Posted onOctober 7, 2014
Four Seasons Uses Customers’ Tweets and Posts to Build Loyalty
AN INTERVIEW WITH: Elizabeth Pizzinato,VP, Brand Communications, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
October 14, 2011
Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, with 84 properties, including some of the top luxury hotels in the world, is well known for its first-class concierge and guest services. Elizabeth Pizzinato oversees global interactive marketing, marketing and corporate communications, and public relations for the Toronto-based company. In her decade with Four Seasons, Pizzinato has also handled its
crisis and reputation management. Elizabeth Pizzinato spoke about how Four Seasons translates its reputation into digital territory and how the company has embraced social media to interact with its guests.
Question: Why is it important that Four Seasons manage its reputation
Elizabeth Pizzinato: It used to be that whatever you were marketing, whether it was a product, a service, a company or a brand such as ours, you had a lot of control over the message. Now, social media and the internet have created a lot of equity among brands and the consumers who use those brands.
Consumers are dictating how a brand is perceived and how they want to engage with it—and they’re increasingly choosing to do that online.
We don’t have a choice as marketers but to engage with our customers in the way they’re telling us they want to engage. We were definitely an early adopter, and continue to be a leader, in the luxury hospitality space as it relates to social media and how we’re engaging with guests. It used to be that if something happened at a hotel—say the breakfast was late or the coffee was cold—the customer would pick up the phone and tell somebody at the hotel. Now, that same guest might choose to tweet about it or might choose to post something on Facebook about it, so engagement not only has changed, but the channel has changed. And the terms of the dialogue have changed.
Question: Could you give an example of how Four Seasons has embraced social media to interact with its guests?
Pizzinato: We recently had a guest staying at our Santa Barbara property while attending a blogger conference. When she came back to her room in the evening, we had done turndown service for her, which we do at all of our hotels. And she sent out a tweet that she didn’t like the choice of music that we put on her radio. She said that, to her, the music felt appropriate for a funeral or a beheading.
The hotel intercepted her tweet because we monitor online conversations, and sent up a note to her room with a little amenity that apologized for the bad choice and gave her a list of other radio stations in the area that she could choose from. She, in turn, tweeted that out, and both tweets combined got
incredible pick-up across not only the Twittersphere and the online world, but also mainstream media, talking about a great customer-service recovery story.
With the many interactions that happen on a day-to-day basis at a hotel, it’s inevitable that we have glitches. We can’t bat a thousand every time, so what we call “glitch recovery” is important. When we are able to engage a consumer who might not be satisfied, the overall net effect is even more positive than had the problem not happened.
Question: Where in the organization is that social media function managed?
Pizzinato: It’s managed both at the corporate and on the local level. This is especially necessary given that some of our hotels are in parts of the world, like China, where there are different social media channels.
“Managing social at the local level makes sense for a number of reasons. A lot of the conversations are about things that are happening locally. In other words, they aren’t brand issues.”
Managing social at the local level makes sense for a number of reasons. A lot of the conversations are about things that are happening locally. In other words, they aren’t brand issues. Rather, they’re participating in the conversation about a specific experience they had at a hotel, or a specific person they interacted with at a hotel. So it makes sense, and is, in fact, desirable from the consumer’s perspective that the dialogue be conducted with the hotel property. It provides authenticity of voice. We also have corporate Four Seasons-branded streams both for Twitter and Facebook, and that’s
where we’ll talk more broadly about our hotels.
Question: Are you also using social networks for social media marketing?
Pizzinato: We do, but it’s selective. We just did a Flickr photo contest about summer memories, so that’s something that we would promote through our corporate Facebook page or corporate Twitter stream. We also did a campaign with foursquare last year for all of our California hotels, which we promoted through social media. Unless it’s something that touches a lot of our hotels, we generally don’t do a lot of promotional social media work, but the local hotels do.
For instance, they’ll do a lot around food and beverage. Last year, for instance, several of our hotels hosted Wine Tweet Up events where they invited sommeliers and live tweeted the tasting. We got a lot of engagement both at the local level and on Twitter. That’s something that would never have
happened even five years ago.
Question: What impact have online review sites had on Four Seasons’ business?
Pizzinato: We think they’re extremely important, and they’re valid vehicles for people to talk about their personal experiences. Going to TripAdvisor prior to a vacation is now part of people’s research. We know from our own consumer research that personal recommendations from family and friends have the strongest validity when consumers make travel decisions.
“Our guests still read travel magazines, but they also go to places like TripAdvisor and Booking.com and take it all in and weigh the
Our guests still read travel magazines, but they also go to places like TripAdvisor and Booking.com and take it all in and weigh the recommendations.
All of the sites are very important and we read them. We respond to reviews. It gives us great feedback and is a great way to understand what was meaningful or memorable for guests.
Question: What do you measure in terms of some of these reputation channels?
Pizzinato: Our metrics are mostly about guest satisfaction. I don’t think anybody’s really cracked the code about how these types of online tools directly impact revenue or ROI. But we do know empirically that the higher the guest satisfaction scores, the more of a positive impact it has on the bottom line.
Through monitoring the places where consumers are having conversations about our brand, we often see patterns emerge. We’ve seen specific things that are important regionally. For instance, something might be important to a European guest that’s less relevant to a North American customer. We are then able to make region-specific adjustments.
Ultimately, we want to gauge the satisfaction score, or the internal scorecard, and see how that is trending over time. We use a social media platform from Revinate to monitor reviews and social media. There is a huge opportunity for us to try to understand and learn more about trends and to link specific metrics with business goals.
Question: For Four Seasons, is social media more of a mechanism to build customer loyalty or to attract new customers?
Pizzinato: There are people who engage with us on social media who are diehard Four Seasons fans and advocates, and they’re talking about their experiences and they’re sharing stories. For others, it’s aspirational—it’s people who have an affinity to the brand, and they aspire to be able to
experience the brand.
I don’t use the word loyalty as much as engagement. Regardless of whether a person you’re talking to in a social media channel is a frequent user or not, the way that you genuinely engage with people in social does engender loyalty.
Engagement deepens loyalty or deepens affinity to a brand, and it makes it feel more like a place where you would feel comfortable staying.
“Engagement deepens loyalty or affinity to a brand, and it makes it feel more like a place where you would feel comfortable staying.”
Question: Do you have any tips for brands trying to manage their reputations online?
Pizzinato: Be willing to understand that the consumer is in control of the conversation, but that you should be participating in it. A lot of companies are afraid that because social media is such a public forum, that they will a mistake.
The difference is that consumers appreciate authenticity and a genuine approach.
They don’t like feeling they’re being marketed to, which is why we really try to balance our promotions with conversations. We don’t try to take advantage of the fact that people have chosen to follow us or engage with us. We want it to be about a kinship with our brand. This is a different type of marketing. It’s relationship marketing, and needs to be approached with a very human view.