Ms. Jenkins

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

Seven Tricks to Regain Customer Loyalty Through Your Website

By Cid Jenkins, Vice President, ATG's eStara

How can hotels measure online success? Now more than ever, it comes down to being able to measure the results of the enhancements you put on your site. Here, I offer seven tricks designed to help you measurably strengthen customer loyalty via your Web sites and lift online reservation rates, even in these interesting economic times.

1. Engage travelers with a human touch

Leaders in the travel and hospitality industry have already shown their commitment to their guests by creating interactive, engaging Web sites that entice with video, high-end photography, virtual tours and more. But too few are giving researchers what would most help them close a booking: the ability to instantly interact with a customer service agent. It's only natural that some travelers face hesitation when booking a trip online, particularly when specific questions arise regarding hotel amenities and services. How far a walk it really is to the beach, or what the qualifications are of the people staffing the on property kids camp? Answering these and many other questions quickly and easily can be the deciding factor between a completed reservation and a lost customer. Research has shown that online customers and prospects are more likely to book with you if they can engage in a live phone call or text chat when they need specific information or have questions.

The benefits of instantly linking your guests with hotel representatives via live chat and phone conversations also extend beyond increasing conversion rates. This capability also helps you streamline your call center process by having real-time access to the consumer's Web activity. When you talk to a customer via a click to call service, your agents can already know the context of what the caller has been looking at on your site, so they can more efficiently address their issue.

2. Connect with your travelers via online video

Many times travelers are introduced to a hotel through its advertisements on third party Web sites. Video advertising is certainly on the rise - and not just in the hospitality sector. With its popularity come advancements in technology. Today, hotels can transform video advertisements from passive content into active, revenue-generating leads. For example, even when advertising on third party sites, hotels can drive customer loyalty by making those videos actionable, driving traffic directly to their site, encouraging visitors to save the hotel's contact information or even offering a live interaction with a hotel agent directly from the video interface while the prospect is still playing the video.

3. Appeal to your guests - every time

Today's travelers (similar to most consumers) are looking for instant gratification. They want to go to a hotel's Web site and immediately see relevant information, accommodations and deals on upcoming room promotions. To do this, hotels should employ a strategic approach that addresses the needs of each unique customer and maximizes online bookings.

New technology enables hotels to directly manage customer purchase history and save local contact information and pricing. Advanced segmentation-based personalization capabilities only strengthen travelers' loyalty by allowing hotels to quickly and easily connect travelers with the offerings most likely to interest them.

4. Invest in your Web site

Now is the time to step back and view your Web site holistically. As consumers continue to keep a closer eye on their disposable income, hotels must tailor their Web site to adapt to the current needs of travelers. As I alluded to earlier, the Web can often be seen as a catch-22 for hotels. Although it presents travelers with easy access to your hotel, it also gives them the chance to shop around for better rates and offerings from other hotels. In order to stand apart from the competition, hotels must push the limits of their technology capabilities. Over the past ten years, Web sites have evolved from offering basic online reservation booking to building in a wide range of sophisticated personalization capabilities and cross-channel interactions. Hotels that are ignoring this model risk losing not only customers but brand loyalists as well. Many near-term goals can be met by adding widgets, on demand tools and enhancements to your sites, even if you're not in the position to undergo a full re-platforming effort.

5. Create a user-friendly experience

When a guest arrives at your hotel, she expects a certain level of service and attention, designed to cater to her needs. Similarly, consumers visiting a hotel's Web site also expect a hassle-free, user-friendly experience. Often travelers face last minute changes to their itinerary and need to quickly book their hotel accommodations. When put in this situation, they should be offered an easy-to-navigate user experience - including an easy-to-book transaction process.

Of course, not every traveler is in such a rushed situation. Yet the same principals should apply to each and every traveler's experience on your hotel's Web site. In order to keep your travelers coming back for more, create an online experience in sync with user expectation.

6. Clear page view

To help researchers find what they are looking for quickly and efficiently, make sure every Web page has a clear and concise focus. Consumers do not want to be confused by multiple offers and indirect links. While you might love to have your guests spend lots of time on your site learning about all you have to offer and enjoying all your alluring content, your guests certainly do not want to waste time on your site because they can't figure out how to find what they need. Efficiency is key, so make sure you take this into account when designing your site.

7. Focus in

Remember, your guests don't care what technologies your site is employing. What does resonate with the traveler is whether their experience navigating the site was successful and if their needs were met. In order for you to guarantee that each and every customer's mission is accomplished you must focus on a consistent evaluation of what you are doing right, as well as what improvements you may need to make, to enhance the overall experience for each customer.

Your Web site visitors are important resources who can give you vital feedback. Of course, feedback alone isn't worth much if you don't do anything with it. You also must make the commitment to implement the changes that will help your site improve as your customers' needs change. By tapping into your online visitor-base for additional information, you will gain a clear perception of their preferences, including what types of services or promotions they browse, when they tend to book trips, what searches they run or what type of questions they often ask on the self-service site.

The end result

Now more than ever, it is critical to establish loyalty among your customer base. Leverage your Web site to set your brand apart from your competition and drive customer loyalty.

Cid Jenkins oversees strategic sales initiatives. For nearly a decade, Ms. Jenkins has been instrumental in developing eStaraís 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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