Paying lip service to feedback is not the way to build loyalty, says Digital Drums chief executive Steve Dunne

I’ve never really been a fan of the TV series The Walking Dead. Zombies in movies and TV programmes have never really been my thing.

However, watching the trends of the travel sector in recent years, I think I may have spotted the rise of the fictional undead in the marketing and communications of travel brands.

And, just as in the movie genre, in travel marketing these zombie brands are not dead but, when it comes to communicating with their customers, they’re certainly not alive.

I recently stayed in a very famous hotel. Almost immediately after checking out I received an email asking me to fill in a questionnaire about my stay. I didn’t respond immediately and, sure enough, the next day, I received a second email following up the first and urging me to help the brand improve the customer experience it offers.

Now, as luck would have it, I’d had a good experience in all parts of the hotel save for one – breakfast in the restaurant. So, as the hotel was so keen to hear my views, I told them. Not just by ticks in boxes but in the comment fields too. And, when the questionnaire asked if I would recommend the hotel to colleagues, I replied no.

Zero feedback

That was several weeks ago and since then I have heard nothing, which, given the brand’s persistence in seeking my feedback and acting on it, surprised me.

Now I am not a complainer by nature, but I do fill in brand questionnaires. And I’ve noticed that, whenever I make a less-than-complimentary observation or grading, nothing ever happens. There is no follow-up at all.

I recently went on a Caribbean cruise, taking in several islands and visiting a host of resorts and hotel properties. As an experiment, I tweeted some very complimentary remarks about the cruise brand and the destinations, even tagging the brands and tourist boards into the tweet so they would see them.

I got no reaction at all. Not a like, not a reply and not a retweet. And, I should add, all these brands and tourist boards were very active on social media.

So, I changed tack. I wrote some mildly critical observations, again tagging in the brand or the tourist board concerned. Again, I got no reaction at all.

It confirmed a view that had long been at the back of my mind: the travel sector has many zombie brands. Be it cruise, airline, hotel, tourist board or tour operator, they appear to be alive by tweeting regularly and asking for your feedback in questionnaires. But in reality, in communications terms, they are not really alive at all.

Zombie brands

The secret to after-sales service is to engage with the customer. The secret to being good at social media is to be social.

By behaving like a zombie brand, these travel players are missing a great marketing opportunity. Being seen to genuinely listen to your customers’ feedback and acting upon it is such a powerful way to build brand loyalty. To engage with the customer as they enjoy the experience you offer them is a way to build repeat sales.

So, don’t pay lip service to customer feedback – embrace it.

Don’t let your travel business become a zombie brand – no one likes zombies!

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