Measuring and improving guest satisfaction at a new hotel property


A US based hotel chain had just opened a new property in a competitive market. The manager of the property wanted to understand the satisfaction of their guests and pro-actively iron-out any negative issues that may be specific to his property. He resorted to the accepted practice of sending out the corporate satisfaction survey to all the guests that stayed in his hotel. The traditional survey had dozens of numerical rating and multiple choice question. It did have a open-ended text feedback question which was the last question of the survey and respondents would have spent 10+ minutes before they got to it.


For a new property, every day matters. The manager was getting his survey results in a summary format weekly and detailed analyses even later. The numerical responses from for his guests were almost identical to what was reported at other properties which were open one year or longer. The hotel manager had a gut feeling that this was not an accurate representation of the reality.

The manager also did not have the authority to change the corporate survey system and wanted to implement something locally -- based on data that he had and using a system that was completely independent of corporate IT.

He wanted to be able to see results daily and tweak the questions as needed.


The hotel manager replaced the traditional satisfaction survey with a survey we designed with his team. The new survey had 2 questions. First question asked the guest to express their satisfaction on a scale of 0 to 10. The second question asked for an open-ended commentary about their stay without any biases. On the back end, we also used a lot of supporting data from the loyalty database for the guests and the transaction details (length of stay, type of booking, folio summary etc.) as silent attributes for the transaction and user. All of this was done at the property level with no changes, asks or dependencies on the corporate marketing or IT groups.

Not only was the response rate higher by orders of magnitude, but the inferences were backed by supporting root cause. Among the guests, the satisfaction scores of “solo woman guests” were the lowest. On correlating the lower satisfaction scores with the text feedback, it became clear that keywords “safety”, “parking lot” and “dark” were trending higher. Drilling down on the keywords, feedback revealed that guests expressed safety concern when returning to the hotel late at night from the parking lot.

The hotel had a multi-story parking annex and a walkway connected the hotel’s main building and the parking garage. When the manager inspected the walkway at night, it became clear that some of the light fixtures were not working properly and the passage was not well lit. He promptly got that corrected.

In the results, “Premier members of the hotel loyalty program” were happier than the rest of the guests. Satisfaction and continued patronage of upper tier members is crucial for a new property to gain traction in the market. The root cause analysis revealed that the guests liked the fact that the in-room radio had an iphone dock which also charged their phone.


Measurement vs. Discovery

In designing surveys, one has to clearly define the objective of the study and prioritize between measurement and discovery. Especially, like in this case where discovery was sought, unless designed appropriately, the result will tend towards measurement of known entities which will not help accomplishing the study goals.

By using the traditional survey, the questions asked centered on known entities -- “check-in”, “room service”, “breakfast buffet”, “cleanliness of the room”, “attentiveness of the staff” and so on. These were also part of the new property handbook that this hotel chain has perfected over years. What was needed was cutting to the chase and just asking guests about what is not working and why?

Customer Insights are perishable just like fresh fish. Delicious and nutritious if consumed fresh. Putrid and stinky otherwise.
The power of simple

Most people today are overwhelmed by surveys. You need to make an effort to stand out and get noticed. Short, quick and fun surveys get noticed.

The value of timely insights

What good are results if they come in too late to correct them? Is this a “search and rescue” mission or a “damage assessment” mission? To quote and analyst on this project, “Customer Insights should be treated like fresh fish. Delicious and nutritious when consumed fresh, highly perishable and worthless if not used in a timely manner”. Sorry, vegetarians! But this really sums up the need to time insights and actions.