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).

More bookings for Elgin B&B via Freetobook channel manager

Case Study: Freetobook’s channel manager brings more bookings to Ardgye House B&B in Elgin.

In the current economy, many independent accommodation providers know all too well the importance of getting new business. It’s a challenge, especially if you can’t afford expensive campaigns or newspaper advertising. Freetobook now offers some help: an easy-to-manage connection to LateRooms and Booking.com, which allows you to update your availability on both those sites quickly and easily via your Freetobook diary.

It’s true that some property owners are still wary of LateRooms and Booking.com, concerned that the commission charged by these Online Travel Agents will erase their profit margin. But experience has shown that many accommodation owners who take the plunge really benefit from the increased exposure. The internet is just so big and managing to get your property in front of the customer at the right time is no easy task.

One Freetobook customer who has definitely benefited from the extra exposure is Kerry McInnes, who runs the 4-star Ardgye House in Elgin. A beautiful 5-room Edwardian property, built in 1904, the Ardgye has been welcoming guests for over 20 years. It boasts sumptuous Family, Twin and King Rooms and is rated #1 on TripAdvisor for Elgin B&Bs/Inns. None the less, Kerry had noticed that it was becoming harder and harder to compete for attention in an online world where paid results dominate the first page of any accommodation search.

Already offering online booking with Freetobook software, Kerry decided to integrate with LateRooms via company’s channel manager.

“We’ve always been successful and we have a great reputation. We get a lot of bookings from the RAF at Lossiemouth and the Royal Engineers at Kinloss. We’re also very popular with German tourists visiting Scotland. But as with a lot of properties these days, it has become harder and harder for us to be ‘found,’” says Kerry. “The main thing that attracted us to LateRooms was their huge advertising spend. We realised that we could piggyback on that to become much more visible to potential guests. The Freetobook system’s channel manager allowed the integration to be done quickly and easily. It really couldn’t have been simpler.”

Kerry is well aware that some accommodation owners feel they’ll lose money on booking by going down this route, but she doesn’t share that view.

“I don’t see a LateRooms booking as 15% lost in commission, I see it as 85% gained on a booking I wouldn’t otherwise have got,” she points out. “I’m also noticing that guests who book through LateRooms the first time are becoming repeat customers who book with us direct on subsequent occasions, now that they know we exist.”

And although Kerry has only been offering LateRooms availability for a short time, she has already seen the benefits: “LateRooms bookings are up by a third since we integrated via Freetobook. We’re much busier than we were before and we are starting to see a pick-up in direct bookings too. Pretty soon we’re looking to integrate with Booking.com via Freetobook as well.”

Connect Booking.com and LateRooms

Update Booking.com & LateRooms in one place

We all know that in the current economy every extra booking is precious. We also know that an accommodation owner’s time is valuable. There are always a million things to do and not nearly enough time to do them in. With that in mind, freetobook now offers you a channel manager that allows you to connect to Booking.com and LateRooms and update them direct from your freetobook diary.

Thanks to this new functionality, you’ll no longer have to update lots of different systems. One diary will automatically update them all so you can never go over-booked. It’ll also allow you to alter room rates across different sales channels from one place. And each time a booking is made, it will go straight into your diary with all the customer details (phone, email, and prices) captured.

Not only will this new functionality save you time and increase room sales, it will also increase your exposure via the world’s leading booking websites and eliminate the worry of double bookings.

To find out more about how our new channel manager works and all the benefits it can bring you, go here.

 

 

 

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”)

 

 

Ayrshire Bed and Breakfast Association gets Online

ABBA Case Study : Brochure websites no longer work, your customers want  to book online.Ayrshire Bed and Breakfast Association

Getting your Association online – Ayrshire Bed & Breakfast Association Case Study

Many websites created by accommodation associations are informative but don’t offer a great user experience because the customer can’t search and book accommodation.  It’s frustrating for customers who are used to searching, comparing and booking online.

The accommodation sector has been radically transformed in the last 10 years by the internet. Accommodation websites, with their sophisticated booking engines now transact billions of dollars weekly. Customers find these sites easy to use, they provide information, choice and ease of access to accommodation grouped by area. The Online Travel Agents (OTAs) can afford to pay and compete for a strong presence on the search engines by offering a variety of properties, which  improve their chances of converting searches into bookings.

ipadAs online booking becomes more and more the norm, the OTAs continue to grow their influence. Individual properties cannot compete due to the limitations of their single product offering.

Any marketing Association needs a strong internet presence to improve awareness of their area and member properties. It makes sense to capitalise on these grouped marketing resources by offering customers a direct booking channel, cutting out commissions and increasing efficiency.

For  Associations to compete online they need:

  • a professionally designed website
  • great local content and quality images on the site
  • a good number and variety of properties
  • a simple search and online booking process

Associations have an inherent advantage on content due to their deep understanding of their customers and how their area attracts and fulfils the needs of these customers. They will also have a good range of accommodation covering various local areas and markets.

Finally, it would have been impossible several years ago to access this level of technology as the cost of placing a professional online booking engine on their website would have been prohibitive.

