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5 Unique review strategies to grow your travel business

Monday, July 8, 2019
Skift travel report with Trustpilot

Customer reviews play a crucial role in today’s travel buying experience.

From the time travelers start planning a trip, to the moment they complete their booking, reviews help impact multiple stages of the purchase decision, allowing travel brands to gain visibility with potential buyers, establish their credibility, and help influence the ultimate purchase decision.

In 2019, Trustpilot and Skift launched an online consumer survey to investigate the role reviews play in travel purchase decisions. An overwhelming 88 percent of survey respondents said reviews played an important role in influencing their purchase. And other sources back this up: Data from So Connect found that 49 percent of bookers would not book a hotel that has no reviews, and 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.

Though reviews are an essential component of the travel buying experience, many companies are missing an opportunity to use them more strategically. To do this, they need to take a step back from managing individual reviews and instead focus on the bigger picture: the hidden patterns and unexpected insights currently locked away inside of their review data. The travel industry now has tools to access these review insights, unlocking a wealth of opportunities to supercharge companies of all sizes.

How important are other customers’ reviews in your decision about whether or not to buy a travel product?

Figure 1

It’s not just about having a five-star rating on the website,” said Glenn Manoff, senior vice president, Communications & Brand at Trustpilot. “It’s about everything from brand reputation to product development. Reviews offer businesses the opportunity to improve their services through continuous feedback, engage in an honest dialogue with customers, and use positive sentiment to drive further business.

This new approach has significant benefits. First, it allows travel brands to spend more time amplifying the positive feedback they already receive from satisfied customers. This builds credibility with potential buyers and reinforces the fact that they are open and transparent with customers. In addition, this approach can help brands better prioritize which reviews are likely to have the biggest impact on their reputation and then share them to the right teams to quickly handle resolution. Last but not least, it creates opportunities to uncover a treasure trove of customer insights that can help improve the personalization of marketing campaigns, inform product development efforts, and even provide new metrics to help evaluate company success.

What review strategies are travel brands already using to gain these benefits? Which companies are ahead of the curve in deploying these strategies to boost their success? Finally, what review-focused technologies can they use to make these strategies possible? We’ll investigate these questions and more in “Five Unique Review Strategies to Grow Your Travel Business,” offering those in the industry new opportunities to boost customer satisfaction, streamline operations, and increase profitability in the process.

Strategy 1: Gaining customer insights and improving personalisation

In the current travel e-commerce environment, it’s essential to understand what customers want and need. Yet many travel companies struggle to use customer data to personalize their advertising, products, and services. According to the results of Skift and Adobe’s 2018 Digital Transformation Report, one-third of travel executives rated their companies’ personalization efforts as four points or higher on a five-point scale.

But now, travel companies have the tools to apply what they know about customers to generate actionable insights. This is possible thanks to the analytical capabilities embedded in today’s review management platforms.

As we’ll explain below, these capabilities provide travel marketers with a more holistic view of their customers’ wants, needs, and behaviors. With this information in hand, they can build more detailed customer profiles, develop more relevant offers, and cultivate ongoing relationships with travelers.

How travel brands use review data to connect the dots

One way travel brands now use review data to improve personalization is within targeted customer email campaigns. Luxury travel company Butterfield & Robinson (B&R) utilizes review data to improve its email marketing messages for various trip products. “You can actually put in specific reviews that are related to the email content, which we found to be quite effective,” said Michael Bertrand, acquisition marketing manager for B&R. “When we’re sending an email on a specific trip, and we have a very powerful review on that trip, we’re going to feature that in the email.”

Another organization using reviews to support guest personalization is the French hospitality group, Accor. The company collects all guest reviews in a central database. This data is then available to employees, who use it to provide a more consistent experience to guests regardless of which Accor hotel they visit. “It gives our frontline employees the necessary information that they need in order to personalize the guest experience,” said Alison Broussy, vice president of customer experience and reputation guest services for the brand.

This review-powered process has another benefit: It’s helping Accor cultivate an ongoing relationship with their guests by connecting the dots across properties, service lines, and transactions. “It’s all about building that complete experience rather than just the in-hotel experience,” said Broussy.

Review tools help identify insights at scale

How do B&R and Accor identify the right insights to inform their personalization efforts? While it’s true that some companies do it manually by analyzing individual reviews, this can be a time-consuming process. Instead, more brands are now relying on insight analysis tools built into review platforms, which help them identify hidden patterns within the data.

One example is Trustpilot’s Review Insights technology. The tool uses machine learning technology to uncover hidden patterns in customer sentiment and topics surfacing across multiple reviews. These patterns can then be used to deliver more precise marketing messages when it’s time to reengage existing and potential customers.

