Closing the circle in this series on the process guests use to book lodging properties is what WIHP Hotel Marketing calls the Second Moment of Truth – the arrival of the guest at your property. We have already discussed the four-step booking decision process, how the guest becomes aware of your property (the Discovery or Stimulus step), how guests make the decision to visit your website (the Zero Moment of Truth), and the process of deciding to book with your property (the First Moment of Truth). In this article we consider the guest at your property (and beyond).

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Just as the process begins with the discovery of a property to be considered, by using “word of mouth” — review sites, social media, or recommendations from “real” friends and family, the guest will become the recommender. Their reaction at your property (the Second Moment of Truth) will determine whether they recommend your property positively or negatively (or at all).

How do you get word of mouth recommendations that will bring more guests?

If review sites and social sharing are the sources of discovery, then we definitely want our guests to have a positive experience, and to share that experience. How do we go about doing that?

1. The Positive Experience

People usually have a good experience when it meets or exceeds their expectations. Conversely, when the experience falls short of their expectations, it isn’t usually a good experience.

How are expectations set for prospective guests? Proceeding through the booking process we’ve been discussing, some expectation is created by the initial recommendations or reviews. These are refined further by the visit to your website and booking process. The Second Moment of Truth is when the guest arrives at your property and learns whether or not those expectations will be met.

What can you do to set expectations? [pullquote]Don’t lie to the guests! Really.[/pullquote]

You can not do much to affect the word of mouth recommendations, but you can affect online reviews. You can respond to the reviews to

  • thank guests for positive comments,
  • clarify any misunderstandings, or
  • explain (and show sensitivity to) any problems.

Photos have the most impact, both because they tell the story most completely, and because they can be viewed quickly. On your website you can set expectations by making sure the photos accurately show what the guest should expect. Naturally we all want to show our property to best advantage, and to use the best photographs we can in order to do so. However, if your rooms are on the small side, and you use and extreme wide-angle lens to make them look a bit larger, you are setting the expectation that the guest will have a larger room than you are actually providing. This is a recipe for the guest to be disappointed.

Make sure the website information is current. If you no longer provide an amenity, make sure your website doesn’t say you have it. If you’re close to an area attraction, certainly say so. If you’re not too close, don’t pretend you are!

Make sure your service exceeds expectations, wherever possible. You already know how to do that! There is no substitute for a guest who checks out saying, “You’ve thought of everything!”

2. Getting the recommendation

Ask for it! If you send a follow-up email, be sure to include a gentle request for a review on TripAdvisor (or any other site you feel is appropriate). Don’t be rude, or hit the guest over the head with it. Please don’t try to make them feel guilty (“If you don’t review us, we’ll go out of business”), but do ask, and ask nicely.

Let people know about your presence on the networks they are on (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Goole+, or whatever). Ask them to follow you. Ask them to recommend you. That said, don’t forget to check the rules of the review sites you request guests to use – some discourage asking for reviews, and even penalize you for rewarding positive reviews.

Not only do their recommendations reach their friends (who may remember to check them again when they plan their next trip), but they also will appear in searches for a long time to come. One of the aspects of posting things on the web, for better or for worse, is that you have no control over how long they remain available on a site operated by someone other than you.

Going around again

The cycle has the excellent potential of repeating itself. Potential guests discover your property through reviews, social media and word of mouth. They investigate further with search engines, reviews and maps. Once they have the basics, they visit your website, where your excellent site quickly convinces them to book. Once at your property, the experience is so good that they can’t wait to share it with their friends, family, and other connections. Those people learn of your property, and the cycle begins again.

By having a good presence on social media (the platforms where your target demographic(s) are found, of course) and on review sites, encourages discovery of your property. Good search engine, local, maps and review presence encourages the investigating guest to dig deeper and visit your website. A site that shows the guest the three things they are looking for (value, location and comfort) encourages them to book. And a great experience (supported by a website that has accurately presented your property – especially in the areas of value, location and comfort), encourages the guest to share that experience with the next potential guest.