Competition in the online market place is fierce so Associations must use all their websiteResultsresources: Create a bookable website to fulfil your visitor’s needs. Direct traffic to the website so it can be converted and monitored. Use the improved marketing power to earn the Association more visibility and credibility locally.

There are barriers, some real, some perceptual that can all be overcome.

Cost: The cost of sophisticated professional technology is no longer expensive (relative to the past), just look at freetoboook.com, a world class system freely available to the world. This is effectively a marketing exercise (not a technical one) and there are often grants (some involving match funding) that can help reduce the initial set-up cost.

Competition within the Association: Many businesses compete on a day-to-day basis so getting agreement from everyone maybe impossible…. at the outset, but this is nothing new to voluntary organisations!

Project Management: Set clear objectives and get several quotes all based on the same criteria.  Selecting the right company to go with may determine the success or failure of the project.

Get the right person in charge from the start, support them and select a strong team to help. They must have executive decision making powers.

Updating rates: Not everyone will agree to use or update just one system, don’t try to force it. Find one that’s : effectively free for everyone to access and use and doesn’t require members to use on their own website, simple to set-up and easy to update well supported, so there’s help and encouragement to those who need it.

It will take time before the website gets into the internet’s “bloodstream”.  You can decide to take it slowly and see what comes from free search or create Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns. If you opt for PPC, the association can manage it or choose to hire someone to manage it.

Associations must utilise all their local membership connections to build links into the website with surrounding businesses. Collaborating and creating local partnerships benefits the area as a whole, increasing the local spend of customers whilst providing you with access to the most relevant and up-to-date content available.

As with any project, it must work! Ideally, it will be on time and look impressive. That’s easy to test with friends and local businesses, are they keen to link to you? Are members proud of the site, has it encouraged businesses to join the Association. The process may also bring the members closer together and there should be improved partnerships within the local community.

These are the “soft” measures of success but you need hard measures as well: Does the website and system bring in bookings, are your marketing efforts sufficient? How well does the site rank? Remember it takes time and effort to show on key terms. How many visitors is the site getting compared to before? Visitor time on the website should increase, as will page views, monitor this with google analytics. Direct user feedback can be collected by members and fed back in to optimise features. Bookings may generated from any new marketing that directs customers to the site.

There are now opportunities for Association websites to really harness the power of their many members, hitherto this has not been the case.

My bet is that fortune will favour those who realise their strength lies in co-operation, not isolation.

Your Website-Bite Sized Winning Strategies (1of10)

Great websites a winning strategy.

10 Bite sized winning strategiesA winning website is a worthwhile investment. Like it or not your customers will form a view about you and your property based on what they see and how they interact with your website.

The first thing a potential customer will do is look for your website, on finding it they form a view about your property and service, you have a winning strategy if the third thing they do is make a booking.

What you need to do to create a winning website ?

  1. It’s now well established that customers select accommodation with their heart first and their head second. So make sure they fall in love with your website, it’s about an emotional connection. This means big impact, great looking photos and engaging text that is short and to the point.
  2. Understand what it is that your customers want and make sure they find it writ large on your home page. For a farm stay, a fabulous rural panorama or some cute animals, a seaside retreat might have a high impact photo of the beach/sea and a party town hotel some nightlife photos – it’s all pretty simple.
  3. OK, you know what they want and you have given it to them, now they want to book. To achieve maximum bookings make it easy to book. Your online booking button must feature prominently on your home page (“above the fold” – no need to scroll down to find it) and on every other page in a very similar position. You will lose bookings if you make it hard to find your booking button.
  4. Keep it simple, engaging, attractive and easy to navigate. Make a point of asking your customers what they think of your website, don’t be precious about the website it’s not for you it’s for your customers.
  5. Regular updates are critical to keep your website fresh and relevant, a handy way to do this is through a blog.
  6. A great website is a winning strategy….. a rubbish one will lose you bookings.

(look out for next weeks bite sized winning strategy “Customer feedback and Reviews”)

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.

Iain’s guest article on tnooz.com

tnooz_logoOur Co-Director, Iain Stewart, has written a guest article on travel technology website Tnooz about how technology is having an increasing influence on tourism in South Africa and the wider region, allowing small (and sometimes remote) properties to compete on an international scale.

Read More: http://bit.ly/K4B3uK

New Facebook booking app

facebook_-squarelogo
facebook app

With 845 million active users, Facebook is becoming an ever-more useful way of reaching new customers and generating more revenue. If you already have a Facebook business page, Freetobook can now create a Facebook booking page for you as well. This will allow you to:

  • Display great photos of your property.
  • List all your property information and room descriptions.
  • Display your location on a Google map.

And most importantly of all…

  • Link to your booking engine, providing easy online booking direct from Facebook.

You’ll find this great new functionality by logging into your profile and clicking on a new tab called “Social.”

Learn more by watching this short video:

Iain’s back from Indaba 2012

indaba_logoFreetobook’s co-director, Iain Stewart, recently returned from the INDABA in Durban, one of Africa’s biggest annual tourism marketing events. The 2012 INDABA, with its theme of “Shaping Our Future Together”, was a huge success. More than 1500 exhibitors from all parts of Africa took part and by the beginning of the final day nearly 11,000 people had attended.

Continue reading “Iain’s back from Indaba 2012”