Guest messaging upgrade

Guest messaging for hotels, guest houses, B&Bs and cottages
Smart Messaging

Have you ever thought about how easy it would be for a guest to simply click a reply button to get in touch with you ? In the freetobook labs we have 🙂

Today’s guests expect so much and easy communication is now a given, looking for emails to reply to just isn’t good enough anymore. That’s essentially why we have upgraded the freetobook email system.

With the new smart messaging upgrade (which replaces emails) you can:

  1. Send guests automated messages as soon as they book or a set number of days before arrival or after stay.
  2. You can add gorgeous images to show off and boost your brand
  3. Increases your read and reply rate because its so easy to use.
  4. Quickly spot any failed messages and fix them instantly.
  5. Works with all bookings including OTA fake email addresses.
  6. Conversation thread keeps your chat together.
Smart messaging for automatic messaging of guests
Boost your Guest replies

Smart messaging is getting even better. In the next few weeks we will be adding “guest actions” where guests can interact with their booking through their smart message.

You can send them a guest action and they will be able to change it, the first one will be “arrival time” – guests will be able to click to re-confirm their arrival time and it will change automatically in their booking, no need for you to do any more work.

Smart messaging will keep getting better, just let us know what you want it to do for you. There are so many ideas just a taster includes Stripe payments from smart messages, branding for the messaging page so guests connect with your brand setting the scene for their stay.

Read about the 7 pledges that make freetobook so different. A high tech company with family values is a rare and wonderful thing 🙂

Maximise direct bookings

7 Pledges, here’s how you voted….

We asked you to prioritise these 7 Pledges, to re-order them according to your needs and your ambitions. That was no easy task… as many of you said, but that forced focus is what every good business requires if it is to improve.

So here’s how it unfolded, drum roll please…

Maximise direct bookings above all other bookings (35% of the vote)

This is music to our ears, we created freetobook to enable direct bookings on websites. We wanted to build a booking engine so any accommodation anywhere in world could get an account, set up and take direct bookings in under an hour – for free. That was case in January 2011 and it’s still very much the case now, indeed that’s why we called it “Freetobook”.  But there is so much more to do and we’re working on it. (some free direct booking images for you)

Continually develop, upgrade and improve functionality came second (with 26% of the vote)   

Advanced Messaging
keep developing never stop

We are here 21 years down the line simply because we’ve always believed we can do it better, we must do it better.  Our “creative” drive demands that we look for solutions to difficult problems. We also enjoy that process, it’s terribly rewarding. This means that we don’t accept and settle in a comfort zone but continually look around appraising the changes to your environment.

Listen, care about, support and advise your business (17%)

This is the “easy” bit for us, as a family business we find it a very natural function yet we value the importance of it. Our support team have an amazing record only because they care. We are not here to serve ourselves so it’s important that we listen and feel confident to advise when required.  Having the commercial freedom (of a family business) means we don’t compromise in our service and advice we offer.

Keep learning to be the best booking system possible (9%)

everyday is a school day !

We will. Aiming to do your best is always a great place to start and we are fortunate to work with 1000s of customers who believe the same. Over the 21 years we’ve seen a lot of changes so we’ve had to keep learning new things.  We have always looked for and admired great technology.

Protect you, keep things optional for you and not tying you in (altogether got 13%)

Our independence is a choice, just like yours. We have seen enough stuff that does not impress us to know that we must always be clear, open and genuine in what we do and what we offer.

Protecting independence results in more money staying local and being re-invested locally in businesses. We live in times where technology is enabling money to move across oceans far far away from where it was generated and without any chance of businesses or governments being rewarded for their investments.

So where do we go from here?

smart messaging for accommodation owners
smart stiff to boost your connection with customers

The great news is that we are already working on some new technology to help increase direct booking, this includes better measurement and analysis of the current situation. Other developments will become clearer next year and we trust we can count on your support to get them moving.  There is much work to do!

Thank you again for voting and for your many appended comments. As usual there were masses of amazingly supportive ones, as well as some great suggestions.

Here’s a small selection of what people said against the various votes….

“We know you are the best out there, you have been amazing for us. Helpful and progressive.”

“All of the above are highly important. Thank you for giving them focus.”

“… really excellent customer service, feel like I’m contacting someone in my own company!”

“Would love it if freetobook was more mobile friendly or had a full App.”

“Good to see an honest and ethical organisation.”

“Still love freetobook and even more so since I joined stripe.”

“Thanks so much for your amazing service you have revolutionised the way we do business…”

“More reports, like annual and monthly.”

“Get the OTAs out of the booking loop as the charges are criminal.”

“Best booking system on the net.”

