Hotels get one shot at first impression

I recently experienced my “first” stay at a Boston hotel. A frequent business traveler prior to the pandemic, I hadn’t stayed in one for the last year and a half. I was excited: This was a moment — an event, even!

By Steve Peltzman, chief business technology cfficer and head of FeedbackNow, Forrester

While the staff was excellent and check-in was quick and easy, I soon noticed small pandemic-induced changes that impacted my own guest experience. These included a breakfast restaurant that was shut down in favor of an on-site Starbucks, no room service, and the fact that during my three-day stay, my room wouldn’t be cleaned unless I requested it.

I admit that none of these unexpected changes were significant enough to impact my overall experience. Nevertheless, these unexpected changes affected my customer experience. To me, it felt like a missed opportunity on the part of the hotel to wow me and convince me to return as a customer. Staying at a hotel was an event I planned to tell people about, but unfortunately, these subpar experiences were the main topic of my story.

According to Forrester’s 2022 predictions, consumers will lean on the brands that offer a sense of relief and immediate comfort. In 2022, consumers will turn to uplifting, pleasing products and experiences that offer a reprieve from the ongoing uncertainty. To live up to and exceed customer expectations, brands will need to step up!

Surveys alone no longer cut it

Moving forward, the singular, go-to customer experience (CX) tool of the past — the survey — is no longer adequate to build hotels’ customer experience strategies or run their daily operations. Surveys can provide deep context from the questions asked but can fall short in some areas, especially in this uncertain climate.

For example, unless the guest expects to return to the hotel on a regular basis, there’s really no self-serving reason for the customer to respond to a survey after they’ve left and their experience is over. Secondly, surveys rarely provide an insight into the in-moment experience, which is critical for brands to understand and address if they want to engender customer loyalty. Finally, surveys are after-the-fact assessments of sentiment; they help you correct issues and seize opportunities to delight tomorrow’s guests, not today’s. Hotels can’t afford to only concentrate on tomorrow’s guest experience; they must delight guests who haven’t checked out yet — literally or figuratively.

Per Forrester, more than 60% of customer experience professionals say their businesses lack closed-loop processes for CX feedback — an important lever to build customer goodwill and engender long-term brand loyalty. This is why hotels need to take a now approach: Gather low-friction, high-volume feedback at the time and place of experience and operationalize that feedback so it can be acted on in the moment.

For example, collecting a simple, quick “how was your check-in experience?” piece of feedback (click green for positive, yellow for just OK, red for negative) at the front desk won’t provide the deep context of a survey, but it will be useful in ways that surveys never could be. Hotels can look back at this real-time data and discover (and optimize for) previously hidden patterns and trends, correlating with factors such as weather, staffing levels, and occupancy levels. Additionally, evaluations of new policies (e.g., stopping daily room cleaning) or new choices (e.g., Starbucks only versus reopening a breakfast restaurant) can be performed using simple A/B sentiment testing.

Let’s take the hotel I mentioned earlier, which shut down its breakfast restaurant in favor of an in-house Starbucks. If they had collected high-volume feedback around the question of “how was your breakfast experience today?” near the restaurant before it was shut down and collected the same at the Starbucks afterwards, the hotel could have easily compared the results and quickly determined the enormity of the situation.

The Predictive Customer

Thinking even more real-time, hotels can use a constant stream of guest feedback to have alerts sent when satisfaction levels suddenly plummet, allowing them to take action in that moment. This is what we call real-time customer experience operations — the deliberate deployment of systems and processes to sense, analyze, and improve on customer experience in the moment, as conditions change.

Yet hotels should be aware that there is another more advanced era coming: predictive customer experience operations. Predictive operations capitalize on technology, data science, and machine learning to understand the factors and actions that drive great experiences and great revenue outcomes. Mastering these dynamics allows organizations to be in the driver’s seat as they predict what will happen and can prevent a bad situation from ever happening in the first place. For example, using a predictive analytics solution, a hotel can correlate patterns and predict behaviors such as guests’ tolerances for slow check-ins plummeting 30 minutes after it begins raining. A hotel can then use this data to ensure that extra help comes to the front desk 20 minutes after it begins to rain.

The hotel industry used to be able to sit back and let other more technologically savvy industries such as e-commerce, video streaming, and advertising lead the way. Travelers’ newfound expectations and the economic pressures due to the pandemic are now forcing hotels to embrace technology sooner to deliver better customer experiences. Travel regulations, events, and expectations are evolving faster than the survey data cycle, so real-time and predictive customer experience operations will be hotels’ only choice to meet this new dynamic environment going forward.

