How To Manage Your Online Reputation – Part 1

 

Iain shares some thoughts on the best ways to engage with your customers online and how to turn good service into sales.

Everyone seems to be talking about ORM. You could even say that right now ORM is one of the most popular TLAs (three letter acronyms) in the business world! The official, rather stuffy, definition of ORM is, “the practice of monitoring the Internet reputation of a person, brand or business, with the goal of suppressing negative mentions entirely or pushing them lower on search engine results pages to decrease their visibility.”

That makes it all sound a bit sinister and corporate. I think the true definition of ORM is more positive and is best expressed by former Vancouver hotel manager and ORM consultant Daniel Edward Craig: “…Online reputation management is the process of tracking and responding to online reviews and commentary and using feedback to guide improvements. It’s about actively participating in social networking to build awareness and shape impressions.”

Spot on. Online reputation management isn’t about anything so crude and cynical as gaming the system. It’s about developing an on-going relationship with your customers, responding to their opinions and showing that their feedback, whether positive or negative, matters to you. So what follows are some personal thoughts about ORM that have emerged out of my own wide experience of managing an online travel company and communicating with customers on a daily basis:

1.                  Managing your online reputation

Why bother?

  • People now research trips, make decisions and share experiences online via social media.
  • 75% of customers now cite reviews as being influential.
  • More and more people are using social media platforms, like Twtter and Facebook, so review information moves at ever greater speed.

Evidence suggests social media is currently used primarily as a service channel rather than a direct sales channel, so if your customers are using it they will expect you to be on it and may want to connect with you via social media.

Sales and service are linked and there is absolutely no doubt of the link between service and loyalty, so service and reputation are a great place to start. The transactional “sales” side of social media may not be that strong, but I don’t believe it will be long before large businesses make it happen….just like they did with the Internet! Indeed large companies are building these social media platforms into their service models.

When you come right down to it, using social media is really just about working with your customers in a way that they find most convenient…and isn’t that what good service is all about anyway?

We built the customer review process into “freetobook” right at the start so every customer using our online booking engine receives a review email a day after their stay….and 29% of our customers complete reviews for the properties (voluntarily).

2.                  Where does your independent property start?

  • Audit first, find out what’s out there and what people are saying…or not saying.
  • Understand what you want customers to say and where you want them to say it.
  • Monitor, react and encourage feedback: these are all “first principles” of service… wherever you are.

(These are just some of the tips I have picked up from various places, but if anyone has any comments or examples of situations I would be glad to hear of them: iain@freetobook.com).

Customer Reviews – Bite Sized Winning Strategies (2of10)

Customer Reviews – How to win at the reputation game.customer reviews bite sized winning strategies

Customers trust reviews above promotional material and nothing you can do will change this. Reviews are extremely important for your sales, over 75% of your customers will form an opinion of you based on browsing a set of reviews. Managing your online reputation is now a critical marketing activity, so arm yourself with some winning strategies.

1) Responding to reviews both positive and negative will show that you are looking at customer feedback and taking note. Customers want to know you care, what better way to show it than by responding positively to everyone that took the time to post a review. If a bad review is left without a response to it looks like you don’t care.

2) Get control of your own reviews, if your booking system sends out reviews you will quickly generate lots of reviews which you know are genuine. These are an asset and they will be the best way to counter or dilute bad reviews some of which may be beyond your control.

3) When you get your own reviews, a winning strategy is to send out a “thank you” to those great reviews asking if they would post it on Trip Advisor (give them the link). Making the most of great reviews is important.

4) Good: Have as high a rating as you can but remember very few properties will have a 100% score. Customers do not expect you to have perfect scores all the time and it may even look suspicious if you do. Accept you’ll have the odd bad review and be prepared to handle it.

5) Bad: It can be very personal and disheartening to see a bad review but the last thing you want to do is make it personal. No matter how untrue the review is respond in a constructive way and move on. We are not all perfect 100% of the time and before you know it the odd bad one will get buried in time.

6) Ugly: Never be tempted to reply in kind to an ugly review it only escalates and magnifies the negative side of the review. Customers know that ugly reviews are often more representative of the reviewer than of the service. It is critical to respond in a constructive way and keep the high ground.  Take some time out to consider your response or ask someone else to help, it helps take out the personal element.

