Is Your Website Talking to Your Call Center?

By John Federman CEO, eStara | January 27, 2012

Since the internet allows people to comprehensively search for the lowest prices, some have said that customer loyalty in the travel and hospitality business is an outdated notion. I wholeheartedly disagree with that statement. Loyal customers remain the lifeblood of the industry.

However, the convenience and efficiency of the Web has lead to laziness on the part of many tasked with servicing customers.

In the past, whenever a customer had a question online, companies were quick to offer them FAQs, and perhaps an email address. While these self-help strategies are fine for handling routine questions, they are ineffective at turning undecided prospects into customers. The days of using the Web as an interactive brochure are long gone. Hotels need to do much more to assure they turn online lookers into bookers. In addition, now that the competition is just a click away, customers will not hesitate to leave your site (and your brand) if they do not get quick resolution to their problems.

As humans, we strive for personal connections within each facet of our lives. We frequently inhabit places we are not only familiar with, but that also recognize us and enjoy our presence.

Hotels.com utilizes real-time web analytics and customer behavior patterns to identify high-value customers. With this information in hand, they can offer their most coveted clients special rates and also give them a chance to speak with a customer service representative to answer their questions. Companies that reach out to customers during key points in the sales transaction with useful information differentiate their offerings from competitors and turn themselves into a destination site.

Once a loyal customer is identified, Hotels.com can tailor their site's offerings to suit that particular person's preferences. For instance, if the customer frequently stays in a the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel during the winter while they ski in Colorado at Steamboat Springs, Hotels.com can offer the person a discounted rate based solely on their buying history. Marketing strategies that reward customers' brand loyalty with exclusive bargains always rewarded themselves through increased web site traffic, bolstered online revenues and, possibly most importantly, happy customers turning into company evangelists.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.