Ms. Jenkins

Reservations / Online Pricing / Booking Engines

Click to Call: Turning Online Lookers into Bookers

By Cid Jenkins, Vice President, ATG's eStara

Despite dramatic growth in online bookings over the last decade, many hospitality companies continue to struggle with delivering quality customer experience online. The Internet can be a double-edged sword for hotel owners. It presents potential travelers with easy access to products and services, but it also gives them an incentive to look elsewhere for a better deal. It's important for hospitality companies to establish brand loyalty with online travelers and lessen the chances of Web site abandonment. According to Forrester Research, 47 percent of those who research their travel plans online don't actually complete their travel arrangements online.

Online travelers generally abandon Web sites because they have pricing issues or technical support issues. During the infancy of e-commerce, many online travel and hospitality companies felt they could address these concerns by providing prospective customers with self-service tools, such as FAQs. However, with more complex sales, like making hotel reservations or booking travel packages, companies are beginning to understand they need to be more effective at securing, supporting and retaining their online customers.

To do this, many companies are turning to click to call technology. Click to call lets users click an HTML button embedded on a Web site, e-mail, banner ad, search engine or online directory listing, and immediately launches an automated call between the consumer and the contact center.

Overview: What is Click to Call?

Click to call services integrate web-based channels with contact centers by allowing customers to initiate live voice conversations with customer service representatives. Using VoIP technology, customers have the option to escalate from site browsing, search or research to conversation, either directly through their PCs, or by immediate callback to a mobile or landline phone. Because the service operates in a fully-hosted model, calls are routed to customer service representatives without any additional investment in call center hardware or software.

Companies are getting smarter about Web visitors, and are taking aggressive steps to optimize every visit in order to maximize sales conversion, increase customer loyalty and reduce website abandonment. Click to call provides the ability to track online sessions, detect trends and provide a dynamically placed assist if a prospect has lingered on a single page for a specified amount of time, or exhibited signs of website abandonment. This data garnered from a customer's online browsing can be viewed on its own, or integrated with existing data sources for a complete view of the customer and a seamless, online transaction experience.

Cross-Channel Experiences

An increasing number of hotels are using click to call services as a bridge between online and offline channels to ensure continuity in customer experience, and are reaping immediate benefits such as increased conversion rates and shortened call handle times in the process.

In the hotel industry's online competitive landscape it's more important than ever to focus efforts on the best way to attract and importantly retain the attention of prospective customers. Through cross-channel data passing, the context of the customer's Web session is captured continuously. Should the customer decide to contact the retailer via click to call, the call center agent will have real-time access and visibility into such data as well as the customer's Web browser so they can meet the customer's needs more efficiently and effectively, with more relevant information.

This alleviates the usual customer anxiety of having to "start all over again" upon leaving the Web and making a phone call. The data empowers customer service representatives to identify where the caller is having trouble online and to push relevant and informative Web pages to the customer's browser during a click to call session. The customer service representative is then able to handle customer inquiries with greater ease by providing the customer with visual references while they talk. This collaboration between the agent and customer can be further enhanced by co-browsing to assist with such tasks as form completion.

A recent report from Forrester Research titled "Humanizing the Digital Travel Experience," found that there are serious gaps where the industry falls short of providing seamless transitions between offline and digital channels. The capabilities of click to call turn your customer service efforts into sales efforts by bridging the gap between online and offline channels and allowing hotels to engage buyers proactively, transitioning them seamlessly from the Web to the phone.

Call Volume Control

Depending on the desire of the company, click to call can be used as a means to increase overall call volumes, or control call volumes to ensure that customer service representatives are using their time to speak only to high-value customers.

Hospitality companies can set hours of operation to make sure click to call is available only during times when their contact centers are staffed. If customers are on a Web site during a time when a customer service representative is unavailable, the click to call button can either disappear or be replaced dynamically by another contact method.

Using customer behavior patterns or Web location at the time a call is initiated, hotels and resorts may also choose to have Click to Call-initiated calls bypass traditional interactive voice response menus based on the context of the Web session, and route customers directly to an agent that can address their needs (customer service vs. sales, etc.).

Red Lion Hotels Implements Click to Call

With customers occasionally reaching a point in the online booking process with questions that could prevent them from completing a reservation, Red Lion Hotels decided to implement click to call as a way to assist its customers. With click to call Red Lion Hotels now offers customers the opportunity to directly connect with a customer service representative when they require personal assistance. An additional benefit is that Red Lion Hotels can monitor the point in the process when the customer used the click to call feature and subsequently improve the process for future visitors.

The click to call service provides Red Lion Hotels not just a selling tool but it also increases loyalty by showing customers Red Lion is ready to serve them whenever they want, however they need. The addition of click to call technology to the Red Lion Web site has been a key factor in driving a 68 percent growth in the company's online revenues.

To further ensure Red Lion is doing everything it can to fine-tune its customer service, the company uses post-call survey technology to gather additional feedback about its click to call program. Since implementing click to call, Red Lion found that 13 percent of customers surveyed would have abandoned their transaction without the availability of the technology. Also, 62 percent of survey respondents said click to call improved or drastically improved their website experience and nearly 70 percent said click to call was easier to use than alternative contact methods such as email or toll-free telephone.

Conclusion

With the investment that hospitality companies dedicate to customer service, customer retention and website management, new modes of providing the right buyer with the right information at the right time have become key to success. Hospitality companies are beginning to realize the benefits of integrating click to call solutions to their campaigns to increase sales conversions and improve the overall customer experience. With click to call, they are providing direct response methods for customers using a form they're familiar with...the phone.

In order to gain a competitive advantage and effectively capture the potential of the Internet for customer attainment and retention, travel and hospitality companies must implement strategies that both integrate the online channel into their companies' existing sales, marketing and communication channels, and recognize the unique characteristics of the online experience. With Click to Call, it is possible to bridge the gap between the online and phone channels, while enhancing the effectiveness of both.

Cid Jenkins oversees strategic sales initiatives. For nearly a decade, Ms. Jenkins has been instrumental in developing eStara’s strategy in the travel and hospitality market while garnering extensive experience driving revenue for eStara's partners, which include companies like Continental Airlines, Hotels.com, Red Lion Hotels and Starwood. Ms. Jenkins' career began as Director of Business Development at GraciasDoctor.com. Her international business knowledge started at the Consulate General of Chile and International Sleep Products Assocation. Ms. Jenkins can be contacted at 703-648-8296 or cid.jenkins@estara.com Extended Bio...

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