You never win by attacking a reviewer, it always makes you look worse.

Reviews need to be monitored and managed. They are a wonderful source of information on how your business is performing in the eyes of our customers. Don’t just “manage” your reviews use them to genuinely improve and develop your business to exceed your customer’s expectations.

Read more detail on our blog : http://blog.freetobook.com/2012/03/managing-your-online-reputation/

(look out for next weeks bite sized winning strategy “How to win with laterooms and booking.com”)

 

 

Cleaning Report

365.294: VacuumBecause we know that running your own accommodation means having to do a million things at once, at Freetobook we’re always coming up with new innovations to make life easier for you. Our recently added Cleaning Report will help you manage check-ins and check-outs, add notes for cleaners, and print out any requests for today or tomorrow.

You’ll find the Cleaning Report by logging into your Freetobook account and going to the “Diary” Tab then the “Reports” SubTab. Click on the “Cleaning” option and you’ll see this:

cleaning_report_screenshot

Select the fields you want included then click “Generate Report”. Once the report shows you can create a PDF to print for your cleaner (or for yourself!)

You can add notes to any booking by clicking on the booking in the “Diary” Tab. At the bottom of the PopUp you will see “Additional Information.” Click “Modify” to add or edit Requests, Cleaning Notes, Check In/Out times. These notes will then appear on the Cleaning Report when you need them to.

 

Extras get you extras

booking_extrasIn an era of rising costs and tighter margins, it’s more important than ever to add value to your bookings. It make sense to offer paid extras that will enhance your guests’ experience and earn you extra money.

With freetobook you can add extras to your customers’ bills. These can range from charges for pets to bar bills, meals and chocolates – the possibilities are limitless. It’s free format, so you add in the extras and then apply them to a customer’s bill.

How does it work? There are two steps:

Step One: Add your extras into the freetobook system.

Broadly speaking there are two types of extras. The first type can be pre-booked online: these will show to your customer as they book online. The second type is variable expenses consumed during stay.

To create your extras, click on the “Availability” TAB then the “Booking Extras” SubTAB:

booking_extras_screenshot

If the extra is going to be offered online, you can add a description and an image to make it even more attractive. You can also request information relating to the extra. For instance, if the extra is an airport pickup you might ask your customer for their flight details and arrival time.

Where the extra is not booked online, you don’t need to put in descriptions and images but you do need to make the display name clear, as this is what will show on the customer’s bill. You can leave the price blank and complete the amount when you add it to their booking in step two (this is good for bar bills or other variable amounts.)

Step Two: Attach extra or extras to the customer’s bill

If the extra was booked online, it will already be added to the confirmation, as the customer booked it when they booked the accommodation.

Otherwise, to add extras, click on the booking in your “Diary” TAB. You will notice “Extras” just below the yellow box. Click Modify to add, delete and edit extras added to the booking. All extras will now be on the bill. Click “Summary” button at the top of the page to see the extras added. To print, click the “Print” button at the bottom of the summary page.

Free e-book

ebook_cover_resizedBecause we know that in the current financial climate getting extra online sales is more important than anything else (and because we know that everyone likes something for free!), we’ve created a free e-book, titled “How to BOOST your online bookings,” written by freetobook’s directors, Iain & Craig Stewart.

Continue reading “Free e-book”

Is your website “driving” customers away?

freetobook gramaphoneDriving home for two and half hours after a great wedding party is not my idea of fun! So why did we do it?

This summer my wife and I attended a wedding in the lovely old town of St Andrews (Scotland). My wife does most of the social organising (no surprises there!) and so she set about looking for somewhere to stay. We just needed a comfortable place and were looking forward to a break away…from the kids.

It was a busy time as there were university graduations taking place. Most hotels were showing fully booked and when she came across a website that featured many of the B&B’s and guesthouses in the area she thought she’d found the answer. However, after about 30 minutes of searching through the website she stormed in and declared we would just drive back that night!

