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Is Your Hotel or Resort’s E-mail Inbox
An Untapped Distribution Channel?


by Doug Kennedy
September 2009

By now most hotels have long recognized the potential of outbound e-mail as a pro-active marketing and CRM tool and have actualized their potential in that area.  However too many hotels still overlook their e-mail in-box as being a distribution channel worthy of attention.  While we might prefer that guest’s book online or contact us via telephone, websites can be confusing, phone lines sometimes ring busy, and for whatever reason many guests prefer to just click over an e-mail to the info@...” or “Sales@... address posted at your hotel’s website, email blast, or printed in marketing collateral or advertisements.  

E-mail inquiries seem to be especially prevalent in the era of the value-driven, deal-seeking hotel guest, who has been absolutely convinced by the morning talk shows and USA Today that discounts are there for the asking.  Or else the Travel Detective, Peter Greenberg, told them to double-check the rate they see at online travel agencies by contacting the hotel directly.   

Yet perhaps their motivation to inquire by e-mail isn’t just to double-check the price.  Perhaps they are a soccer mom who has only a few seconds between plays to plan the family’s annual vacation.  Instead it might be the husband planning a secret getaway late at night while he is supposedly watching the David Letterman Show and who prefers to communicate via his Blackberry® device.  Or maybe it is just a business executive who has spent way too much time wearing the Blue Tooth® and who doesn’t want to talk anymore.  Regardless, once again we must remember that it doesn’t matter what their motivation is because in the end the are the prospective customer.   

The true measure of your organization’s commitment to e-mail as a distribution channel is exemplified in the reaction of whomever opens the e-mail box first in the morning.  Do they sigh and say with despondence “…oh no, how did we get so many e-mails today.”  Or instead is the first staffer to encounter this untapped revenue stream of the correct mindset to exclaim, “…YES!  How did we get so many e-mails today!”  Of course the negative mindset is mostly the result of leaders who have not yet recognized this opportunity nor re-organized their operations to support it.  

Whether your lodging organization has already embraced e-mail sales as a distribution channel, or f you are in the early stages of recognizing the missed opportunities, here are some training tips and suggestions for your next meeting or in-house training session:  

  • Make E-mail Everyone’s Job.  All reservations and sales agents should be part of the e-mail sales team to some extent.  Larger organizations who can staff to the skill-set level and maximize the talent of those who type better than they talk should do so; yet all agent should be crossed trained for both voice and e-mail sales to the extent possible.
  • Respond Promptly. By making e-mail everyone’s job, your team will be able to respond well ahead of the industry’s minimal standard of 24 hours, which according to informal KTN surveying is still only met about 65% of the time.  Better yet, respond immediately or within a few hours.  Upon signing-in first thing in the morning, most people respond first to the e-mails from the previous morning and work the list from the bottom-up.   While it is still best to respond to everyone, in this circumstance why not respond immediately to someone who just sent a message and take more time for the sender from a different time zone who messaged you 12 hours ago?   
  • Budget and Staff For E-Mail Sales and Service.  If next year’s budget calls for an increase in e-mail marketing campaigns and other online advertising, plan accordingly so that you have the resources in place when the responses you are planning on come in.   
  • Sort and Prioritize Responses.  Especially for organizations receiving a high volume of e-mail inquires from numerous distribution channels, it is essential to sort and prioritize responses so that a balance is achieved between the quality of the response versus its timeliness. To sort and prioritize, consider:
    • What is the source of the inquiry?  (Generally, direct channels should  be a priority over those arriving via third party?)  
    • How much information did the sender include in the “remarks” or “comments” fields? The more time the sender has invested in voluntarily divulging their travel plans, the higher priority we as a team should place in responding.  
  • Personalize The Response.  Although it is always a good idea to prepare your team to respond with templates, it is important to personalize them to the extent possible.  Again by sorting and prioritizing according to the above principles, the responder can pick the template which best applies and then personalize it as needed. Personalize responses by:
    • Opening with a greeting and signing with a name.
    • Re-stating the sender’s needs as they have originally indicated to show that we “get it” and to make sure we have the details correct. 
    • Ending with an invitation to become a guest and a message of fond farwell. 
  • Mirror and Match The Sender’s Style and Commitment Level: Just as voice reservations are trained to do, e-mail sales works best when the responder responds with the same style and tone of writing as the sender.  In other words, if the sender has taken time to send personalized remarks about their plans, the responder should do so as well. Likewise, a longer description of their travel needs and details in the “comments” field calls for a more in-depth and informative response. 
  • Be Specific On What Is Promised And Precise On The Terms.   Given all the opportunities with recognizing e-mail as a potential source of additional revenue,  it is also important to reiterate the importance of having your team provide accurate information, since it will be in writing.  So encourage them to error on the side of caution.  This means rather than just saying: “We have received your request for room number 101 and have noted it on your reservation,” make sure your staff adds a friendly reminder such as “Please keep in mind that we cannot guarantee a specific room number in advance.”
As a final note, this is not to say that we shouldn’t pick up the phone and call someone who has sent an e-mail inquiry if their question or concern involves a complex scenario, unless they have otherwise specifically asked us to respond only by e-mail.  (Even if your website only has a “Contact Us” form requiring  a phone number,  those who don’t want to be called for whatever reason typically enter a fictitious phone number if they don’t want to be called at all.)   

By focusing your organization’s full attention on e-mail as its own unique distribution channel, your hotel or resort might be able to find an additional source of relatively untapped demand.  

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Contact:

Doug Kennedy
(954) 981-7689
doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com
www.KennedyTrainingNetwork.com 
 

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Also See: To Make Hotel Training Work, Make It Fun! / Doug Kennedy / July 2009
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