“…great system – tried all the others !!!!”

Smart messaging says it all

smart messaging for accommodation owners

When you are looking to stand out in your guests mind then get messaging. Smart Messaging will take your communication with guests to the next level, making messages and stays memorable.

Freetobook Smart Messaging is your work horse taking the hassle and bore out of email communications. It replaces the old email system with a simple and intuitive interface that your guests can engage with, whilst making your administrative work quicker and simpler.

First up: you can set automated messages to go out before and after the guests stay. No need to worry about sending critical information.

Add images: spice up your message with gorgeous images that show off and boost your brand.

Communicate: a smart message thread is available to the guest making replies so easy and your interaction so natural.

Emojis: it’s brilliant when guests start sending emojis, it means you have connected in a fun and friendly way.

Spot any fails: you’ll see a failed message immediately so you can fix the email address that notifies your guest of a new message.

All channels: you can Smart Message all of your bookings as long as they have an email address (even to the fake emails from the OTAs).

Freetobook customers can setup Smart Messaging in matter of seconds in the “PLUS” tab. For properties not yet using freetobook, why not signup today and enjoy all the marvelous solutions we provide for accommodation owners worldwide.

The Smart messaging system is getting massive investment from us, there are already over twenty new features waiting to be implemented. These include “guest actions” where the guest can change their arrival time or other interactions with their booking.

We really believe the freetobook messenger will help you communicate better and save time… so we will continue to make it even better.

Not sure about freetobook ? Read our 7 pledges to see what makes us so different.

7 pledges of internet booking

Our promises

In the 21 years since our birth in 1998 we’ve learnt a thing or two about making, managing and servicing accommodation bookings but the one thing we often get asked is:

“what makes freetobook different ?”

It is a tough question (if you really care about it) and after this long in business we had better have a good answer! In a perverse kind of way it’s actually taken 21 years to really find out who and what we are.

Some soul searching and chat in the office led us to seven key points that we would love to share with you as “pledges”. We believe what makes us a great company to work with is that we genuinely (and always) pledge to:

  1. listen, care about, support and advise you whilst building things to the highest standards both morally and technically
  2. continually develop, upgrade and improve for your business
  3. build booking technology that maximises direct bookings above all other bookings
  4. protect you from powerful corporations that seek to manipulate and plunder your revenue
  5. be the best booking system possible, to study and learn from other booking systems
  6. never prevent you from leaving (by tie-in contract or any obstruction), instead we’ll learn why you left and improve to get you back
  7. continue to make all paid services optional, clearly priced and listed publicly on our website, ensuring we advise honestly and openly as to their value and use to your business

Note: the order of these pledges are as they came to us, we’ll shortly be asking our customers which are the most important to them then re-order accordingly.

These aren’t some corporate bull, in fact they have always been guiding us we just haven’t really thought much about it. They are part of our DNA, developed from those that work with us and for us, those that support us to grow and all those that used to work with us, they are our history and our future.

The significant success of freetobook in business provides us with the luxury to always put your interests first with fierce independence and a long term outlook typical of family values that no corporate can afford. That’s what makes freetobook different.

TripAdvisor Ranking Tips

Recent research on reviews makes interesting reading and helps guide you on how to improve your ranking within TripAdvisor, Google and any other review sites.

TripAdvisor for business

Good reviews are important, we all know potential guests read and compare reviews before making a decision to book. Maintaining this good reputation has a significant bottom line impact.

Giving good service is always going to be the best way to get great reviews. As the host you’re the one in front of the guest and that makes all the difference … giving you a real advantage over corporate hotel chains. There are however a few tricks that can help bend the curve in your favour because having brilliant service on its own might not generate enough reviews. There may be some gentle prodding required to keep a fresh flow of reviews.

Let’s take a look at a few of the issues. Firstly, WHY you should have a good set of recent reviews, HOW to get them and finally a trick or two to encourage those that you know will REVIEW YOU WELL. We’ll also touch on the danger of putting review links on your website that take possible guests off to another website (where they’re encouraged to book an alternative!)

Why should you try to get a good set of recent reviews ?

1) Fresh reviews are the most important, about 40% of customers only look at reviews from the last few weeks (huge increase from only 18% in 2017). This has a positive impact on hosts that encourage guests to review because they tend to have a constant stream of recent reviews.  

2) TripAdvisor gives higher weighting to the most recent reviews and lowers the importance of older legacy reviews. Favouring newer reviews makes sense because guests want the most up-to-date picture of their potential stay.

3) Getting lots of recent reviews acts as a kind of insurance policy against the (inevitable) odd bad one. If you are unlucky enough to get a poor review amongst all your brilliant ones, it’ll soon sink out of sight if you keep getting new reviews.

