Don't tell me you value my feedback unless you mean it.
Hotels and other travel companies are constantly shoving forms and surveys under our noses but is there any point in filling them in?
I recently sent feedback to three operators and didn't get a single response – not even a “thanks for your comments” email. Maybe they did appreciate the feedback but it seems just as likely, in the absence of a response, that they filed it in the recycling bin.
Two were complaints: one to a hotel that locked us out of our room for many hours and one to a car rental company that failed to produce a car to match our booking.
The hotel had a customer satisfaction guarantee advertised all over the premises but it clearly didn't care enough to respond, let alone make amends.
The car rental booking agency emailed me a survey with a message that my feedback would be “extremely valuable” but didn't manage even an automated response when I filled it in.
The third lot of feedback was a compliment about a wonderful hotel reception employee in London who helped us when a booking went astray and we were without a bed for the night. I sent a handwritten letter to the general manager. I included all my contact details but have no idea if he received it.
It was important to me that the staff member was recognised for her efforts – but was she? Where do all these feedback forms, letters and surveys go? Do they inhabit a world with odd socks and my son's maths homework?
I set out to follow up with the first hotel but the website said all feedback would be sent to a central point for “computer processing”, with the bonus that my contact details would be used to send me promotional material. At which point I decided not to waste any more time and effort.
I recognise that tourism operators receive large amounts of feedback – and plenty of spurious complaints – but I did wonder why I'd bothered.
Surprisingly, an expert says hotels are paying more attention to feedback than ever. Mike Waite is the vice-president of marketing for Market Metrix, which works with more than 14,000 hotels and casinos to help manage and measure their customer feedback.
Waite says social media and centralised processing have forced operators to take feedback more seriously. “It used to be much easier to ignore guest feedback,” he says.
“Most feedback was private and low scores often found their way into the garbage.”
Waite says online surveys can be sent to every guest, rather than the hotel manager selectively handing out forms to happy customers, while centralisation makes it impossible for managers to throw out bad reviews.
The biggest impact has been online reviews and social media, which put power in the hands of consumers. “Now that hotels are accountable to a public record of their performance, they are much more responsive to guest feedback,” says Waite. “They're much more likely to respond and fix problems.”
Waite says his company is able to calculate for its clients the dollar cost of each problem identified by guests, including the impact of lost referrals and repeat business.
“Loyalty and referrals are the lifeblood of the hotel business,” he says. “We've measured the impact a problem has on loyalty in literally millions of cases. On average, loyalty plummets by nearly 60 per cent.”
Waite says hotels can use customer feedback to fix product and service gaps and identify and reward good staff. “Recognising extraordinary performance can be very motivating for staff,” says Waite.
To the lovely receptionist at the hotel in London: I do hope you received the message.
No joy? If you want to pursue a (tangible) complaint against a travel provider, first try to follow it up with the company, preferably the general manager or customer service manager.
State in your letter or email that you intend to take it further if you do not get a satisfactory resolution and make it clear what you are expecting, such as a full or partial refund.
If you can't resolve the complaint that way, the next step is to take it to the state Department of Fair Trading. The easiest way to do this is to lodge the complaint online via the website.
Your feedback is important to us, too! What have your experiences with giving feedback to travel companies been like? Post your comments below.