Customers, prospects, and peers are discussing your brand right now in social media with or without you. Unfortunately, choosing not to listen doesn't make those conversations go away. Actively listening means protecting brand reputation, discovering opportunities, and staying competitive.
Affinia Hotels, with locations in New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., is trying to get a jump on its competition by listening to customers in online travel review forums. But the boutique hotel chain is not stopping at listening; the company is bringing this customer insight directly to its website.
By streaming Tripadvisor.com to its homepage, Affinia gains a bird's-eye view into what customers are saying about the brand. Customers, on the other hand, get honest feedback right on the homepage.
It's a bold move to include both negative and positive comments, but Affinia CMO John Moser says the payoff is greater than the risk. "I really believe that word of mouth has always been our best marketing tool. Here was a way to get word of mouth to people who did not know us," Moser says. "To me a brand should develop from engaging customers to a point where they care about your product and will tell you about their experience."
Moser says the general manager of each hotel checks the stream every morning and responds to both positive and negative comments. In addition, the GMs also visit blog tracking site Technorati and other travel industry sites to scan for comments about Affinia. "We make our GMs sit with their cup of coffee and read," he says. "It encourages managers to have free-flowing conversations."
Moser calls customers' response "overwhelming." While comments are generally positive, it's the GMs' apologetic responses to negative reviews that have convinced many customers to stay at the hotel. "Most of our competitors still want to control the brand message. We want the customer to be part of the brand message," he says.
Affinia also plans to post customers' video and audio testimonials, along with written comments about their hotel experience, on the website. "My dream is to have a brand where customers and the hotels work hand in hand to create a better place to stay," Moser says. "It's as simple as that."