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Text analytics the key to customer service for hospitality firm

Gaylord Entertainment is using on-demand text analytics to filter customer feedback and improve its business processes and customer service.

Every phone in the Gaylord Entertainment Inc. hotel system has a button marked "consider it done."

The idea is that when customers call to request something -- be it more towels, a wake-up call, a new pillow -- it will be taken care of and they can "consider it done."

But when it comes to improving business processes at the Nashville, Tenn.-based hotel and convention center chain, a button on the phone is not enough. Instead, the company has turned to customers to learn where the business needs improvement, using text analytics to digest that information and provide insight.

Gaylord Entertainment operates hotels, convention space and entertainment venues -- including the Grand Ole Opry -- in Tennessee, Texas and near Orlando. It will soon open a new site in Washington, D.C. Each has anywhere from 1,400 to 2,900 rooms and meeting space for thousands. The company is this week rolling out an on-demand text analytics application from Reston, Va.-based Clarabridge Inc. to help it cull through the thousands of customer survey responses it receives every year. Gaylord has been piloting the technology since last summer.

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All guests who provide email addresses are sent a survey asking them to rate their experience. Last year, Gaylord received roughly 80,000 surveys.

"From what I understand, that's more than what other properties receive, so we're happy with that," said Tony Bodoh, manager of operations analysis at Gaylord. "We've seen substantial growth."

Those surveys are fed into the Clarabridge application, which categorizes the responses and uses text analytics to put them into 386 different buckets based on keywords.

"Room quality and condition, elements of check-in, check-out -- basically any touch-point in the hotel would be considered a category for us," Bodoh said.

All data is housed within Clarabridge, separate from Gaylord's systems, he said. This helps to provide a "wall of separation" so the company gets better answers from guests.

Each Gaylord property has a director of operational excellence and innovation who monitors the system daily. Department heads receive canned reports on the chain's performance on a daily or weekly basis. Previously, Gaylord had been relying on an outside service to cull through customer surveys and categorize their responses, which could mean a delay of up to seven weeks before the information got into the hands of customer service.

"Really, the value is in the ability to create ad hoc reports. If we see an issue with a group leaving, we can jump on it right away," Bodoh said. "A lot of groups rotate through our hotels. If there's a problem at one, a meeting planner shows up at another hotel to correct the situation."

Information from the reports is also used to improve processes through Six Sigma and is incorporated into employee training. Gaylord is also working on ways to put customer feedback from email, letters and customer comments into the system. Typically, when a guest provides feedback to staff in person, that staff member will call the "consider it done" line to make sure that the company has followed up on the request. By next year, Gaylord plans to incorporate text analytics into its call center, tracking comment fields and live customer feedback.

Improving customer service and the contact center are typical entry points into the enterprise for text analytics, according to Jim Murphy, research director with Boston-based AMR Inc.

"It's very often in a role like that," Murphy said. "A lot of these technologies have cut their teeth in law enforcement and fraud detection, but the clearest commercial uses have come in voice-of-the-customer initiatives."

At Gaylord, human resources used to be in charge of the guest feedback program because responses were incorporated into employee training. When his department took it over, Bodoh turned to Clarabridge as a way to manage customer feedback. The company had already been considering text analytics for use in analyzing meeting contracts. Now, he said, the analysis team handles the system, working closely with marketing.

This is not uncommon. As the technology has matured, control of text analytics has moved beyond the purview of business intelligence and analysis teams and into marketing and customer service departments, Murphy said.

"It's driven by customer service and, in more and more cases, it's customer service and marketing getting together on this," he said. "Marketing is discovering [that] customer service is demand-sensing while marketing is demand-shaping. There's a mutual need."

And the technology is becoming easier to use.

"One of the early problems with text analytics was finding the expertise to use it; companies realized they weren't equipped to do this," Murphy said. "It required a combination of technical skills and linguistic skills. The tools have now been geared to specific skills, so they provide canned analytics and are much more accessible."

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