Five Reasons Why Visitors are Abandoning You Before They Book (and how to stop it)

By Mark Simpson President & Founder, Maxymiser | August 12, 2012

While the U.S. travel market fell the fastest and hardest during the recession (down 26% in 2009), the sector also bounced back more quickly than any other. Following consecutive years of strong double-digit growth, the travel market has recovered to pre-recession levels. Despite its quick rebound, however, the industry is still in the midst of major transformation. The digital age has made it easy to comparison shop, often before consumers even see your site-thanks to the likes of Kayak, TripAdvisor and Expedia. So we have to ask ourselves, once we get people to our sites, how do we prevent them from vanishing before the reservation is booked?

Travel sites are notoriously cumbersome: you have a lot of properties, a lot of options, locations, dates, amenities, the list goes on. It's why now more than ever, optimizing your site for the visitor's experience, not just "conversions" is essential. If you really want to tackle your site's problem areas, it's time to put the customer at the heart of all online content and update decisions and start providing each visitor with a unique, personalized experience. Here are some common problems, along with some potential remedies.

1. Your Homepage Is Weak

If you can't get many people past the homepage, you don't stand a chance of making the sale. Check out your analytics, if more than 55% of your traffic is bolting as soon as they get to your site, you're doing it wrong. Luckily, just because you scared them off once, doesn't mean you can't try a new approach. Start by conducting A/B and multivariate testing on your home page. This will give you definitive answers with respect to the best layout, design, navigation, functionality, etc. of this crucial entry point to your site. You will learn, via data, exactly what makes your visitors stay, or leave-it could be as simple as moving some crucial promotional areas, or a completely new design. You must test to know.

Secondly, using segmentation strategies to point different groups of visitors to different content or layouts, or even promotions, can further help boost conversion rates. For example, it's fairly easy to find segments, or clusters of people, grouped around categories such as time of day, geographic location, new vs. returning visitors, seasonality, etc. This type of data is crucial to travel, since it's not likely that your site traffic from the Greater New York City area will be looking to book 3 Nights in Times Square anytime soon. It's all about relevancy. The conversions during testing can be measured on these groups so that going forward you can serve them more relevant content. For example, if returning visitors convert better on Version A of the homepage, then that version should always be served to that group. With over 50 different attributes by which to cluster visitors, the possibilities for targeting them are virtually endless.

2. Your Booking Funnel is Confusing, Distracting, and Cumbersome (or all of the above)

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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.