Who ya gonna call? The new Ghostbusters!

I am stating the obvious when I say online hotel reviews have revolutionized the way we do business. Every consumer is a potential consumer watchdog. The margins for errors are now so thin and expectations so high that all it takes is one mistake to wedge a hole between you and future business.

Most hoteliers have already adapted to this emerging trend, and we now ardently listen to our online feedback. The problem is that guests aren’t always very articulate about what drives their own grading scales, which are often subjective and largely emotional. Like a magic show, they can only rate what they see or what dazzles them and not what’s actually happening behind the curtain to create such a spectacle.

This in turn implies a need for knowledgeable criticism — like having a fellow magician review your magic show to offer constructive pointers a layman wouldn’t even fathom. GuestGhosts offers such feedback, deploying incognito or anonymous “ghosts” to a contracted hotel for some in-depth advice. Here’s what Jason King, the company’s president and founder, has to say about the state of independent hotel consultants in this online-review-dominated world.

Larry Mogelonsky: Has the advent of online user-based hotel review sites like TripAdvisor impacted the need for anonymous ghosts? 

Jason King: Absolutely. TripAdvisor is a great source for hearing comments directly from the consumer. It’s critical that we address the problem areas detailed online so hoteliers can correct themselves. In effect, it’s made our jobs more transparent and actually made us better at what we do.

LM: As the old adage goes, “The customer is always right.” What are some things online guest reviews get right, and what are some things they frequently get wrong or misinterpret about a hotel experience?

JK: To us, every review a customer presents is right. The biggest problem is that too many hotels do not listen to their customers — truly listen, as well as understand the imperative of constantly improving and retooling.

A lot of this comes from reading between the lines on reviews. Guests are busy people like everybody else and often don’t have the time to flesh out a 2,000-word essay that nitpicks all the minor issues they had with their stay. This said, what is mentioned in a guest review is likely an item that has had a lasting impression, for better or for worse.

LM: What are the most common problems or mistakes you see hotels make?

JK: Not taking it seriously insofar as the only way to insure guests keep coming back is to utilize the absolute best training, hire the best personnel and have daily maintenance inside and outside their properties.

LM: What are some easy mistakes hoteliers can fix right now?

JK: Evaluate departments and each department head, then sit down and go over all goals and benchmarks. Make your department heads take ownership and believe in what they are trying to accomplish — and always hold them accountable!

LM: Sometimes issues can arise not from physical problems but with a bad attitude in the management. In instances that this is the case, what remedies do you recommend?

JK: Get new management. Many managers have been trained with “old-school” techniques, most of which are good, such as strong customer service. But even well-schooled managers forget the need to continue training not only their staff but also themselves — you must always be learning and improving. New techniques are always available. Old-school managers need to be flexible and adapt to new changes in automation and technology as well as CRM and the like.

LM: How would you approach a senior manager about changing their style of leadership in order to improve a hotel? 

JK: First order of business is to establish what their leadership skills are. This can be accomplished through in-depth interviews and testing. Once you establish their style by doing the latter and by also talking with their peers and subordinates, a good consultant creates a plan. The plan would be specifically tailored to this particular senior manager. It would encompass coaching and development as well as retraining and much more. If the senior manager is willing to learn they will succeed. If not, then they better start putting their resume together!

LM: Any specific success stories you can share with us?

JK: While on a “mission” at a hotel, we left a wakeup call for 5 a.m., went to bed early and were then awakened by extremely loud knocking on door around 10:30 p.m. Scary. It was a man in a red, white and blue uniform delivering pizza. We told him we did not order any pizza and told him to leave.

In the report to our client, security measures were addressed. We recommended that all delivery persons be stopped at front desk. Guests should then be called by the front desk, and guests should come out for the delivery or the delivery person cleared to meet the guest at their door (with access granted by the front desk personnel). It was strongly suggested that, in the future, guestroom hallways (and elevators) be accessed by key cards, much like the rooms.

This was only a small mistake, but if hoteliers allow guests to call for deliveries, they must also take the responsibility to insure that all guests are safe and not bothered by these types of mishaps.

On a side note, our “ghost” never got to sleep properly that night. So, even though this wasn’t exactly the property’s fault — it was probably the person ordering or the pizza company that jumbled the room number — the hotel would nonetheless take the brunt of the fallout because they let the deliveryman through. It’s the little yet irreprehensible mistakes like this that deter the average consumer, and are likely never brought to a property’s attention.