4) Properties with more recent reviews will rise-up the ranking compared to those with the same score but older reviews.

How do you encourage guests to post reviews?

A certain number of guest will be regular reviewers and won’t need any nudging, but the majority might need a little prod to post a review. There is no shame in asking for a review, every business needs to know how they’re performing – your guests understand this.

To encourage reviews you could print little business cards with your TripAdvisor link (and maybe an direct booking discount offer for next time they book). Alternatively, you could email or message them after their stay. A little bait sometimes helps so why not use a PromoCode to give them a special returning guest discount?

How do I filter out the best customers to ask for a review?

Your booking system may have its own automatic guest feedback built in? A very effective strategy is to use this initial feedback by thanking them for the great review and asking it to be placed on TripAdvisor. By doing this you are filtering out the best reviewers which will over time boost your review score.

Top Tip: Respond to your reviews on TripAdvisor, Google and others.

Did you know that 89% of guests read the responses to reviews? Replying shows you care and helps you understand precisely what made the difference in the eyes and words of your guests … marketing gold.

This is great news for independent properties because it’s usually the “hosts” that are the differentiator, it’s not the free wi-fi, parking or the marble lobby that get mentioned, it’s YOU the host that makes the stay truly memorable.

Top Tip: Use technology to free yourself to do the important things.

The best hosts use technology to the max – they let their booking engine do the bookings, process payments, update channels etc. investing the time saved delivering a unique memorable experience.  This pays off with a great reputation, more bookings and higher prices.

Top Tip: Review widgets on your website can be tempting…. and costly!

We all want to show off our great review scores but please make sure your review widgets don’t lead guests to a page where they book another accommodation. So many properties just put the review link on their website, leading potential guests off to book with an OTA (at commissionable rates) or not at all. Check your website today, follow the links to see what your web visitors see and where they go, you might be shocked.

Direct booking review widgets are good and freetobook have just launched their new responsive and customisable review widget. 

At freetobook we’re constantly working to free up your time so you can spend it giving guest an amazing experience. We automate payments, guest feedback, online bookings, sending messages, channel management… and so much more.

share best practise

We’re family run and independent to the core, always searching for ways to support direct bookings.

The best hosts use messaging

Advanced Messaging
Advanced Messaging

At freetobook we really work hard and pride ourselves in the solutions we build to help accommodation owners manage and grow their businesses. Such a large part of that is the communication you have with your guests. We asked how can that be better? Much, much better?

We are super proud to release our latest piece of work which takes messaging between you and your guests to a new level. The best hosts focus on ways to make their customer’s stay amazing and memorable. That’s why they are the best, guests enjoy their stay so much they want to come back and love sharing the experience with others in reviews and recommendations, building reputation and brand.

The critical parts of the experience start with the anticipation and build-up followed by the stay itself and the after-departure feedback. From the moment they book to the end of their stay you will want your guests to have the maximum you can offer. When you put guest communication as a core part of the service at each point of their journey you increase the likelihood of a happy customer.

It’s about giving your guests the right information before they even ask for it and finding out what guests want from you in good time and in a way that suits them. Email just doesn’t cut it anymore, messaging makes communication more immediate and intimate and that makes guests feel special.

To say we have just created a messaging system is a massive understatement, advanced messaging is the first version of a happy guest generator which we will continue to build on. We are certain that using advanced messaging will grow your guest relations and boost your direct bookings.

Freetobook customers can setup advanced messaging in matter of seconds in the Tab “Plus”. For properties not yet using freetobook, why not signup today and enjoy all the marvelous solutions we provide for accommodation owners worldwide.

Messaging vs Email 

 

It’s easy to follow a message thread making communication natural, informative and fun.

(email is clunky and disjointed with no connection to what has already been said)

 

Messaging can be automated and include images, in the flow – so you look like a pro !

(email image attachments don’t look good and sometimes don’t even download)

 

Get more replies to messaging with the easy one click reply button. Your conversation flows and the best connection is made with your guest.

(email is tricky for customer to reply to, which email ? where did I put it ?)

 

It’s easy to know when a customer has opened your message, you can easily see if it has been read, or if the message failed.

(email is different on everyone’s browser so its difficult to know if your email has been received or not.)

 

Freetobook customers can setup advanced messaging in matter of seconds in the Tab “Plus”. For properties not yet using freetobook, why not signup today and enjoy all the marvelous solutions we provide for accommodation owners worldwide.

Switch tips for new customers

Switching your booking system can be a lot easier than you think with our switch team.

User friendly websites
User friendly freetobook

Reliability, trust and cost savings can all make a big difference to your business and your happiness!

