Published in Retail

Going the Wrong Way with Social Media

A couple of months ago, I shared findings from the 2014 Maritz Voice of the Customer Challenges and Practices Survey showing that organizations increasingly are trying to capture and leverage information from social media (A Little Secret About Social Media).  Indeed, our research shows organizations that succeed at “putting the Voice of the Customer to work” use social media to: (a) understand and improve customer experiences, (b) manage relationships with individual customers, and (c) generate favorable brand imagery by leveraging posts from satisfied customers.

Still, a recent personal experience made it glaringly clear that not all firms are getting it right when it comes to social media.

A few weeks ago, I enrolled in a hotel loyalty program that promises a guaranteed room upgrade to any member willing to pay the annual fee to receive “Ambassador” status.  At first glance, this looked like a can’t-lose proposition.  However, my first attempt to take advantage of this status revealed a sizable gap between the brand promise and the brand reality.

For a recent vacation at an island resort, I booked a ground-level, oceanfront room – at a premium price – with the expectation of being upgraded to the next best oceanfront accommodation.  Upon arrival and check-in, my status in the loyalty program was acknowledged, and I was informed that my room indeed had been upgraded.  Unfortunately, the “upgrade” was not oceanfront – it was a larger room, located at the opposite end of the property, overlooking nothing particularly interesting.  When I indicated that my wife and I really were hoping for a ground-level room on the beach, I was informed that an upgraded oceanfront room was available, but would require paying an additional daily charge that was approximately 30% higher than the rate I had booked.  We had not traveled this far to look at the back of the property.  So, after expressing disappointment, I reluctantly agreed to pay the additional charges.

I am pleased to report that we had a great vacation, and truly enjoyed the resort and its friendly, attentive staff.   Still, I was a little miffed by what I perceived to be a classic bait-and-switch maneuver by this hotel.

Two days ago, I received an email inviting me to complete a survey regarding our stay at the above property.  I completed the survey, giving the hotel and its staff very favorable ratings on just about every aspect of the experience.  However, when asked to rate the “value received for price paid,” I gave the hotel a very poor rating.  In the “Comments” section of the survey I explained this rating, offering details regarding the additional loyalty program fee, the upgrade issue, and the increased charges.

Ordinarily, after completing such a survey, I would expect to see a “Thank You for Your Feedback!” message and that pretty much would have been the end of it.  However, the number of favorable ratings I had given apparently triggered an automatic invitation to “share the experience” with others by writing a review that would be posted on the hotel’s website.  So, that’s what I did.  I entitled the review “Bait and Switch.”  I began by saying that my wife and I had a great experience, overall.  I also provided positive details about the property and the staff.  I then devoted the remainder of the review to our disappointment with the promised vs. actual room upgrade.

Yesterday, I received the following email message from the hotel:

“Your review has been rejected.  We are unable to post your review at this time due to the following:  Irrelevant or Inappropriate Content.  To revise your review, please click here.”

When I clicked on the link, there was nothing to revise (even if I had wanted to do so).

In summary, the hotel requested my feedback, which I gave.  I was invited to write a review that would be posted on the hotel’s website.  I took the time to write an honest review, reflecting both good and disappointing aspects of my experience.  For my efforts, I was rewarded with a rejection due to “irrelevant or inappropriate content.”

The content of my review clearly was relevant to my experience.  Therefore, I can only conclude that the review was rejected because the content was inappropriate.  As I did not use any profane language in my review, I also can only conclude that the content was deemed “inappropriate” because it did not serve the interests of the hotel or the brand.

In my humble opinion, this is a prime example of how not to use social media.   The company should have posted the review, then seized the opportunity to make things right by posting a reply.  The reply could have attempted to explain and clarify the upgrade policy.  It might have included an apology and, perhaps, offer the customer an incentive to give the hotel a second chance. Any of these replies would serve the interests of both customer and company.  Regrettably, this opportunity was squandered.

If you ask for the customer’s feedback, be prepared to listen and respond regardless of whether the content is what you want or hope to hear.  If you want to build brand trust and loyalty, be transparent.  Don’t ask customers to invest the time and effort to write a candid review they expect others will see if you have no intention of posting it.

Assuming I continue to do business with this hotel chain, the next time I am asked to provide feedback regarding a stay, how do you think I am going to respond?