By Astrid Zeppenfeld
How do you communicate with your customers? Is your mode of communication different when you are reaching out to a potential customer versus an established client? Do you e-mail, text, or use the good old telephone apparatus when you are trying to contact your customer?
Or… Do you use a combination of all these things?
Hitting the customer from every angle
In this day and age, we typically use a combination of approaches to win a customer and to keep said customer for life. Anytime I click on yet another post that scrolls through my Facebook newsfeed, for instance, I am immediately directed to another website, which asks me for all sorts of my information. Upon entering this information, I start receiving emails; maybe even a phone call. Every once in a while, a chat message pops up, which I have to click away so I can go on about my business. While I sometimes wondered about the chat messages on my trash service or blog host websites, I figured that it was nice that someone from the company was always available to help me.
Last year, upon arriving in Europe, I bought my usual 25- Euro SIM card, to stick into my unlocked iPhone for the summer. When I went to register the SIM card using my computer, something new popped up. It was a chat, but there was no option to just click it away and ignore it. As it turns out, it was an actual live video chat, with a very nice lady on the other side of my camera. She talked me through getting my SIM card registered and we each went on our merry way. Easy-peasy.
Instantaneous chats for the hospitality industry
In our industry, the chat option is one that’s incredibly valuable, but is so often under-used.
The reason why it is so valuable is that, as a hotel, we provide the customer with the backdrop for his or her main event, so to speak. However, after the guest checks in, we often have very little interaction with our customer until checkout time. Gone are those little opportunities when we were able to give someone a wake-up call in the morning, proving our attention to detail and friendly service. Same with our great staff during our complimentary breakfast service – our guests are usually glued to their cellphones, IF they show up at breakfast that is…
How do we get that interpersonal interaction without being bothersome or pushy?
Not an easy proposition. Do we ask our guests for a cellphone number and text them immediately after check in? Do we send our customers a daily email with helpful tips from the time of booking to the time of departure? Some places make that phone call, immediately after booking or closer to the guest’s arrival, to confirm the booking and make sure the guests have everything they need.
The point is, we need to make sure we stay in constant contact with our guests. It makes our guests feel cared for, and it provides opportunities for extra sales. But, while personal contact from our staff may make our guests feel extra-loved, we don’t always have that much personnel available. Luckily, there are other – much less costly – options.
Software to make your life easier
Chris Douglas from Hoperator offers another solution: He and his business partner have software that ties into your existing hotel booking engine. The software gathers its data from the hotel property management system and utilizes it to input a chat option. You can have automated responses or a live person tailoring the chat to the specific customer’s needs. Even in different languages – as many of Hoperator’s current clients are located in Asia and Europe. Hmm… sounds fascinating. But how exactly does it work?
I was able to speak with Jake Westcott, Assistant GM at Moonrise Hotel in St. Louis, who has been using this software since September of 2017. Luckily, he had enough time to give me a demo of the live chat option, while we were on the phone. I went to the Moonrise website and pretended that I wanted to
book a room. No sooner did I click on the “Rooms & Services” tab, Mr. Westcott was able to contact me via screen to ask what he could do for me. Now, THAT’s some customer service! The chat option was available, right on the homepage. But because I was looking at booking a package, he was able to pick up the conversation right from there. Once he started the chat, I was able to see other Moonrise staff that were online, too. Westcott explained that someone at his front desk or in reservations is usually connected to the system, which is “really easy to use and took only a little bit of training.” His favorite thing about the system is the team chat feature. Westcott says, “Our front desk and the reservations department share an e-mail account. The team chat feature works as personal e-mail for each person, and everyone has their own log-in page.”
Another benefit, according to Westcott, is that it “allows for more interactions based on what customers are looking at on the website.” He illustrates, “If I see that we haven’t really done much business on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I can call Hoperator and add any sort of promotion, like “free valet and free breakfast” to the person who is looking at a Wednesday in November via pop-up message.” Westcott compares it to essentially added advertising because “guest chats are very unique and you can share a lot of information through the chat.”
He highly recommends the software to others, even though he “can’t really track how many reservations you get from Hoperator or any increase in business, but every added communication helps.”
And this omni-channel experience is what Hoperator is all about. As the company’s co-founder states, “Customers in the travel industry are always on their phones, and being able to integrate through the different channels is key.” This omni-channel experience encompasses anything from an automated chat response, to a pre-arrival e-mail notification with upgrade options, to a text message after check-in that informs what to do should one need new towels.
Astrid Zeppenfeld is a writer and MM&E’s editor/business development manager from St. Louis.