A Day In the Life of an Online Traveler

By John Federman CEO, eStara | January 27, 2012

It's happened to all of us. You wake up on a beautiful Saturday and head out to run a few errands with the intention of spending the rest of the day with friends or family. However, by the time you are finished at the hardware store, picking up the groceries, finding a new suit for next week's big meeting, and stopping to chat with your child's teacher who you saw outside the store, not only is your entire day gone, but also you are exhausted.

The frustrations felt by today's online traveler is quite analogous. Between booking a flight and hotel, and making dinner and theater reservations in an unfamiliar town, the process is both time consuming and difficult.

To ease the challenges inherent in travel planning, many hotel executives are beginning to view their Web sites as more than sales and branding tools, but as a resource for loyal customers and prospective bookers. In doing so, they're keeping customers on their sites for an extended period, creating cross-selling opportunities and generating incremental sales.

Hotels chains are doing a better job these days of creating a consistent look and feel throughout their Web sites and providing information about locations, rates and availability. Aside from information about your hotel, it's important to think about adding incremental value to customers via your site. One area that is ripe for improvement is the delivery of personalized content to your customers. Hotels have only scratched the surface of offering virtual concierge services that give customers a vague notion of what they can do and see while in town.

Currently, guests spend an average of 10-15 minutes with a concierge to accomplish these tasks, and maybe one of the nights they stay they make a reservation on their own. Even if you have a great concierge, most people would prefer to work out the details before they arrive, rather than waste time on their trip standing in line and spending time explaining what they are looking for, and then waiting some more while the concierge determines whether there is availability at an event.

You might be thinking, "it would be great to have more details about each local area where my hotels are located, but that seems like a lot of time, money and effort to generate and update that type of content." With today's emerging technologies, however, it could not be easier. Technology can help tap the two largest sources of local knowledge that each hotel branch has: its employees and its guests.

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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.