What if customers actually TELL us what they’re thinking?

I’m a member of a fairly large hotel loyalty program.  You know the ones … stay with us and we’ll give you points, which you can redeem for bottle openers and Post-It notes – that sort of thing. They’ve become a necessity in a travel-choked world where getting people to even travel is major step – let alone getting people to stay at your hotel.

Recently, they invited me to join an online ‘community’, which was essentially a forum for customers to pass on feedback and ideas to the hotel chain.  Well, that’s how I interpreted the phrase ‘join in the <insert hotel here> experience’. And I guess this is their response to travel basically being shut down, and them realising that they need to position themselves for when things fire up again in their industry.

What happened next was fascinating – and also a lesson in how NOT to run an engagement piece with customers.

As I read through the forum, I found there were quite a few disgruntled customers.  They wanted to know why their points don’t arrive (and for some of them it appears that is the sole reason they are loyal).  Others complained about service.  Some wanted better rewards for being loyal, or even options that they cared about.

That’s not to say it’s all negative.  There were customers who also said positive things, made recommendations and generally praised the hotel for their stay.

But here’s where I believe the hotel has gone wrong.  To which of these two groups do the moderators respond?

Yep, you guessed it.

Almost none of the negative threads about the hotel got an official response.  But you would have found the moderators thick on the ground in the comments section of the ‘How fluffy do you like your towels?’ discussion.

When you go to the trouble of setting up an online community to ask customer their opinion, it’s important to listen to EVERYTHING.  This isn’t a chance for a souped-up back-slapping session – it’s a chance for sit at the window to your customer’s soul and find out what they REALLY think. Taking their criticism (deserved or not) and then ignoring it isn’t a case of ignored their comments. You’re ignoring them. Their experience. The things that make them keep coming back.

When you do find out what your customers think, it’s important to act immediately.

You’ll win far more friends from fixing customer service lapses than throwing them the occasional bone when they suggest cinnamon-scented candles in the hotel lobby.

Great online communities – from social media to the old-fashioned forums – build real community and can be a wonderful opportunity to improve your business through REAL customer feedback … if they’re done right.

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