The more you engage with customers online, the better. But first you need to understand the whole customer journey, and adapt your approach to fit. Watch the leaders of two tourism businesses discuss their experience in this webinar.
Caroline Gregory runs The Lovat in Fort Augustus, at the southern tip of Loch Ness. The four-star, three-rosette hotel has a broad clientele – offering spa and beauty treatments, exceptional food, and a cosy base for Highland adventurers. She’s taken a new approach to customer engagement – moving away from advertising campaigns to favour interaction on social media instead.
Gordon Pearson founded WOW Scotland Tours, running bus trips from Inverness and Invergordon to the Highlands, Isle of Skye, and Speyside. Consistently rated ‘excellent’ on TripAdvisor, the husband and wife team work extremely hard to make sure every tour is as good as it possibly can be.
Caroline and Gordon have had to adapt their strategies over the years, and a large part of that has been understanding how customers plan a holiday online. From research and booking through to reviews and complaints, the digital world has transformed how they do business. In this webinar they discuss everything from interesting widgets and plugins to streamline the booking process, to supporting the local area and engaging with customers no matter what they say.
How to turn interest into a booking
This is a crucial moment in the journey of the digital tourist: how do you turn their initial interest into a booking? For Caroline, it’s about showing your customer exactly what they want, as quickly as possible. Make sure the key information is readily available, create an obvious route through the website, and make the booking process is as slick and efficient as possible.
“It’s about understanding the journey and thought process of what people go through,” she says. It’s also about the whole area, not just your business. What is there to do for families nearby? What’s it like for couples? Having the content clearly marked and obvious is fundamental to getting this part of the process right.
It might seem contradictory, says Gordon, but cutting down on the amount of content has been really helpful for the WOW Scotland Tours site. The content he’s kept is relevant, simple, and straightforward – with a clear call to action prompting people to book. It’s also important to have a site that works on mobile phones.
For a tour company like Gordon’s, many of his customers are in Inverness on holiday already, using their phones to find things to do. At the moment, 25% of his customers are booking on mobile, so making sure that not only the website but your booking platform works on mobile is also incredibly important.
Consider the whole area, not just your business
Caroline makes sure she knows as much about her guests’ trips as possible. Gathering information on where they’ve come from in Scotland, and where they’re going to helps her to shape the content online. It also gives her an insight into competitors and potential partners – what other hotels are guests staying at, and what can you learn from that? It’s all part of improving the experience.
The Lovat also has a comprehensive partner programme, working with other local businesses to improve the experience of Fort Augustus and its surrounding area. Like any tourism business, the hotel has to deal with bad reviews online – acting fast is important. But Caroline also makes sure that if someone has left a bad review for another experience in Fort Augustus, she responds to that too. That way, she says, you can make sure that one bad experience doesn’t put a customer off entirely. It’s about working to raise the performance and profile of the whole area, not just your own business.
Make your rates extremely visible
People are searching and comparing you to a whole range of competitors, so it’s important to show rates and availability up front. Caroline uses Triptease on her website, which shows how much cheaper it is to book direct with the hotel, rather than through a third party like Expedia or Booking.com. Not only does that improve revenue generation, it also keeps the customer experience in-house.
None of this is cheap, though. Using instant booking technology comes at a price – one that Caroline is willing to pay because, she says, “you can’t compromise when it comes to customer interaction.” For a smaller business like Gordon’s, he found the most sensible option was to make his own booking process as efficient as possible, rather than pay a third party platform to do it for him. Whatever you choose, they say, it has to be right for your business – not just a fancy gadget that you don’t necessarily need.
Manage, and match, expectations
“You take note if people arrive at your hotel and say ‘Oh wow it’s so much nicer than we expected’,” says Caroline. The Lovat is updating its website to better reflect the actual experience. Having plenty of eye-catching photography is important, as is managing customer expectation. You want to make sure you’re as truthful as possible online, so you can match – or even exceed – expectations when your customer arrives.
Take control of the feedback
TripAdvisor is one of the main ways that Gordon keeps track of how the company is doing. “It’s great for seeing what you’re doing well, but also what’s going badly,” he says. Responding swiftly to any comments and reviews is paramount. And it’s not so much about fixing whatever the bad experience was, it’s about showing that you’re listening, that you care.
It’s about understanding the journey and thought process of what people go through.
Caroline Gregory, The Lovat Hotel
The Lovat sends out customer surveys after every completed booking. And the most valuable part of that survey? The ‘any other comments box’, says Caroline - that’s where you get real insight into how you’re performing. It also gives you a chance to catch problems in the bud. And for repeat issues, she makes sure any improvements go into the hotel newsletter – in the style of a ‘you said, we did’ section.
And the final takeaways from the session? You have to stay ahead of the game, says Gordon, and make sure you keep innovating. For Caroline, engagement is the key. “Engage, engage, engage” she says.
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See the full webinar series on YouTube