1. No Monthly standing charges

As a family business we believe all customers should pay for what they want and that nothing is hidden. Our pricing is optional, clear and openly listed on our website, it has always been this way. Prices and what you get for free

(other companies don’t show prices on their website because they want to charge you more or pay oily sales people high commissions to get the sale!)

2. No Minimum contract terms.

At freetobook we guarantee you will love our service, but just in case you don’t you’re not locked in, you can leave whenever you wish; we will never make it difficult, our customers stay because they want to.

(other companies tie you in to make it difficult to leave without penalty, that’s a trick we would never play – it just would not be trust worthy)

3. UK based support system

Customer service at freetobook is second to none – give us a ring and you will be connected straight to our expert support team in Glasgow.

4. Free online booking system

Unlike other booking systems we provide a high quality booking system free of charge so you get to fully use our system before you decide to opt in for any of the paid services which are completely optional and include a brilliant channel manager (Bookingcom reliability score 99.97% on 13 Jun 19) or a great low cost payment system.

5. You’re in control

Your business, your decisions. With freetobook you have control over all aspects of your online booking. You can decide to sell lower prices on your own website or have better availability on your direct booking channels…plus so much more.

 

” Wow this is amazing!! We have just reached 100 bookings in the last 30 days on the freetobook system. Thanks for starting it all off, and can you thank the ladies in the office for help setting up. I wish we had moved years ago!! ” (Adrian at Seed Hill)

Thinking about switching to freetobook ? why not try it out today …

Scottish Thistle Awards 2017

The 2016/2017 Scottish Thistle Awards were held on 16th March at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. As usual, the category freetobookers did best was Most Hospitable B&B/Guest House. We are happy to announce that this year at the Scotland’s tourism Oscars, Brookford B&B, a freetobook user, has won the national award for Most Hospitable B&B/Guest House. Congratulations!

We asked them for a short comment and here is what they said:

“We are completely elated to have our efforts recognised in this way. To be honest, being the first time we had entered the competition, we had no expectations about winning the Regional final let alone winning the National title too.

To us, hospitality comes naturally and is all about treating our guests and recognising their needs as we would close friends whom we have invited to stay with us.

It is without a doubt that working with freetobook has played a major part in our success by helping create a good first impression with its seamless booking process and ease of use for both our clients and ourselves, thank you.” – Brookford B&B

We also have two regional finalists in the same category – Newton Farm Holidays
and Barony House Edinburgh.

Scotland’s Best B&Bs, which is using freetobook as a Together Group was a regional finalist in the Working Together for Tourism category. Congratulations again to all of you!

Scottish Thistle awards 2017/2018 entries are now open. Good luck to everyone who is going to enter this year! Also earlier this year many freetobook customers from all corners of the world scooped up top awards from TripAdvisor at the 2017 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice awards

Tips for Switching booking system

switchSwitching your booking engine can be a lot easier than you think. Here are a few tips gleaned from our clients.

But first a word of warning, it’s not just about cost savings.  Whilst cost is always important there are subtler, seemingly less significant things that can actually make a much bigger difference to your business and your happiness!

The four areas I would say you need to understand well are the booking engine functions, it’s cost, the company and the switching process.

1) Evaluating the booking engine

Compare the functionality of each booking engine, focus on what’s absolutely critical to your business…don’t get side tracked by any irrelevant functions.

Speak to the various companies but then dig a little deeper by asking around – do you know anyone using that booking engine, what’s their view?  Remember, an “oily” sales person will just tell you what you want to hear to get the sale!

Ensure the booking engine is flexible enough to handle your processes.  It is one thing to have a function but you need to ensure it works the way you need it to.

2) Costs

You need these in black and white, good companies don’t need to hide or negotiate costs with every client – hiding prices usually means the sales team get extra commission by overcharging you.

Can you tailor their services to suit you? If it’s pay as you go, work out the costs – these tend to be the best value services because you are only paying for what you use.

Look at hidden costs i.e. how does their channel manager work and what control do you have over it? If you don’t have any control over which rooms are sold, when, where and at what price… this will increase costs.

Make sure you don’t incur any additional cost i.e. having to use a specific payment system.

3) Compare companies

heartTry to gauge how much each company really cares about your business. For example, the service and support role is currently in danger of dying off and finding a company that takes it seriously will make a real difference to your business.

Existing customers and social media are your best references when trying to get evidence of how a company treats its clients.

Ask about their plans, do they continually bring out new features, add services, are they innovative, what’s their reputation among other suppliers you work with….ask around. The best businesses are respected and loved by both their clients and partners they work with.

