Live Chat Technology: Best Practices to Improve Online Customer Service

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

As online customers are presented with more choices on where to book travel online, customer experience is proving to be a crucial differentiator for many hospitality providers. In a study conducted by The Forum Corporation, 72 percent of consumers who switched to a competitor did so because of issues involving customer service. In the age of the empowered travel customer, it is of the utmost importance to cater to consumers' sense of convenience and desire for personalized care.

With the Internet now considered a public utility for a large cross-section of the population, customer behavior is changing radically. Whereas in previous years customers were content merely researching products online and making purchases offline because they were too intimidated to share personal and financial information over the Web, consumers now spend more time online searching for the best bargains. However, price alone does not influence many consumers. A recent survey by Nielsen Online found that convenience, not price, has the greatest impact on online purchasing behavior.

While the phone is an effective means of reaching out to hesitant online consumers, it is by no means the only option companies have to offer personal online service. Online chat technologies have gained prominence in the last few years and many companies are using it as a supplementary tool to enhance their overall online customer experience and drive sales. However, like most technology, chat has its strengths and limitations. In order to benefit fully from these kinds of tools, companies must plan their implementations carefully.

One of the key benefits of online chat is its ability to provide immediate assistance. Customers that have a simple question and do not wish to speak with a customer service agent over the phone find chat to be a convenient method of getting the information they need quickly and confidentially. When online FAQs and self-service tools fail, online chat is an excellent escalation point for customers that prefer to transact online.

In addition to offering online chat options at strategic points during the online transaction process, companies may also choose a more proactive approach. Leveraging the context of an online-visitor's session, companies can create a series of business rules that dictate when customers will be invited to chat online. This dynamic approach allows hospitality companies to engage serious customers that are likely to convert, but may be showing signs of abandonment. For example, if customers are booking their accommodations online and receive an error message, or if they are sitting idle on a page where they're prompted to enter their financial information, it's probably because they need assistance. At this point, companies can invite these idle visitors to chat with a customer support representative to help them with any issues preventing them from completing the transaction.

There are a multitude of variables that companies can use to engage customers with proactive chat. These rules are best defined by looking at your online goals. Are you looking to increase sales? Reduce Web site abandonment? Give extra support to premium customers? Using real-time Web analytics, companies can selectively decide which segments of their online visitors are most likely to benefit from live assistance, and which visitors do not require live assistance. This not only helps companies offer more personalized service to valued customers, but also reduce contact center costs by helping online customers find the right form of assistance at the right time rather than having every customer inquiry escalate to the contact center.

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Coming up in June 2019...

Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.