Customer Experience is the Key to Customer Mindshare: Tips for Tracking Online Researchers

By John Federman CEO, eStara | January 27, 2012

Life takes planning and much of that planning revolves around the time that we are at our happiest and most care-free - vacation.

Because searching for the perfect vacation is not an every day affair, hotels are engaged in a continuous battle to retain customer mindshare both when they are and - perhaps most importantly - when they are not actively seeking to travel. While price is an important facet to the hotelier's marketing effectiveness, it is not one that companies can really hang their hat on. On the Internet, competitors are only a click away and, according to a recent Forrester Research survey, many internet retailers are addressing this challenge by making customer service a priority by investing in live customer service solutions (33 percent) and streamlining their guest checkout process (53 percent) within the next year.

Isn't it interesting that despite how complex the customer service industry becomes, live customer service still remains a major component to any multi-channel strategy? Live customer service remains the best channel to not only close sales but also present customer service representatives with up- and cross-sell opportunities. While I have documented the benefits of traditional click to call and chat solutions in this space, I have not discussed the other unique features leading companies are using to provide their customers with a memorable customer experience or to help them compete for that all-important mindshare.

More than just a proxy for a static phone number, click to call and chat allows hotel operators to leverage online customer data to engage customers based on their needs. These proactive deployments show click to call or buttons only when certain criteria have been met such as the amount of time a customer has been idle on a page, or allow agents to control when and where they decide to offer the click to call invitation and can also offer co-browsing options to help customer service agents lead customers to the answers to their inquiries.

The most important factor to weigh into which deployment option you choose is how your customers interact with your Web site. Some hotels may want to quickly bridge the customer/call center divide because it has great faith in its call center. Many larger institutions, however, do not want to connect with every Web site browser so they may find greater value in a rules-based deployment that links buyers via the phone only if it is a high-value customer, or a frequent guest, and offer lower-tier contact options such as chat, email and FAQs to those it does not deem to be as crucial to its online success.

In addition to its flexibility, click to call and chat solutions also provide secondary tools such as "Save and Send" that provide your company with the means to make your brand more memorable, prolong the effectiveness of online listings and promote customer referrals.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. 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.