Look at the small print in any contract, does it tie you in? Do you have any penalties or notice periods that lock you in if you don’t like it?

4) Process

How easy is it move over? Can you access the system to try it out first, even run it alongside your current booking engine so you are 100% certain.  Is there a time restriction to get it running ? Beware of lock-in trials, you want to try it at your own speed.

Make sure the company you are switching to is ready to have you on board, do they have a dedicated switch team? If they are good they’ll have lots of experience and offer advice on the right way to set-up and which services are most suitable.

If they are really great they’ll give you tips and tricks to increase your business, remember they may have spoken with 1000s of small businesses just like yours.

Check if there are help guides or videos available to help you understand the new system (and work at your own pace).

Finally, timing is critical, it makes sense to do this kind of analysis when you have a bit of time on your hands.

The overwhelming feedback I have received indicates that all of the above is much easier than most think, there is no reason to stick with a booking system that doesn’t work for you……

I just wanted to finish with a happy switcher who got it all right…

” Wow this is amazing!! We have just reached 100 bookings in the last 30 days 9/12/16 to 9/01/17, on the freetobook system. Thanks for starting it all off, and can you thank the ladies in the office for help setting up. I wish we had moved years ago!! ” (Adrian at Seed Hill)

Thinking about switching to freetobook ? find out more here…

Why it pays to sleep around for B&B owners

4poster

A Guest Blog by Heather Turner at Forfeng Media.

I wrote a post a while back about Viewing your restaurant from a customers perspective, and it occurred to me after spending a weekend away at a very nice B&B, to wonder how many innkeepers have actually stayed (and not just one night) in every single room in their own B&Bs. I mean packed their bags and literally “checked in”.

I bring this up because, as an example, the B&B I just stayed at recently had wonderful hosts, a delicious breakfast, comfy beds and great amenities, but the toilet paper holder just wasn’t very functional. Every time someone went to use the loo, the toilet paper fell off the decorative holder. How annoying was that? Trivial, but annoying.

Did this mar my whole stay? Absolutely not. Did I forget to mention it to the innkeepers? Yes I did, because it was a very minor problem (am I emailing them after I write this post? Yes).

It got me to thinking though, how many small things that the usual guest may have a small problem with, that doesn’t really affect the overall stay, but stays in the subconscious and they forget to mention it to the innkeepers.

As innkeepers (I know I would feel this way if I had an inn) you go out of your way to try to make a guest’s stay perfect. So to me, take one step more and go a little further.

I recently wrote a post about Attracting Business Travelers to B&Bs, and in it I listed some very minor pet peeves about staying in B&Bs. If I think back to recent stays, not just in B&Bs, but hotels as well, I can list a bunch of minor things, that if the owners or managers had actually stayed in the rooms themselves they would have noticed.

Two different places, had big armoires that had flat screen TVs in them. Terrific idea to get them out of the way and not be an eyesore. Defeats the purpose of having a TV for guests to watch though if the armoire doors won’t stay open, and keeps slowly swinging closed.

Defective or misplaced toilet paper holders seem to be huge one. The one that was two feet from the commode really made my day so to speak, LOL.

The water faucet that sprays a little too hard when turned on all the way. I tell you it’s a real pain having to find another set of clothes to wear, when you are on your way out the door, and all of a sudden you are wearing water polka dots.

What are you supposed to do with all those pillows and comforters (especially when it’s 90 degrees out)? They get piled on chairs. I’m not suggesting you do away with them, they look gorgeous, but perhaps put a place aside where guests can put them. The places that have luggage racks generally get used for that oversized comforter and my luggage ends up on the floor, and the pillows I put on chairs, and then end up with nowhere to sit when I want to put shoes and socks on the next morning.

I am not trying to nitpick about very minor things, but more to make the point that if innkeepers spent actual time (sleep time, activity time) in the rooms they let guests sleep in, they might notice some minor things, like the very bottom drawer of the dresser that just doesn’t want to get unstuck easily.

As innkeepers you want to make your B&Bs perfect, take a look at it from a customer’s point of view, it’s a fresh perspective, and it will help you to better understand and fix any small issues that can make a very small (but lasting) impression on a guest.

I would suggest setting up a log, so you can track when you’ve stayed in the rooms as well. Did the other rooms have guests at the time? Was it a weekend? What season was it?

You may find things like the room that is perfect in three seasons, in the summer the air conditioner blows directly on the sleepers (so you could consider moving the bed), or the suite upstairs you can hear a TV playing (so you consider moving the location of the TV stand against a wall that doesn’t connect with an adjoining guest room). You wouldn’t know these things otherwise.

When was the last time YOU stayed in your rooms?