by DANIEL J. MOUNT, DBA
The electronic post-stay guest survey has an important place in a guest feedback program. While specific issues with specific guests can be identified and addressed through feedback obtained from digital channels and call centers, the post-stay survey provides more valid and reliable data in which to address systemic issues in the hotel operation.
The value objective to different users of guest surveys varies and presents a challenge to hotel companies and brand managers when trying to design a survey that meets those objectives in a somewhat constricted platform. Hotel companies and brand managers want big data that addresses demographics such as loyalty club membership, reason for travel, gender, and age as well as guest reaction to new brand standard initiatives or suggestions for brand standard enhancements. This must be balanced with the need of operators to get as much operations-specific information (cleanliness, friendliness, etc.) as possible. Surveys should have a mix of product-related and service-related questions. Owners can use product-related guest survey data to review how their asset is being maintained by a management company, to support needed capital expenditures, or to suggest that required capital expenditures may be delayed. Owners also can use the service-related guest survey data to get a feel for the culture of the operation and the operators of the property. Owners, if independently or through an owner’s association, drive what is included on a post-stay survey and how that survey then provides value to them in terms of insight and analysis.
MORE THAN PERFORMANCE DATA
At the property level, the electronic survey should provide more than just performance data, as hotel GMs do not often have the time nor the statistical insight to parse and analyze what may be “pages” of electronic data. In addition to performance data on operations-specific survey items, the survey report must include information on the importance of those items (key drivers) in relation to outcome measures such as guest satisfaction, intent to return, and intent to recommend. The survey also should provide methodology that combines performance and importance (key drivers) results to help the operator focus on issues that are critical based either on the issue being important in its relationship to an outcome measure or on low performance. Most importantly, the survey report should provide assistance in addressing critical issues. This is accomplished through attaching action plans of recommended courses of actions on items that appear as critical issues. Users can clearly see what the critical issues are and can access recommended courses of action to help them consider an appropriate response. In that way, a survey report does not just provide numbers, it provides valuable assistance that saves time for the user and support for resource allocation.
Like any evaluation tool, the guest survey should be used in a positive way. The survey results are provided to help operators improve the guest experience, raise the outcome measures of guest satisfaction, intent to return and intent to recommend, and increase revenue. Survey results are meant to inform operators of possible courses of action but are only one source of information. Survey results are not provided to support negative actions such as job or brand termination as statistical confidence levels of survey results generally do not support such actions.
To summarize, owners should have a survey product that: 1) is well-designed through their brand or independent provider, 2) includes results and methodologies that focus on systemic product and service-related issues in the operation, 3) identifies the critical issues, and 4) provides recommended courses of action to help the operator address the critical issues.
A NOTE ON COVID-19
COVID-19 has dramatically changed the guest experience. Research from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) shows that hotel guest satisfaction is declining during the pandemic. While some decline may be expected, two areas that showed the largest decline are the check-in experience and room cleanliness and comfort. It is intuitive that these two items are most associated with COVID-19 protocols. Recent research seems to agree that among many COVID-19-specific protocol issues, two that resonate with guests are communication of safety protocols and the visual impression that protocols are being followed. While specific incidents can be identified and addressed through digital channels, COVID-19-specific protocol issues likely will be systemic and should be incorporated into post-stay guest surveys. As these protocol issues likely will be with us for some time, the COVID-19-specific questions should be incorporated into existing methodologies that would identify them as key drivers/critical issues. Owners must insist, again independently or through an owner’s associations, that brands or survey companies be responsive in adding or changing questions as the pandemic experience will change over time. Brands should understand that during COVID-19, quantitative measures on guest surveys may differ greatly from past measures due to the changing demographics of the sample and survey data should therefore be used as a learning tool and not as a means of punishment.
Dan Mount is an Associate Professor in the Penn State School of Hospitality Management. His research at Penn State has focused primarily on employee and guest satisfaction with an emphasis on survey design, methodology, and analysis. Prior to his time at Penn State, Dr. Mount held a number of executive committee positions in the hotel industry.