By Sudheer Thakur
In an industry reputed for service excellence, it's ironic that most hotel websites today remain impersonal, unhelpful and unresponsive.
Hotels spend vast amounts of resources to attract prospective guests to their website, only to abandon them to find their own way around. If visitors can't find the information they need, they must call or email the hotel, risking being put on hold or not receiving a reply at all. Or worse, they are obliged to complete a Contact Us form or comb through an FAQ.
Meanwhile, it's 2018 and the rest of the world has moved on to digital messaging and chat. Real-time chat widgets are popping up everywhere online—on telecom sites, software sites and e-commerce sites. These companies understand that an integral part of the purchase process and customer support is the ability to reach a live human being.
A study from eDigitalResearch found that live chat has the highest satisfaction levels of any customer service channel, at 73 percent, compared to 61 percent for email, 48 percent for social media, and 44 percent for the phone.
Few businesses are as well positioned as hotels to offer chat services, with teams of dedicated staff on duty 24/7. Yet only recently have chat widgets begun to pop up on hotel websites.
For most hotels, the real service doesn't start until check-in. But how many potential guests are lost in the process? It's like the proverbial searching under a lamp post—obsessing over guest satisfaction while being blind to the people who are trying to become a guest in the first place.
Some of the resistance comes from misperceptions about what a real-time chat widget is. A chat widget is a pop-up window that greets visitors to a website and offers to assist them. There is no app for visitors to download, no waiting, and no wondering if the hotel received the message. All conversations are recorded and stored so there is no miscommunication or lost information and no query is left unanswered.
Unlike chatbots, which are computer-operated, chat widgets are operated by real people. But there is no need for dedicated employees. Conversations can take place live or over a period of time, much like on SMS and messaging apps. If employees are tied up, the person receives an estimated time of reply and can choose to receive the response by email, text or widget.
This makes the front desk a natural choice for overseeing chat. It's open 24 hours. Staff are knowledgeable, skilled in customer service and multitasking, and trained to take reservations.
Real-time chat is an ideal solution for hotels seeking to enhance service and increase direct bookings. Travelers always have questions when planning trips. Do you have connecting rooms? How much is parking? Should I book through you or Expedia? In fact, my company's internal data shows that over 70 percent of chats involve questions about bookings. If travelers don't get a quick response, they move on—perhaps to the hotel down the street or to an OTA.
Given the inexorable shift toward digital communications in society today, it won't be long before chat widgets are ubiquitous in travel. Already, Airbnb's app is teaching travelers that they can keep in close touch with hosts without ever meeting them. Booking.com launched a chat service in 2016, and Facebook recently launched a Messenger chat plugin for websites.
But do you really want these companies wedging themselves between you and your guests?
With real-time chat, properties like Hotel Fusion and Tilden Hotel engage visitors from the moment they arrive on their website, providing an elevated level of service that increases conversions, drives direct bookings, and earns rave reviews and loyalty from guests.
It's high time the hotel industry reclaimed its leadership position in customer service by positioning friendly, helpful employees at the entry point to the guest experience—the hotel website.