Ms. Jenkins

Website / Online Mechandising / SEO

Ten Powerful Secrets to Improve the Web Site Experience

By Cid Jenkins, Vice President, ATG's eStara

Below, I offer ten strategic secrets to help improve the customer experience for visitors to your Web site, and thus grow online bookings and increase your ability to strengthen longer term customer loyalty.

1. Be booker-friendly

Simply having a static Web site for your hotel is not enough. Your Web site needs to be able to easily handle online bookings for your guests. Both business and leisure travelers are looking to go to your Web site and quickly find what they are looking for. When a guest turns to your Web site, reservation information (including pricing rates, accommodations and any upcoming deals or promotions) should be readily available (and easily searched).

In the event that either a leisure or business traveler is pressed for time, you don't want to risk losing a guest because she can't quickly book her trip. Remember, the competition is just a click away.

2. Let your guests give back

Shoppers and travelers alike are increasingly influenced by hotel reviews and comments from their peers. Giving your guests the option to post reviews and / or comments to your Web site about their experience at your hotel allows your guests to form a community around your brand. It also gives your management team insight into issues that might require attention, and provides an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to customer satisfaction by acting on and responding to customer feedback.

3. Streamline your brand on and offline

When a guest steps into your hotel, he should immediately feel a sense of comfort and brand recognition. He has the experience he expected and desired. When that same guest logs on to your hotel's Web page, he should get that same feeling. Paying close attention to the details makes a difference, whether it's something as simple as making sure the color palette on your site matches your physical property; or as complex as adding interactive features that mirror a culture of high-energy service commitment that exists at your actual property. Think about what separates your brand from that of your competition offline. Then figure out a way to represent that differentiation across all of your customer touchpoints.

4. Make your site feel friendly

Booking travel reservations can be a tricky process, and online travelers typically abandon Web sites when faced with pricing or technical support issues. This means that your Web site should be extremely user-friendly. Your hotel Web site should quickly highlight any current promotions you are running, and each page should have links and prompts that guide a visitor through the booking process. "Click here to learn more about our amenities" isn't enough anymore - instead, use descriptive language and dynamic content that caters to each customer's preferences and patterns.

5. Offer human interaction

In the event that your guest faces hesitation when booking her reservation, or perhaps has a question about check-in time, you want to make it as easy as possible to supply the information she needs, so she can complete the reservation. Click to call and click to chat features are being implemented on many hotel Web sites, not only to provide an easy way to engage with your guests and answer any questions that arise, but also to help reduce Web site abandonment, increase online bookings completion, and improve customer loyalty.

Red Lion Hotels, for instance, has implemented click to call on its Web site. Since adding this feature, it has found that 13 percent of customers surveyed would have abandoned their transaction without the availability of the click to call service. Also, 62 percent of survey respondents said click to call improved or drastically improved their Web site experience. Nearly 70 percent said click to call was easier to use versus alternative contact methods such as e-mail or toll-free telephone numbers. Not only did customers using click to call find the answer to their question and complete their bookings more often, but Red Lion successfully fostered a perception that they were going out of their way to help each visitor. That kind of impression can stay with a traveler for a long time, leading to return visits and word of mouth endorsements to friends and family.

6. Listen to feedback

Whether you're giving your guests the opportunity to directly engage with a hotel representative via click to call or click to chat, or responding to inquiries via e-mail, toll-free numbers, and Web submission forms, the fact remains that interaction with customers offers incredible insight into travelers' views of your Web site and your overall brand. Visitors to your hotel Web site are vital resources who can give you feedback, which you must take into consideration.

By tapping into your guests for feedback, you can gain a clear understanding of their preferences, including what types of services or promotions they browse, their frequency of booking trips, what searches they run, or what type of questions they often ask. You can identify any problems that people are having on your Web site and address those issues so they are satisfied when they return. Listening to your guests' feedback can inspire ideas on how to improve the customer experience both on and offline.

7. Entice visitors with multimedia

To help turn online lookers into bookers, make sure the images represented on your Web site are up to date and up to par. In addition to viewing images of hotel rooms, many travelers want to see details of the hotel. This includes images of your lobby, pool area, and the hotel exterior. Often, out-of-town guests are interested in seeing the area surrounding your hotel. To be sure your guests aren't surprised when they arrive at your property, make sure your Web site showcases recent images of your hotel and the surrounding area. Consider also adding video clips, virtual tours, and zoom features to really showcase all you have to offer to each guest.

8. Be ready for tomorrow

As I mentioned, it is imperative to listen to the feedback from Web site visitors. When interacting with your guests both on and offline, you should be conscious of what your guests are looking to get from your hotel for their latest trip and in future trips. You should have a strong understanding of what a typical leisure and business guest is for you. Are they up to par with the latest social media trends? Are they more of a technology laggard? Your connection to your guests should surpass the typical online Web site visit. If you are able to understand your guests and connect to them based on their preferences, you are sure to establish a strong following of brand loyalists.

9. Go where your guests are

Consider building a presence on different social networking sites and travel communities. Be sure to provide ample links to lure guests back to your Web site. Remember, interaction on these sites should be a complement to your online strategy, not a distraction.

10. Set goals

When implementing these tactics, it is important to set realistic and measurable results for your hotel's Web site. For example, if you are looking to reduce booking abandonment through the use of live interaction on your Web site, set a specific metric that is both reasonable and feasible. The travel industry has undergone significant changes this past year, so there are a number of variables to consider when setting your goals. Take into account what pages are getting viewed the most, popular seasonality for your hotel, travelers' spending habits and behavior, or even when your guests have demonstrated a preference for interacting with live hotel agents (Is it a certain time of day or when browsing a certain page?). Then focus your efforts on a set of specific tactics and regularly evaluate whether they're having an impact.** **

What happens next?

The Internet presents travelers with unlimited resources to explore pricing and accommodations, compare options, review destinations, and get the inside scoop on what your hotel has to offer. Offering your guests the ultimate online experience is the key to factor to keeping your guests coming back for more. Consider implementing as many of these tips as apply to your business, and you'll surely improve your hotel's Web site experience and propel your online sales to new heights.

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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