Why? The website offered a list of properties with links but the websites she visited did not offer their availability online. She wasn’t prepared to send out emails, make calls or submit requests….so we drove home that night, getting in at 2:00am.

It wasn’t that she doesn’t like talking to people, she does (I can vouch for that!), but to her the cost in time of “manually” searching for accommodation was greater than the inconvenience of a two and half hour drive across Scotland in the wee hours of the morning! That’s quite a sacrifice, but if you are already conditioned to buy something in a certain way, the frustration and reluctance to change your ways is enough to make you question whether or not it is worth it.

In the end everyone lost out. We missed the end of the wedding party and a night away and the B&Bs lost a booking … not an ideal outcome. It’s a graphic example of how people’s habits have changed online: they expect instant answers, full access to the information required to make a purchasing decision and then to be able to complete the purchase.

A much more common scenario is that you lose bookings when customers visit your website, can’t see availability and rates and therefore just move on to the next.

10 ways to add the human touch to online booking

freetobook heartEveryone offering online booking for the first time will be concerned that they’re losing the personal and bespoke service that their guests used to appreciate. So by offering online booking, will you lose “that loving feeling”?

Phone bookings by their very nature give you a great opportunity to understand your customers and their requirements right from the outset. The customers can ask questions and you get a feel for what they are expecting and hoping to get from their stay.

These are all important parts of the service chain, but we need to remember that the phone and internet bookings are not mutually exclusive. Here are some ways to over-deliver on your booking service:

  • Offer your customer a choice of booking processes. Some will want to call, but many just prefer to book online, it’s convenient and some see it as easier and faster.
  • Develop your website around your booking process, have the booking button and your contact details in the same place on every page. Ensure they are visible immediately as the page loads…that’s why your customer is on your site!
  • Answer any email queries quickly and politely. If you are away for a few hours, set an expectation as to when the customer will receive a reply. Make it personal, standard impersonal replies don’t wash.
  • If customers have booked online, feel free to call or email them for additional information. Indeed, even if you don’t require additional information it’s a great opportunity to win them over. A friendly call to follow up an online booking with relevant and helpful questions has an almost magical effect…it shows you really care. Why? Because customers don’t expect that level of attention online…it’s a nice surprise.
  • You can ask the relevant questions, what are they planning to see and do in the area, is there a special reason for their travel? Of course you have to ask these sensitively, but that’s what service is about.
  • If you are not confident, ask the easy questions first to get a feel for the customer, i.e. what time will they arrive, do they know where you are? Always explain who you are and why you are calling at the start.
  • Based on the call you can send them extra information they will find helpful, a map, list of events, restaurants you can recommend…the list is endless.
  • If you don’t feel up to calling at first, send them a “thanks for booking email… and here’s some helpful info – directions, attractions, events etc” and measure the response. These can be more template-style emails with a bit of personalisation at the top (include their booking details in the subject title, so it follows on from their confirmation).
  • Adding value to the booking process means you can ensure that your guests get the most out of their stay and you get a better idea of who they are and what their expectations are…it’s a win-win, try it.
  • Following up on online bookings is a key service differentiator for independent accommodation, the big guys don’t do it and couldn’t if they tried.

This is how you never lose “that loving feeling”! You only get one opportunity to make a first impression…

Book Review: “Putting Heads on Beds”

The product of 25 years’ experience in the hospitality sector, Michael Cockman’s Putting heads on beds is an accessible, wide-ranging overview of what independent accommodation providers can do to get more business. Broken up into easily digestible sections, it leads you through the whole process of maximising your property’s potential and does so in a logical, systematic way.

He begins by encouraging you to take a clear-eyed look at your property and ask yourself some searching questions, from the simple (Does it look good inside and out?) to the more complex (Do your amenities benefit the different sectors of your market appropriately?) He then moves on to ways in which you can bring the reality of your property in line with your vision for it, through reaching new kinds of customers, modifying your leadership style and building an effective team. In doing so, he not only offers concrete suggestions (ensure that you share your vision with your customers and your team; define who does what in your team and set everyone, including yourself, realistic goals; have a well thought-out incentive scheme) but also astute warnings (beware of the costs of long distribution chains; be careful about giving away to much to wholesalers without guarantees).

