|by Doug Kennedy
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
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
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
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.
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.)
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.”
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.