When Used Correctly, Online Chat Provides a New Way to Convert Online Prospects
These days, more and more vendors are providing chat options for vacation rental companies. While this is a new medium for some companies, others have been using chat options for a decade or longer. Either way, it is important to recognize what a fantastic tool this is for reaching out and connecting with those web-surfing guests who might otherwise book with another vacation rental company or via an expensive third-party online travel agent (OTA).
When conducting reservations sales training for all types of lodging operations, I frequently get to peek behind the scenes and see firsthand the live chat exchanges taking place in real time and via chat logs.
From what I see, the majority of chats are regarding policies or procedures or are initiated by those who have questions regarding existing bookings. Examples include: “The reservation is in my name, but my sister’s family is arriving early. Can they check in before we get there?” or “I’m bringing a baby. Do you have a crib and, if so, what size sheets does it need?”
Other times I see those who are ready to book, but who still have simple questions such as, “Are there TVs in all the bedrooms?” or “Do we need to bring our own beach towels?” Occasionally the questions are a bit more complicated but are still fairly easy to answer via chat. For example, “I want to rent the Paradise Is Here home, which is just perfect. I see it doesn’t allow pets, but can you check with the owner and tell them about my dog? He never barks, he doesn’t shed, he has no fleas, and he never pees.” Of course, the response is “Unfortunately, no,” which is easy to chat back.
Yet, when I look carefully at these exchanges, what always surprises me is how many times prospective guests send over complex questions that potentially take up a great deal of time (and a lot of typing) to properly and fully respond. For example, “Which accommodation would you recommend for honeymooners?” or “What’s the difference between the standard and premium category homes?” or “Is this a good choice for families? I have a five- and fifteen-year-old and a grandma. What is there to do for all of them?”
In my training programs, I always advocate for a phone call in these situations. A few of my participants resist making the phone call at first. The most common response from participants is, “If they would have wanted to talk on the phone, they would have called us! These are ‘chat’ people, Doug!”
However, once they give my idea a try, they find out that some guests are very open to talking. It’s just that, for whatever reason, they started out via chat. Based on anecdotal evidence I garner from friends and family, either they don’t want to wait on hold; they don’t want to have to press a long sequence of numbers to navigate an auto-attendant; or they think their call will go to some distant call center agent who has no clue. I have yet to hear friends say, “It’s because I’m antisocial and don’t want to talk to a real person.”
When you think about it, we can be so much more effective in the vacation experience business when we engage an undecided guest via phone conversation than in a text-only format.
Yes, happy emoticons are nice in a chat, but we can share a real smile in our voice in old-school phone calls; we can show our enthusiasm and demonstrate empathy for their travel plans or circumstances. We can better read the guest when we can hear his or her reactions, vocalizations, and inflections. While this can also save us from spending a long time chatting back and forth, more importantly, it can have a huge impact on our ability to turn chat inquiries into bookings, which will turn web-surfing prospects into direct bookings. On top of all those reasons, we can better ensure that we are selling the right home or condo to the right guest and thus manage the guest’s expectations.
So, when you find yourself fielding complex questions that make it obvious that the sender has not yet decided to book, try clicking back a response like this: “That’s a great question! Are you, by chance, near a phone so I can give you a quick call to help you plan this vacation?” Of course, some might answer by saying, “No, I’m in a waiting room” or “No, I’m at my kid’s piano recital” or “No, I’m supposed to be working and my boss is in the next cubicle over!” However, you will also find that a good percentage of them say, “Sure! Call me!”
Chat should not be looked at as a separate medium for communicating with guests but instead as a new way to entice web-surfing prospects into an authentic and genuine conversation about their vacation plans.