The heart of the book – and the part that most accommodation owners will probably find most useful – is the middle section: “Reaching Your Prospects.” He is particularly strong on using the internet to drive sales, since, as he points out, “It is now definitely possible to compete on equal terms with the ‘big boys.’” In terms of traditional advertising, he shows a refreshing scepticism about how appropriate it is to smaller properties: “No independent accommodation business has money to waste on ineffective advertising… At the very least you need to know: the number of responses; how many responses were converted to a sale; how much that was worth.” He also makes a useful distinction between ‘image’ advertising and ‘direct response’ advertising.

Perhaps the book’s greatest achievement is the way it guides the less tech-savvy accommodation owner through all the online methods that can be used to attract more customers, offering lucid explanations of such topics as Pay Per Click Ads (PPC), Cost Per Thousand Impressions Ads (CPM), Google Places, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) amongst others.

Putting heads on beds is an immensely readable, well-informed book. Regardless of whether you read the whole thing or just dip into the parts that interest you, it’ll give every independent accommodation provider plenty to think about.

Michael Cockman wrote this book based on his 25 years experience, both as a Marketing Director for hotel companies with hotels in UK, South Pacific and Europe and also as a coach and mentor to owners of independent hotels. Although very much a practical guide, all the activities are set against a sound theoretical background. Indeed Michael has recently been appointed a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. ‘Putting Heads on Beds’ is published by HowtoBooks, who have a strong portfolio of practical books geared to helping people do better in their business and their personal life.

PayPal Payments with freetobook

You can now collect payments from your customers at the time of booking using the new Paypal integration with freetobook.

PayPal integrated with freetobook
PayPal integrated with freetobook

At freetobook we’re always adapting and enhancing our system to offer great new functionality and make it even easier to use. Our latest innovation gives you the opportunity to take either full payment or a deposit from customers at the time of booking – saving you time by automating your payment process.

You’ll find this new functionality on the extra “Pay” tab of your freetobook account:

Freetobook menu bar
Freetobook menu bar

It doesn’t just enable you take full/partial payment, it also lets you decide what kind of deposit you want to specify, whether it’s a flat fee, a per room charge, a percentage of the total amount or a deposit for only a certain number of nights. So it suits all kinds of booking policies, as well as being fully automated and so simple to use.

If you don’t already have a PayPal account, you will need to sign up with PayPal. There is a “Sign Up” link at the top of the page on www.paypal.com. It’s free and you can use the “Website Payments Standard” solution (you do not need a Payments Pro account). Set up is very quick and easy, but it will take a few days to verify your account.

PayPal is one of the biggest payment processing companies in the world. It is a trusted brand, so your customers will feel comfortable and secure making payments to you through it. It certainly provides one of the simplest ways to accept online payments from all types of credit card. So, at the point of finalising the booking, your customer will be directed to PayPal. They simply enter their card details and payment will be taken (according to your policy). Now, you’ll get an email from PayPal confirming that the payment has been taken, as well as an email from us with the booking details.

Freetobook makes no charges for the integration, but PayPal has a sliding scale of charges dependent on your turnover. You need to check that you agree to its charges, which at their highest are 3.4% + 20p and decrease for larger monthly volumes.

Great customer feedback

It’s summer in Scotland: cue rain, midges and an icy north wind. We may not be experiencing much of a warm glow from the weather, but we can at least bask in the great feedback we’ve been receiving from our users as we work tirelessly to make freetobook the very best online booking system for independent accommodation providers in the UK. Bruce from the Folly Farm Cottage told us, “I would recommend the system to other B&B owners and would say that the support has been first class,” while Sheena and Ian Fowkes of Greystones Guest Accommodation said, “It has really given us back some very precious time!” and Linda Johnson from the Southcroft Hotel in Eastbourne reported that, “I received two bookings almost immediately I went live.” [See more Testimonials here.]  Such consistently positive reactions make all the difference to us: they keep our energy levels up, stimulate new ideas and embolden us in our vision for freetobook. So thank you to all those customers who have taken the time to let us know how much they value the system. We couldn’t do it without you.