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Starwood hotels use social media for customer serviceYesterday, I wrote about some of the challenges that face companies that use social media for customer service. Today, I want to share a fantastic experience I had with Starwood’s customer service.

I had tweeted that over the years I’ve spent $660,000 on my Starwood American Express card. Someone from Starwood corporate replied asking what I was doing with all of the Starwood points I’d earned.

As it happened, I was using Starwood points to stay at the Sheraton New Orleans hotel. When I tweeted that, the hotel’s social media manager responded and asked how my stay was going.

I was having trouble with the hotel’s Internet service. The social media manager apologized and asked whether I preferred wine and strawberries sent to my room or beer and snacks.

customer service done right at Sheraton

When I returned to my room, I found this:

(I ended up with chocolates instead of strawberries, but I’m OK with that.) It was a fantastic response both from corporate and from the property.

I was relating this story to Swipely CEO Angus Davis, and he made the critical point that employees throughout the organization were empowered to make such decisions.

“The personal nature of hospitality, welcoming guests into our hotels, is inherently social,” said Abbey Reider, Starwood’s director of social media strategy. “And with travel, recommendations from friends and fellow travelers are important and naturally happen across these social platforms.”

“While these channels can be a great tool for marketing, first and foremost, they are important channels that allow us to hear from and engage with our customers,” Reider said. “We learned early on that the social channels are primarily for our guests to communicate with us before, after, and during stay. While publishing last minute deals has proven successful for some, our focus is really on that imperative guest dialogue.”

I can tell you what happened. But I can’t tell you why it happened. Did the social media manager send me wine and chocolate because that’s the reaction to every guest with a similar issue? Was it because I am a loyal guest who has stayed at Starwood properties for many years? Or was it because they looked at my profile and saw my follower count and the fact that I write about such things?

As a writer, I do care, because I want to relate the most realistic view to consumers. But as a marketer, I say it makes sense to reward the best customers and potential influencers who can have a meaningful impact on my business.

I was talking to Sam Shank, CEO of HotelTonight, about customer service and marketing. I told him that if I were running HotelTonight, I’d flag the accounts of people who were influencers. If one of them booked a room, I’d have someone call the hotel and ensure that they got the best possible room.

“We may or may not be doing that already,” Shank replied.

Rewarding influencers is a long-standing practice. This year’s Oscar nominees received gift bags with more than $60,000 in swag in the hopes that the celebrities would talk about some of their products.

Technology allows us to identify influencers who aren’t world renowned. Some companies do this by looking at Klout scores, others by follower counts, and others by manually identifying people who are influencers.

This extends not just to Twitter but to all customer interaction channels. If I were running Groupon, any customer-service emails from pain-in-the-ass writers would go to a special handling queue. Clearly, they haven’t been doing that.

But just in case they get smarter, I’m buying new Groupons under an alias.


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