Trustpilot’s Review Tagging dashboard can also help marketers organize the various insights scattered among different customer reviews. Tagging can attach a phrase or keyword to a review, marking that information so it can be easily tracked. In the context of personalization, a travel brand might use the feature to tag reviews related to specific demographic groups that value the brand differently, or by destination, which can help marketers get a sense of which trips had the best or worst reviews.

“If the brand knows the type of content that the person commented on in the review, there’s a couple of ways to help analyze that,” said Brandon Till, senior director of product marketing for Trustpilot. “You might segment it based on either your customers … whether it’s a man or a woman, or if it’s a family trip. Or maybe this is a romantic vacation? Tagging can inform the different types of packages they might offer.”

And for those travel brands using third-party business intelligence tools, Till says it’s easy to then export tags for further analysis. “The company could download and analyze it using their own business intelligence tool. We also have dashboards where people can compare the different tags to one another to see what’s overperforming.”

Strategy 2: Monitoring and delivering customer service in real time

In today’s fast-paced consumer environment, travelers expect real-time responses when they make complaints or have a problem. One recent study from Hubspot found that 82 percent of consumers expected an immediate answer to their queries and suggestions. And additional 2016 research from Trustpilot found that 81 percent of travel consumers will not buy a vacation from a company known to have poor customer service.

In order to quickly address problems, travel marketers need better strategies to monitor reviews, designate the right team to handle the issue, and provide quick resolution. When problems are handled quickly and appropriately, consumers are quick to forgive. Fifty-seven percent of respondents in Skift and Trustpilot’s survey said they were less likely to leave a bad review if the company tried to fix the problem during their trip.

Imagine you have a problem with a travel company during a trip. How likely are you to still leave a bad review if the company tries to fix the problem during your trip?

Figure 2

Building a system to provide real-time support

UK-based travel company Trailfinders has recognized the importance of rapid response and has designated a specific team to provide timely support if customers have a problem while on their trip. “We have a specialist team here that handle client issues that have been raised while they’re away,” said Lee Holden, digital marketing manager for Trailfinders.

Marketers also need to follow up with the reviewer to confirm that the issue has been addressed. “We will often say to clients, ‘Are you happy that your issue has been resolved?,’” said Trailfinders’ Holden. “That generally leads to a conversation where, if it has now been resolved and they’re happy, then they’ll take a fresh look at their review.”

Among the marketing agencies that work with travel industry clients, some say that it’s important to follow-up with customers who offer feedback whenever possible to gather additional details. “If you’re seeing one-off comments, that’s one thing. But act if you’re seeing people complaining over and over that ‘The beds are uncomfortable,’” said Jennifer Baum, of marketing agency Bullfrog + Baum. “Reach out. If you can get people to talk more and give you more details offline...then you can create a strategy.”

How review tools can streamline the response process

In order to streamline the response and monitoring process, many review platforms provide marketers with tools to gather feedback throughout the customer journey. This includes features such as:

  • Automatic email invites sent to customers during key moments in their trip
  • Embedded review forms that live on company websites
  • Customer data APIs to help synchronize review data with customer data found in email programs and CRM software.

By providing more ways to collect reviews, travel brands can make it more likely that travelers will share their input when it’s most convenient for them.

And as the number of reviews grows, it’s equally important to consider software-based monitoring solutions, which help summarize feedback and notify the right team. “A successful business may get 1,000 reviews a day, right? So, it’s going to be very hard to understand which ones it has to pay attention to,” said Ramin Vatanparast, Trustpilot’s chief product officer. “As soon as reviews come in, the system automatically analyzes them, groups them together, and informs the person in that department.”

Furthermore, integrations with customer service tools like Zendesk make it easier to flag and share notable reviews with the appropriate support personnel. “We can route these reviews into different help desk systems in real time, so that customers who are out traveling or at an airport can get responses from companies quickly,” said Trustpilot’s Brandon Till.

Once the issue has been fixed, travel companies should also ask the customer to update his or her review. Consumers that post on review platforms like Trustpilot “own” their reviews, making it easier to modify their original rating, or add additional information. This is a great way to turn a previously negative review into a positive recovery.

Strategy 3: Informing product research and evolution

Many in the travel industry recognize the potential of innovation to help grow their business and satisfy customer needs. But testing new innovations can also be expensive and risky. That’s why review data is the perfect way to investigate the viability of new innovations before they are released to the general public.

Reviews already have a strong connection to the innovation process. According to the 2018 Global Innovation 1000 study conducted by consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, successful innovator companies “base innovation on direct insights from end users.” And in Skift and Trustpilot’s consumer survey, 73 percent of respondents said they were more likely to leave honest feedback if they knew travel brands planned to act on the suggestions.

How likely are you to leave honest feedback in a review if you know a travel brand will act upon your suggestions?

