Simplifying Your Booking Process

By Cid Jenkins Vice President, ATG's eStara | January 27, 2012

Smart hoteliers go above and beyond what's required to provide their guests with an exceptional, personalized experience that leaves travelers feeling welcome and important. Yet, hotel executives often miss the mark by not extending this best-in-class experience throughout all of their communications channels, including the booking process. By providing a cohesive, easy and pleasant encounter from start to finish, you can arm your guests with unforgettable memories that will build customer loyalty and word-of-mouth exposure that likely cannot be replicated by a marketing campaign.

Customer Service Talks...or Consumers Will Walk

According to Forrester Research, 47 percent of those who research travel plans online don't end up making a purchase on the Web. Sure, those potential guests may have called your establishment to book a room instead, but the fact is that something prohibited them from closing the deal online and, if you want to attract more guests and encourage them to book their stays on the Web, you need to simplify the process. The best way to do this is to implement services and technologies such as click to call and click to chat to offer unparalleled customer support so that if your guests do encounter an issue online, they will be met with instant access to an associate who can help them.

Click to call and click to chat are services that can be easily integrated into your current e-commerce platform to give your potential guests direct and immediate access to representatives who can help them complete their booking and answer their questions. These technologies appear as icons on your Web site and give your customers the option of speaking with a live associate on the phone or chatting via instant messenger. Unlike toll-free numbers, these options do not include holding or wait times, or the possibility of being patched through to several individuals within a customer service center.

In fact, in a recent, independent, ATG-sponsored consumer survey of more than 1,000 respondents, we found that having instant access to live help such as click to call and click to chat, ranked third on a list of the seven most important factors of Web site when making a purchase. The other factors included usability of the site, finding the best bargains, enhanced mobile shopping capabilities, relevant product recommendations, availability of peer reviews and ratings and the ability to integrate purchases with social networking sites. Our survey further proved that 94 percent of the 1,000 respondents felt that having access to a cohesive live help strategy, via call and chat, was "useful" to "extremely useful."

Clearly, consumers have strong opinions about the need for access to customer service when making purchases online, and we can't blame them. The recession is forcing consumers to tighten their budgets and fully examine every purchase, so it's more important than ever to make those purchases as easy as possible for them.

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Coming up in April 2018...

Guest Service: Empowering People

Excellent customer service is vitally important in all businesses but it is especially important for hotels where customer service is the lifeblood of the business. Outstanding customer service is essential in creating new customers, retaining existing customers, and cultivating referrals for future customers. Employees who meet and exceed guest expectations are critical to a hotel's success, and it begins with the hiring process. It is imperative for HR personnel to screen for and hire people who inherently possess customer-friendly traits - empathy, warmth and conscientiousness - which allow them to serve guests naturally and authentically. Trait-based hiring means considering more than just a candidate's technical skills and background; it means looking for and selecting employees who naturally desire to take care of people, who derive satisfaction and pleasure from fulfilling guests' needs, and who don't consider customer service to be a chore. Without the presence of these specific traits and attributes, it is difficult for an employee to provide genuine hospitality. Once that kind of employee has been hired, it is necessary to empower them. Some forward-thinking hotels empower their employees to proactively fix customer problems without having to wait for management approval. This employee empowerment—the permission to be creative, and even having the authority to spend money on a customer's behalf - is a resourceful way to resolve guest problems quickly and efficiently. When management places their faith in an employee's good judgment, it inspires a sense of trust and provides a sense of higher purpose beyond a simple paycheck. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.