A lesson from #Blizzardof2015

It’s Monday afternoon, and I’m in Chicago scrambling to work out travel plans while re-booking a full day of meetings after Winter Storm Juno (a.k.a. #Blizzardof2015) cancelled my flight back to New York. The coffee shop I’m in is too noisy to speak on the phone, so as someone who has sat through many a conference session where a hotel brand is bragging about its Twitter prowess, I decided to turn there.

While admittedly general, this could have been picked up by any Chicago hotel with basic keyword tracking, but it did not produce a single response. 

Not immediately. Not within a few hours. Not ever. 

Incredible when I’m basically telling hotels, “I want to give you money.” 

Next, I tweet the uber-hip @PublicHotels where I had stayed the previous night.

No response for 24 hours. The next day, I get a tweet saying I can call them. Too late.

It’s more than a booking

In this type of scenario — a stranded, frustrated traveler — there’s some room revenue at stake here, but the opportunity is really much bigger than that.

I’m a writer (here, @Hotel_Intel and elsewhere) and a frequent speaker at hospitality and travel conferences. You, my reader, are one of many that will hear this story. But my point isn’t that I deserved exceptional service because I’m a writer. It’s that you do not know which of your guests will be in the position that I am … so you have to serve them all well. 

“If you treat every guest like a travel writer from the New York Times, they will do your marketing for you.” – Adele Gutman, Library Hotel Collection

Enter #BookLoews

I knew of Loews Hotels’ “book by Twitter” initiative, #BookLoews, so my next tweet went to them.

Here’s what I get back from Loews Hotels’ Drew Mailloux just 4 minutes later:

Not just a phone number or link to a website, but a quick, meaningful response on the channel I wanted to use at that moment. Yes, we have room — and yes, we’ll offer you a special rate because of the circumstances.

And yes, I shared my experience on Twitter — to my audience of 9,000-plus hoteliers. The story was “favorited” by many, including the CEO of one of the world’s largest travel-guide publishers. I shared the experience in an HSMAI presentation the next day. And now I’m sharing it with you in this post.

Loews got its US$99 — but, more important, my loyalty and advocacy. (And not a small amount of F&B revenue …)

How did they do it? 

As I was thinking about this whole experience, I reached out to Piper Stevens, the architect behind Loews Hotels’ social program and #BookLoews initiative. What did she do to enable this? 

“Enabling travelers to reach out to us during business hours on Twitter and get a quick response or seamless booking is something we pride ourselves on and have been working on for the past year,” Stevens shared. “We anticipated situations like this in advance and created the appropriate materials and processes. So when a blizzard cancelled thousands of flights, Loews was ready with a special ‘blizzard’ rate code and booking page. You can’t just react to events like this when they could be anticipated. By planning ahead, we’re set up for success in scenarios like this.”  

Having one Twitter account for all of a brand’s properties is something I have mixed feelings about in general, but it seems to work for Loews — and certainly did in my own situation. “It eliminates confusion for guests on which account to tweet to — they know they can reach us at @Loews_Hotels.,” Stevens explained. 

Loews has a Social Lead at every property, as well as Stevens at the corporate office, and through a collaborative effort they ensure customer service opportunities don’t slip through the cracks. “Team members on property are very busy and often times not in front of their computers, so limiting our official Twitter access to one handle allows us to have all internal eyes on the same stream — and now the properties will help each other out if they see a tweet that comes through that needs to be handled immediately,” Stevens said.

Pick up the ringing (virtual) phone

I initially began this blog to talk about more sophisticated applications of guest-intelligence data, but you won’t be able to profit from that if you’re not even picking up the “virtual phone” that Twitter represents. Yes, let’s think and work together towards more advanced data projects, but begin with ensuring we have the basics of listening down:

1. Anticipating scenarios and preparing responses in advance

2. Monitoring news events that could affect you, your guests and travelers (i.e., beyond your city)

3. Going into listening overdrive in crisis (for your hotel name, brand name and generic hotel-related keywords)

4. Knowing that in these times, response times must be measured in minutes, not hours

5. Interacting with travelers on their preferred medium — whether that’s email, phone, mobile web, Facebook, Twitter or something else