Figure 3

Furthermore, providing feedback is a key motivator for customers to share feedback in the first place. Close to 25 percent of respondents in the Skift and Trustpilot study said the reason they posted reviews was “to help the company improve its products."

What are your primary reasons for writing reviews to travel brands?

Figure 4

How travel brands turn reviews into product ideas

Trailfinders is one travel company that draws inspiration from reviews for future product development. The company’s travel packages frequently require collaboration with local supplier partners in each destination. The Trailfinders “watch team” monitors review data and periodically feeds it to the product team and any relevant suppliers who can take action on the insights.

“It’s largely a matter of us making sure that anything relevant gets moved on to the decision makers in the company,” said Trailfinders’ Holden.

And at Accor, consumer reviews help reinforce company decision making about everything from guest recommendations to content marketing programs, allowing them to improve the activities, itinerary suggestions, and marketing materials they then provide to future guests.

“We can push a little further to get more feedback from our customers on what they actually did while they were in town while they were on property,” said Accor’s Broussy. “It can be used as content for generating revenue and more information on the destination than the actual property itself.”

Yet another example is Booking.com. The online travel agency gathers detailed hotel review data from guests, who are asked to review specific aspects of hotel properties. Room cleanliness, quality of hotel facilities, and the in-room amenities are just a few of the metrics that are investigated. This information is then shared with hotel owners, who are encouraged to take action to address the findings.

Finding product improvements by identifying patterns

It’s possible that a marketer might stumble upon a single review that leads to a brilliant product idea. But rather than relying on luck to find these insights, more companies in the travel industry now find these insights by using machine learning software, which can pick up on patterns and common phrases used across multiple reviews.

“You can analyze your reviews and try to get those signals,” said Trustpilot’s Vatanparast. One way this might work is if a hotel discovered a repeated pattern of guest reviews which had negative comments about the bed. “If everybody is complaining about the small beds, or uncomfortable beds, that’s a sign that I have to do something about my beds,” said Vatanparast. “Maybe make them bigger, if that’s the sentiment around it. Or, make them more comfortable.”

Strategy 4: Proactively managing online reputation

A travel brand’s reputation plays a critical role in establishing credibility and trust with potential customers. But in recent years, trust in brands has been declining. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer study, less than half (48 percent) of the public said they trusted businesses, a number which declined from 58 percent the year prior. Another study by Moz found that businesses lose as many as 22 percent of customers after just one negative article is found online. In this environment, it’s essential for travel brands to promote review content in ways that reinforce consumer trust and help boost their reputations.

Amplifying positive reviews to improve discovery

The biggest opportunity for travel brands looking to burnish their reputation is to share positive reviews more widely. Tour operator Trailfinders uses its reviews on Trustpilot as an easily scalable marketing asset. “We’re lucky enough to be rated number one for travel by Trustpilot, so we use that as a tagline, and depending on the advertisement, we might use excerpts and quotes from happy clients,” said Trailfinders’ Holden.

Trailfinders has integrated this five-star customer rating into a number of marketing channels. The company includes the endorsement in national newspaper ad campaigns, as well as within paid search campaigns on Google. Holden notes his team saw an increase in ad click-through rates after incorporating reviews into their display advertisements. The Trailfinders’ rating also shows up in the form of a carousel TrustBox “widget” that makes it possible to showcase customer reviews on the company’s website.

Promoting this positive reputation is beneficial not just for existing customers, but for potential customers as well. “It’s putting us in front of new clients,” said Holden. “We were already engaged with our clients and trying to do the best we could in terms of responding to them as quickly as we could. What Trustpilot has given us is the opportunity to talk about that in the public arena in a way that the public trusts.”

Many travel brands also find that social media and paid search offer a powerful opportunity to put their positive customer ratings in front of consumers when they’re looking for company information. “If people are already looking to validate how good a company is, they’re going to search for reviews, and they’ll find them naturally on Facebook and Google,” said B&R’s Bertrand.

Bertrand says the company has found success integrating its positive feedback into Google AdWords campaigns. As he notes, Trustpilot is one of a select group of trustworthy review partners Google allows to be featured in such efforts. “One of the big selling points was, I want to take advantage of seller ratings in Google AdWords. To do that, you actually have to use a third-party,” he said.

Using review tools to reinforce authenticity and transparency

Managing online reputation isn’t just about promoting good feedback. As more travel brands recognize, it’s also important to focus on review platforms that emphasize transparency and don’t allow them to hide negative reviews.

By focusing on these so-called “open” platforms, companies can signal that they have nothing to hide, helping to boost buyer trust and increasing their overall reputations. This stands in contrast to more “closed-loop” platforms, which hypothetically provide more control over which reviews are highlighted, but have hidden costs in the form of increased consumer skepticism. “If they are working with closed-loop platforms, then they have to manage online reputation by themselves,” said Trustpilot’s Vatanparast. “But, if they’re working with us, it’s much easier because we’re building all of our services and functionality around that transparency and trust.”

