Another unique characteristic of communities is peer-to-peer discussion. Hight noted that members frequently use the network to initiate their own conversations without prompting. But they can also be tapped for direct feedback on issues posed by the company.
For example, when rival Marriott banned smoking in its hotels, a community member started a discussion of the issue in the Hilton Family community the same day. Hilton officials asked members if its brands should follow suit. “Within 10 hours, we had a lot of feedback,” Hight said.
Hilton learned that while many guests would like to have a smoke-free hotel experience, others were concerned about smokers' rights and comfort. They raised questions about the possibility of alienating longtime, loyal guests and how a hotel could reasonably enforce such a policy. Using input from the community and other sources, Hilton Family decided not to establish smoke-free policies in all its hotels, although Hight said it periodically revisits the issue.
Hilton has taken some innovative approaches to obtaining feedback. For example, an effort to gain insight about customers' use of HHonors points to book stays had the company asking members to upload pictures and descriptions from their recent rewards travel. In another exercise, members were asked to share examples of prearrival communications they received for a wide variety of products and services that they reserved in advance. “It was like a scavenger hunt for grown-ups, and they enjoyed it,” Hight said.
The secrets of success? Hight recommends thinking of communities as qualitative research but not as a replacement for traditional surveys. She advises keeping the group small and always showing members that their comments are taken seriously. “Let members know what actions are being taken as a result of their input,” she said. M