308 | From Guests’ Mouths to Managers’ Ears: J.D. Power study reveals what satisfies hotel customers in COVID-19 age

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J.D. Power in September released its inaugural ‘Third-Party Hotel Management Guest Satisfaction Benchmark,’ in which it ranked guest satisfaction at branded hotels managed by outside companies. Included in the survey were questions on how the properties handled coronavirus-related clean-and-safe protocols.

Top-ranking Crestline Hotels & Resorts says no such thing as too much communication in an uncertain time

The coronavirus pandemic has created hefty challenges in hotel teams’ efforts to serve guests. But some management companies are delivering on guest expectations, according to a new survey by a customer-service watchdog.

J.D. Power in September released its inaugural “Third-Party Hotel Management Guest Satisfaction Benchmark.” It ranked 12 companies with at least 14,000 rooms under management.

As if surveying guests who stayed 38,000 nights at thousands of hotels wasn’t challenging enough, J.D. Power did it in June, in the early days of the coronavirus crisis.

It surveyed guests who had stayed at hotels at least 30 days prior. So that’s April and May, when hotel business plunged to historic lows.

Keeping the pandemic in mind, Andrea Stokes, hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power, which is known in the hospitality industry for its annual rankings of customer satisfaction by hotel brands and their chain-scale segments, said the top-ranking managers did one thing consistently well – they communicated.

They communicated with guests throughout the booking process and their stay. And they regularly engaged with the hotels’ general managers, staff and owners.

“If hotels are not transparent upfront with the guests before they arrived about the pool being closed and the restaurant being closed or the fitness center being closed, their guests are going to be disappointed by the time they walk through the doors,” said Stokes.

Winner, Winner

Coming out on top was at Crestline Hotels & Resorts in Fairfax, Virginia. It received 861 guest-satisfaction points out of a possible 1,000.

Crestline Hotels & Resorts manages 125 hotels or 18,600 rooms across 25 full-service, limited-service and extended-stay brands as well as independent and boutique properties.

Aaron Olson, senior vice president of operations at Crestline, said he was surprised to learn of the win but not too surprised as delivering on the guest experience is the top priority at Crestline.

“The particular areas we did well the areas that really stood out were for staff service upon guest arrival and guest departure,” Olson said. “And also for hotel facilities. That included things such as safety and security, grounds, exterior maintenance, parking, the condition of restaurants and bars.”

HOW THEY STACK UP: Crestline Hotels & Resorts came out on top in J.D. Power’s inaugural ‘Third-Party Hotel Management Guest Satisfaction Benchmark,’ in which it ranked 12 companies with at least 14,000 rooms under management.

Overall, Olson said, the biggest tip he can offer other hotel managers is to keep the lines of communication open, no matter what.

“Continuing to listen to both guests’ and our employees’ needs, and continue to be responsive as things continue to change,” he said. “I think over the next several months in particular that’s going to be critically important. But great communication also with our owners is critical to meeting expectations and setting the stage for what is yet to come.”

Keep Calm

Many hotel employees have encountered customers who are tense or angry over new management practices established because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Olson said Crestline staff are trained to de-escalate potential problems and keep guests calm.

“It really starts with the communication prior to arrival,” he said. “You’ve got to be upfront; you’ve got to set those expectations with the guests that they understand what to expect once they arrive. And that takes away a lot of the opportunity for challenges once they come through your doors.” Communicating with guests should also continue throughout their stay, Olson said.

Don’t forget the hotel staff. “Making sure that your associates are prepared for any challenge that comes their way,” he said. “It starts with finding the right people. Providing them the right training, reinforcing that, making sure that they’re empowered.”

FROM GUESTS’ MOUTHS: A new study by J.D. Power reveals what satisfies hotel customers in COVID-19 age. Episode 308 of Lodging Leaders podcast features Crestline Hotels & Resorts, which won J.D. Power’s inaugural Third-Party Hotel Management Guest Satisfaction Benchmark report and a representative at J.D. Power who share the ingredients to the secret sauce of guest satisfaction.

Clean-and-Safe Questions

Stokes said adding the new third-party management guest-satisfaction benchmark to J.D. Power’s repertoire of consumer reports made sense.

The company already collects data from thousands of hotels guests for its brand-focused customer-service survey. And Stokes said her team is coming up with new ways to share more information.

The follow-up questions J.D. Power asked hotel guests about their stay go beyond checking the usual boxes or getting a net promoter score. And the third-party management survey was conducted differently than J.D. Power’s chain-scale guest satisfaction study.

“It’s a little bit of a different model when we calculate customer-experience scores for companies. We don’t just ask the consumer, ‘Please rate your experience.’ I mean, we do ask that question, but we actually roll it up from all of the pieces and parts of that experience into a score. It’s a statistical model that we use. And when we looked at third-party operators, it’s not the same model as a brand. It’s more operational. It’s about staff. It’s about F&B. It’s about the condition of the hotel itself and the things that operators really have control over on behalf of the owner.”

Included in the guest survey were queries about how hotels are implementing COVID-19 health and safety protocols, such as whether staff members wore face masks or if the hotel offered guests hand sanitizer and practiced social distancing guidelines.

Stokes said J.D. Power included the questions in the spring 2020 survey thinking it was a short-term addition. But now she expects virus-related questions to be included in subsequent surveys.

In fact, now that Stokes’s team knows more about what hotel brands are mandating to keep the virus at bay at its properties, it will probably ask more specific questions the next time around.

“We are measuring the actions that the property’s taking for guests safety and there’s quite a list,” she said. “We kind of gathered that list from what the chains had put out in terms of the protocols and then also AHLA and their protocols. We took everything that we were learning at the time last spring, and then created a long list of these actions.”

The questions are meant to discover what guests face as they travel during the pandemic.

“It’s really these small things that we wanted to see what guests were experiencing on the ground.”

J.D. Power also asks guests why they selected the hotel to learn if location and price played a role in their decision. Now, it’s added whether the hotel’s clean-and-safe protocols also affected travel buyers’ decisions.

Stokes and her team place a heavy value on hotels’ communication strategies.

“We also asked about pre-stay communication, and did any of these communications include the protocols that they were following? Or any sort of notices to the guests such as you must wear a mask in the hotel public areas, or just the information that people need right now.”

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FEATURING
  • Andrea Stokes

    Hospitality Practice Lead

    J.D. Power

    LinkedIn Profile
  • Aaron Olson

    Senior Vice President of Operations

    Crestline Hotels & Resorts

    LinkedIn Profile
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