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Gaylord speeds up guest comment analytics, driving CRM turnaround

Tuesday October 21st, 2008 - 4:00PM

NASHVILLE, TN—Nearly every hotel company these days seems to focus deeply on customer care. Consequently, guests are constantly bombarded with comment cards or surveys following their stays. But what good is that information if it takes weeks upon weeks to find out and act upon what happened during those stays? Gaylord Entertainment was experiencing this type of slow feedback turnaround first hand during the past few years. But finally, earlier this year, it made the move to overhaul its system, switching to a new vendor which injected into Gaylord the latest in customer comment-focused analytics software. And now, according to Tony Bodoh, Gaylord’s manager of operations analysis, the improvements have materialized so rapidly that the company is already pushing him to harness the system in customer-focused ways he thought were simply years away. “From a service perspective we have now hit record numbers and those are directly attributable to our new text analytics solution,” Bodoh asserted. “It’s allowed us to research and quickly experiment with new approaches with, for example, groups. We’ve been able to get 90% guest satisfaction scores or double the previous scores at some of our hotels. There are a number of very measurable results so far. And the new system is the key source for the information we’re using to make changes. Of course, the data alone will not change anything. It’s all about the awareness of it and the practice of it. And now, we’ve progressed so rapidly we’re about 12 months ahead of schedule in terms of the learning and development curve.” Ironically, while Gaylord and its four resort and convention center properties are now ahead of the customer relationship management game thanks to the new technology, its previous analytics technology in this realm kept it weeks behind its customer feedback. That fact along with the knowledge that Gaylord receives 80,000 survey responses a year and would be receiving more with the opening of its latest property—Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, MD—as well as future resorts convinced the company something had to change. “We actually deployed the new technology because we recognized a year-and-a-half ago that our current vendor at the time was doing a manual process of reading all the survey comments and with our growth rate plus new hotels coming on and potential expansion, it was really unsustainable. Responses have grown 140% year over year,” Bodoh said. “And the biggest problem was that it would take three to four weeks after a month ended to get the [guest comments] report, which outlined 300 categories of comments. We wanted a solution that was much more real time.” Bodoh further explained Gaylord was also searching for a system that could report on an unlimited amount of feedback categories. For example, Gaylord wanted to view feedback on the quality of the staff, cleanliness and quality of the food, among seven or so other key elements, at each of its restaurants. Multiply all of those individual categories by the vast amount of retail, food and entertainment outlets Gaylord provides among its four mammoth properties and the categories can easily become nearly innumerable. In the end, there were two or three vendors that seemingly could provide such capabilities, Bodoh said, but a company known as Clarabridge won out as the single chosen provider. Unlike the previous vendor for Gaylord, which manually read surveys and also manually scanned the Web for comments, Clarabridge’s text analytics solution is designed to categorize text-based comments from surveys, e-mails, call center text and online forums. It will then turn that information into business intelligence that highlights for Gaylord trends in customer issues—good and bad—and uncovers sentiment out of the customer feedback. Following a 10-week pilot program with Clarabridge during 2007, Gaylord officially went live with the system in January of this year on a somewhat limited basis with only Gaylord’s directors of operations able to utilize it. But by mid-March a wider swath of employees was brought on the system, the cost of which Bodoh could not reveal. “We initially rolled it out to the directors of operations because they are the point people for operational improvement,” he said. “Then we rolled it out to other departments, like the rooms division and housekeeping.” Users of the text analytics technology access it via a computer-based dashboard where they log in and can see the basic metrics. From there, Bodoh said, they can drill down into a variety of aspects all the way to individual customer comments. Bodoh explained that the system is customized for each department so employees don’t waste their time with comment minutia. “The reports are built to help guide their analysis,” he said. With this entire arrangement in full swing for nearly nine months, the dividends, as Bodoh stated, have been quite evident. “We’ve actually had quite a few ‘aha’ moments [with the technology],” he noted. “Now it’s obvious, for instance, which guest touch points we need to master.” Bodoh added that while guest surveys are typically conducted post-stay, with the new system Gaylord can still address service issues immediately for current guests based on comments from those who have recently checked out. “For housekeeping issues, for example, we previously would not have seen that,” he said. “We can now see trends emerge very quickly.” But Gaylord is not content with the numerous benefits it has already derived from the technology. The company’s executives want to use it and other related technology to find out more about their customers, Bodoh said, noting additional CRM technology is now under development. As a matter of fact, he said that in 2009 Gaylord wants to integrate the Clarabridge analytics with the current internal guest request service system, so that a more complete profile of each guest’s preferences is constructed. “The goal is to get a holistic view of each guest and then we can engage guests with that information upon their next visits,” Bodoh said. “Our leaders are pushing the system and myself, so that means we have to rethink the way we deployed this. We want to get into new capabilities. That will allow us to build better guest profiles and, therefore, better marketing.”

—Christopher Ostrowski