property – the JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu. Hotel associates then responded on Instagram and, this is the key: reached out to her in person. They ended up giving her a towel-folding class.
We are used to hearing about how social media has changed customer behavior. We know they use it to shop, review and choose what they buy. This is certainly true in the hospitality industry – 3.7 million reviews of our properties were posted last year, up from 3.2 million the previous year. You might think this democratization of appraisal would scare us or, at least make us feel overwhelmed by the flood of virtual opinions.
Nope. I love what social media has done for our industry. As far as I can tell, so do most of my colleagues. The ever-increasing ability to hear directly and immediately from customers helps us do our jobs more effectively. And, when customers share with us their likes and dislikes it helps us serve them better.
Now, I will not maintain that it has been easy to harness all the new information. More and more we are devoting resources and talented associates to paying attention to online customer feedback and to connecting with guests.
We have social media customer care teams that field thousands of requests, compliments and complaints on our brand Twitter and Facebook channels. We have teams that help us keep track of all those reviews – we see them as performance evaluations that help us know when we are doing great and when something needs fixing.
In the face of social media's continuing expansion, we have also created a team we call M Live. Our M Live command centers are staffed by social media experts across four offices – two in the U.S., one in Europe and one in Asia. They surface Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Weibo public posts from customers who are staying on and/or tag one of our 6,000-plus properties.
From the 27,000 posts a day M Live tracks, we can learn about broad trends – Hawaii is a much-discussed aspirational destination – and personal milestones our guests want to share. We are most interested in noticing posts like one the team recently caught on Instagram. It was from a guest at the Gaylord Opryland publicly announcing her engagement. The team let the hotel know and a bottle of champagne was soon proffered. The happy couple became a bit happier.
The best outcome is when virtual information leads to personal connection.
Some might think we focus on social media opportunistically, that we create over-the-top service moments in front of Snapchatting or Facebook-posting guests. Though good exposure can be a nice benefit – the Mumbai guest I mentioned above posted a video of her towel-folding lessons on Instagram – it is not what motivates us.
The hospitality industry draws people who want to serve others, who love to surprise and delight guests. We don't need to manufacture these moments. Our associates and their peers in the industry deliver them day in and day out without a spotlight. They arrive with champagne if a proposal is overheard. They fold towels in a way to make guests smile. They track down misplaced stuffed animals and create elaborate back stories of their adventures. The examples are endless.
What social media is allowing us to do is not draw attention to ourselves, but to see our guests in their own spotlight. Through these new lines of communication they can help us understand them better and, in turn, we can treat them with personalized care.
If we can continue to hear our customers in all the ways they communicate, we will have many more opportunities to build the type of personal relationships that create two-way loyalties and are at the core of the hospitality industry. So, I say, post away. We love it.
Join me and other travel insiders on LinkedIn at Overheard@Marriott