Guest Relations
October 1st, 2009 | Chris Crowell

Surveys: Staff, service indicators of satisfaction

1 Oct, 2009 By: Chris Crowell Hotel and Motel Management

National Report–When the economy is down and budgets are tight, it is tougher to ensure guests will get the best hospitality experience, but the best way to keep them happy is perhaps the cheapest.

The J.D. Power and Associates 2009 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Study, the Market Metrix Hospitality Index and the American Customer Satisfaction Index from the University of Michigan all offered slightly different conclusions on guest satisfaction across the industry. J.D. Power maintained the industry overall has improved in guest satisfaction year-over-year; Market Metrix showed the first big drop in its quarterly guest satisfaction numbers since the recession began; and ACSI offered mixed results among brands, but showed the industry overall was maintaining customer satisfaction.

However, whether the reports were good, bad or mixed, the importance of hotel staff and customer service kept popping up as the main determinant of satisfaction—a variable that can be controlled regardless of budget.

“There’s no doubt that those brands that win have a stronger service culture,” said Jonathan Barsky, co-founder and VP of research at Market Metrix. He offered Drury Inn & Suites and  Kimpton Hotels as examples in this area. “They’re not doing anything unusual to the product, but have maintained service scores consistently higher than others in their segment. Kimpton is incredible in terms of service culture.

Their scores are incredible and the have maintained the friendliness. I think that variable—staff—is very important,” he said.

Michael Drago, director of the global hospitality and travel practice at J.D. Power and Associates, also noted the example of Drury, as it leads its category in the J.D. rankings for the fourth straight year.

Drury “is a bit of a different animal; most other brands are a part of larger organization, this is a family-run small business and the focus isn’t really on the Wall Street crowd as much as guest satisfaction,” he said.
One attribute Drago noted is the bundling of services, which keeps guests from various hidden charges and increases their satisfaction. “The nickel and diming is something they try to avoid,” he said.

Price is one variable that proved to have little to do with guest satisfaction. Rates have dropped industry-wide, but that didn’t send satisfaction scores any higher. As Claes Fornell, head of the ACSI at the University of Michigan, pointed out, economy hotels “seem to do better in customer satisfaction in a recessionary environment.” The ACSI results at the end of Q1 supported this as luxury hotels actually performed below economy.

“It turns out that low price doesn’t really improve satisfaction of the customer that much,” Fornell said. “It has some effect, but much lower than people think. What really makes [scores] go up is the quality of the service.”

The Market Metrix results don’t necessarily indicate that guests are missing out on extra amenities, according to Barsky, but rather guests report “feeling less welcome.”

“Staff matters more than product in overall satisfaction,” Barsky said.

Brands that were able to improve their guest satisfaction scores found ways to cut back on upgrades to services or amenities that didn’t affect customer service, according to Drago.

But there are other explanations that factor into the scores that rose or maintained their level. For one, this renewed focus on service attitude came at a time of less travel—meaning shorter lines, shorter waits and generally a less stressful hospitality experience for both guests and staff.

“I wouldn’t want to diminish what hotels are doing, but I would be remiss to say there aren’t service benefits from a decrease in volume,” Drago said.

Whatever the reason, hoteliers need to keep satisfaction high because customer satisfaction, Fornell said, is an indicator of economic recovery.

“The empirical evidence is if [companies] have high and growing customer satisfaction, it has an impact on customer retention, …  So yes, [guest satisfaction] is highly correlated to financial results and stock prices.”

2009 guest satisfaction winners
Luxury: J.D. Power—Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts; Market Metrix—Pan Pacific Hotels & Resorts
Upper-upscale: Market Metrix—Kimpton Hotels
Upscale: J.D. Power—Embassy Suites; Market Metrix—Hyatt Place   
Midscale full-service: J.D. Power—Hilton Garden Inn; Market Metrix—Clarion Hotels & Resorts
Midscale limited service: J.D. Power—Drury Inn & Suites; Market Metrix—Drury Inn & Suites
Economy: J.D. Power—Microtel Inns & Suites; Market Metrix—Jameson Inns   
Extended Stay: J.D. Power—Staybridge Suites           
Source: J.D. Power Guest Satisfaction Study, Market Metrix Hospitality Index

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