One example of a product Trustpilot offers to reinforce trust is a tool called Transparent Flagging. The feature adds data to the company profile page of any brand on Trustpilot, indicating the number of reviews the company has “flagged” (for violating platform guidelines), how many of those contested reviews were ultimately posted to the profile page versus deleted, and an indication about whether the contested reviews were found to be in breach of the guidelines.

“Providing this level of transparency helps businesses grow brand trust where needed and incentivizes good behavior,” said Stine Mangor Tornmark, senior vice president legal & compliance at Trustpilot. “We continue our commitment to combat any attempts to game the system and our fight for a reviews industry where businesses should not be allowed to censor what people can see and share.”

Strategy 5: Redefine success metrics to include customer satisfaction scores

Travel brands already analyze their performance using metrics such as profit margin, occupancy rate, or revenue. But these measurements don’t always provide a comprehensive snapshot of the value the company creates for customers.

Consider the findings of a 2012 Harvard Business Review article titled, “The True Measures of Success,” in which author Michael J. Maubossin argued that companies “...need to assess nonfinancial measures such as customer loyalty, customer satisfaction, and product quality, and determine if they can be directly linked to the financial measures that ultimately deliver value.”

With this in mind, more travel brands are starting to incorporate metrics related to customer satisfaction and reviews into how they measure performance.

How travel brands use reviews to measure company success

Accor is one example of a hospitality brand that uses review scores as a yardstick to understand the company’s progress toward key business goals. As company executives note, they keep track of a company-wide online reputation metric that is available to stakeholders across the organization.

“We have one major e-reputation score, used across our network, which enables us to manage the performance of our hotels at an individual level,” said Accor’s Broussy. “It’s part of our customer-centric approach. Even the support staff in our head offices is motivated by the overall experience that our customers are having with our products in the hotels.”

Even more important, Accor believes these positive guest satisfaction scores are closely correlated with online conversion rates for its hotels. “It’s a clear driver for web conversion,” said Broussy. “We closely follow the conversion rates for how customers that have consulted reviews for a particular hotel convert versus those that don’t.”

Picking the right customer satisfaction metrics

As travel brands reevaluate how they measure success, they will increasingly need to consider how they can expand the range of indicators they use. For instance, indicators like the Net Promoter Score, which gauges customer loyalty, offer one potential option.

There’s also Trustpilot’s own “TrustScore” metric, which calculates customer satisfaction levels using an algorithm which blends both a company’s star rating and recency of reviews. Each individual indicator offers a specific view of success, and the best results can be achieved by combining various views to create a holistic approach to brand success.

Another opportunity involves tracking changes in consumer sentiment over time. “You can choose 10 sentiments and follow the trend of those sentiments,” said Trustpilot’s Vatanparast. “Then you receive a report automatically, by email, on a weekly basis, which tells you what sentiments were positive or negative, and what are the areas of improvement. This means you don’t necessarily need to go through all the reviews. Trustpilot is doing the heavy lifting.”

Conclusion

Reviews play a critical role in how travel brands boost their reputations and drive online business success. But even as more companies in the travel industry internalize this message, many are still missing the larger opportunity. Reviews are not just something to monitor and manage. In order to succeed and thrive in today’s highly competitive online travel ecosystem, travel brands need to think more strategically about the role review data can play in helping achieve their business goals.

Today, a new review strategy is emerging. Thanks to powerful pattern analysis software and filtering tools, travel marketers can use review data to uncover unexpected insights into their customers’ habits and desires. This can help them unearth new product ideas or even to better personalize the products and services they sell. It will allow them to quickly identify customer issues and respond before the complaint becomes a bigger problem for their brand. They will be able to easily promote positive reviews to potential customers, helping their company get discovered in customer searches. They can even use the data to capture a more accurate picture of their business success.

But in order to reap these benefits, those in the travel industry need to adopt a new mindset. Travel consumers are going to leave reviews, whether those in the industry like it or not. The question those executives need to ask themselves is if they’ve put in place the proper tools and systems to listen, understand, and then act on what’s been said. “People are taking the time to post a review,” Baum said. “They often just want to be heard.”

About Skift

Skift is the largest intelligence platform in travel, providing media, insights, marketing to key sectors of the industry. Through daily news, research, podcasts, and Skift Global Forum conferences, Skift deciphers and defines the trends that matter to the marketers, strategists, and technologists shaping the industry. SkiftX is Skift’s in-house content marketing studio, working collaboratively with partners like Adobe, Airbnb, Hyatt, Lyft, Mastercard, and many more on custom projects to engage the world’s largest audience of travel influencers and decision makers.

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