  1. Nancy Myers
    Nancy Myers
    January 13, 2022 at 1:54 pm

    I appreciate this article and it raises valid concerns, but the reality is that a Starbucks breakfast experience only needs 2-3 team members to run and limited easier to procure offerings. A full breakfast experience restaurant requires easily double to triple the amount of team members and for quite awhile even to this day, the procurement of breakfast products are sometimes hard to come by leading to a lackluster experience. While I understand people are hoping for and wanting the past experiences to be waiting for them now, the reality is that it is sometimes quite impossible to produce. Quite honestly, most if not all hotels would LOVE to have the staff and product to give that WOW experience and are working as hard as they can to give that. It would be awesome if more people would speak about that and help customers understand what the hospitality world is working through. Quite possibly an in the moment feedback process would help increase customer satisfaction and give hoteliers a quicker way to respond, it could also create more frustration to a team who has no control over this situation.

    Just a thought.

    • Mete Atakuman
      Mete Atakuman
      January 14, 2022 at 12:35 am

      Spot on Nancy Myers !!
      A lot of geniuses out there at the moment preaching on how to do things better without realizing the day to day struggles of Management & Colleagues are going through not knowing if produce, supplies or even staff are going to be able to show up for work the next day !!
      At the moment it is just so important looking after the well being of your colleagues and standing by them through all the uncertainty.
      I really understand that guests are paying for a service but we have a long road ahead in getting back to some normality and guests need to understand that during these times it is 99% out of the control of Hospitality operations that services may not quite be there and not play a blame game on our colleagues.
      Cheers to a more kinder, understanding and patient working environment !!

  2. Henry Vergnaud
    Henry Vergnaud
    January 13, 2022 at 5:15 pm

    Good observations! Traditional surveys are invasive for sure and not the answer to immediate improvements for all the reasons mentioned here!
    Predictive customer reaction in itself is a good idea but the example provided here is not pertinent in my opinion. As it stands today, prediction is largely the result of guests preferences (historically collected) or those collected upon reservation (often minimal given the time constraint). The other source of prediction is what we cannot control but can forecast such as the weather. Weather forecast will have an impact on arrivals and check-outs (airport delays, longer trips to arrive at destination, staff to stay on duty longer, more taxis to be ordered, request for extended check-outs…). We do not need an electronic tool to predict the effect of such a situation. Good logic and experience is all that we need! Other predictions would be: work in progress in the hotel, special events in town, pandemic…all predictable indeed. Well-established hotels with a well defined clientèle have long established their guests preferences, habits as well as their in and out hotel routine. Caring staff members such as Concierges and Front Desk colleagues will not miss an opportunity to detect guests expectations and unique attitudes throughout their stay by engaging them in short conversations when appropriate. A waiter will unintentionally overhear excerpts of conversation between guests sharing their hotel or restaurant experience.This is all part of the discreet and non invasive information collecting effort in practice in many hotels. No need of a special tool there except logging what we’ve learned in “guest history”. Creating more electronic tools at this point will only take a bit more of the time and the quality of our contacts with the guest. See how much less eye contact there already is between the Front Desk person and the Guest when checking in electronically.

    • Steven Phillips
      Steven Phillips
      January 14, 2022 at 5:38 am

      Very well said.
      Although technologies have an important place in hospitality, it is the people who will be the main driver of ensuring that the CX is predictive and anticipative. It is through coaching, training and development of the teams that a real difference can be made.
      I would also suggest that on the point of the curtailing of the offering, establishments MUST inform the guests, in advance, of any reduction in offering. Some would say that they do not do this because they may lose out on a booking and hence revenues, but I say that this is very short sighted. Honesty and a clear explanation of the reasons why, are appreciated by guests and indicates a clear understanding that the hotel is mitigating any reduction in offering, by being transparent.
      SOP’s for Wet weather planning procedures are also important

  3. Matt Bailey
    Matt Bailey
    January 13, 2022 at 6:56 pm


    In this day and age, it is entirely likely that the management of the Boston hotel had no choice but to close their breakfast restaurant. It is very likely that there simply was insufficient staff available to operate the restaurant. I speak from experience. Due to the COVID isolations/quarantines and the general lack of applicants for virtually all positions, hotels in my area have been forced to make similar hard decisions, including my own.

    Matt Bailey