How smartphones, chatbots, WhatsApp and other instant messaging systems are improving hotel e-commerce
What do mobile, chatbots and instant messaging for hotels really do for hospitality e-commerce? As more and more hoteliers are adopting these technologies, it is worth thinking strategically about how hotels can leverage mobile, instant messaging and chatbots to increase their direct sales and margins.
There are 2 things that need to change in hotel e-commerce:
- You need to find ways to become instantly relevant to all your customers. But, that’s difficult since you only have one website.
- Sales don’t just happen. Hotel direct booking strategies need to adopt a proactive sales approach.
Mobile is more than 60% of your online traffic, but only contributes to 9% of your direct sales. Something is wrong somewhere in your hotel direct sales funnel.
Some people argue that mobile visitors are just people looking before buying on their computer. I don’t believe that it is true as 90% of my online purchases are done through my mobile. You can either keep your head buried in the sand or take action.
Mobile is a change of mindset much more than a simple technical innovation. Smartphones are the most user-centric devices ever. We love our mobile so much because we’re used to turning to them for everything.
Google named this behavior the Age of Assistance. Interaction is the natural format in which to deliver information through mobile. And that’s what needs to evolve in hotel e-commerce. In other words, self-service e-commerce is not sufficient anymore. You need to adopt a proactive sales approach and drive customer engagement.
Online visitors that go to your website are very likely to travel. So they are highly valuable leads that you need to capture. Don’t expect people to go all the way to you anymore. Reach for them as soon as you possibly can and invest effort in your sales process. Richard Gale from Leopold Hotel Brussels once shared this smart insight with me – too many hoteliers expect sales to just happen on their website. Sales do not just happen.
On average, hotels spend 96X more on traffic than on conversion and sales follow-up. Traffic is good but once your potential customer is there, what do you do? You have a booking engine. Great! But you still have only 2% conversion. You’re like beautiful girls/boys with no conversation!
What you really need to do is see your sales process as a funnel, with conversion as the last step. Some customers (2%) will jump right to it. Your objective for the rest should be to bring them to the next step of the funnel. Then, step-by-step drive them towards direct conversion.
Here’s how you maximize your chances of engaging customers in your direct booking process. You simply provide easy access to the content they want and need to make a decision. Remember that mobile devices have small screens. That’s where personalization and instant service come into play. Your first direct booking challenge is to be instantly relevant.
Currently, Google is changing the way it displays content. It is behaving more and more like a chatbot in trying to answer directly to users, questions such as Who is the king of Sweden?
And here is what happens when I look for a hotel.
The Internet is no longer only about search. It is more and more about being relevant and answering customer questions as fast as possible. Now let’s see how hotels can leverage instant messaging and chatbots to improve their direct sales funnel.
Leverage chatbots and instant messaging for hotels to patch the holes in your direct booking funnel
The most popular mobile apps are instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. The first thing to think about is how you can leverage these platforms for sales and marketing purposes. Each hotel has its own angle but one thing is for certain – you should be available on those channels.
The second point is, since these platforms are what your customers prefer, it might make sense to mimic some of their key features in your hotel direct booking process. That’s where hotel chatbots come into play. In short, a chatbot is a robot that is able to have a conversation about your hotel with people online.
Back to your sales funnel. You have visitors on your website and most of them go away without a purchase. Your hotel chatbot’s first objective is to engage them so that they spend more time with you. About 65% of customer interactions are of low value. The most frequent question posed to a hotel chatbot is “what is the check-in time?” You clearly don’t need a human for that.
Once you have engagement, the second step is qualifying the lead. In a conversation, it is quite easy for your hotel chatbot to ask for contact details. Very soon you have a complete customer profile with dates of stay, the number of people traveling, name, email and phone number. Either the chatbot will be able to sell the room on the spot or your customer will need some time to think. Hotel rooms are expensive after all!
That’s when your sales team will receive an email from your chatbot so that it can easily follow-up by email or phone. Contrary to a web search, the customer has started a conversation with you that you can leverage to help him move one step further towards conversion.
This way of selling requires effort, but if you do it right, it works. Hotel Le Six in Paris tried it for one year and monitored all the conversations that originated from their chatbot. Their average conversion rate is 25%.
Example of an email sent by Zalia chatbot to the hotel sales team
If you’d like to discuss more about chatbots and instant messaging for hotels, or have questions about artificial intelligence in the hospitality industry, please visit our website or contact Benjamin Devisme at email@example.com.