For the Hotels Sales department, transaction processes are changing. Customers are no longer coming in at the top of the hotel’s sales funnel where they seek general information and awareness of the brand. Previously, both parties anticipated someone from the Sales Team would guide them through the sales process, but now the situation is flipped and customers are defining the buying process.
Customers utilize social media for research, comparison and community input. Hoteliers need to understand that by the time customers end up on their property’s website, they are almost in the end of the buying process. They did all their research, narrowed down their options, and in many cases, they already have an established relationship with the hotel brand.
In this process, the customer is so close, but in many cases yet so far, from making a direct booking. Here is why, and what your hotel can do to fix this.
Why is the social customer NOT making a direct booking on your hotel’s website?
One part of the reason is that many hotels simply misunderstand social selling. Many in hotel marketing and sales departments believe this process requires implementation of a whole new sales process, but nothing could be further from reality. Services like Airbnb and UBER have not replaced other already existing services, they are just providing alternatives that take advantage of new marketing mechanisms.
From a hotel perspective, our job is to use the same marketing mechanisms to create new awareness and focus on alternatives that will add new value for customers.
Customers are a creature of habit. The hotel options available have to meet their basic needs – location, amenities, price, and availability all in one place.
Customers also prefer information that will add value to their experience. This is also one reason why many customers will check hotel reviews before a booking decision is made.
Sites like Airbnb and HomeAway have been able to identify new intriguing trigger points that appeal to customers when it comes to their booking patterns. Two key factors are:
Learn to understand your customers’ identity and where they belong. What does this mean you might ask? Customers today identify themselves with their communities.
Social communities today are the real drivers that influence the customer’s decision process. They build a foundation around listening, awareness, trust and culture.
Tony Hsieh, CEO and founder of Zappos, understood these principles. Zappos implemented games so that when employees logged into their computer, the face of a fellow employee would pop up. They were then asked to put in the name of this employee. If the answer was wrong, a correct a bio and profile of this person would populate on the screen.
Zappos also had a four-week training program for all new employees. At the end of the first week, everyone was offered $2,000 to quit.
My personal favorite was that every employee at Zappos was challenged to make at least one improvement, every week, that better reflected Zappos core values.
One interesting point is that Tony Hsieh believes that the telephone is one of the best branding devices out there.
What hotels can do to meet this challenge
Social media today is very disruptive and noisy. Rumors tend to amplify things in ways that cause many social marketers to jump. We hear Twitter is dead, Millenials don’t use Facebook, Snapchat is the new thing. Yeah, the sky is falling.
Zappos built their foundation around culture, happiness, and their core values. They focused on building their communities having employees that supported the customer experience. If a customer had a concern, it was handled swiftly and efficiently and the company did not question the customer’s honesty. This action supported the culture, happiness and core values, which in turn laid a solid foundation for a unique social community.
Communities are similar to social networks, where people with similar skills and interests gather to discuss and exchange ideas, or participate in events of joint interest.
If your hotel is experiencing challenges where you see a drop in customers, a drop in inquiries, a drop in guest satisfaction or high employee turn-over, social media will not fix this.
You have to start within the hotel to build a new foundation around culture, happiness, and your hotel’s core values. Make sure you include listening, awareness, trust and relationship strategies.
Many might believe what Zappos did is a bit extreme. A four-week training program for new employees? $2,000 to quit?
Can you really put a price on employee happiness? We know happy employees are more productive. Some of Zappos core values include: be humble, do more with less, be passionate, determined, create fun and a little weirdness.
In your training programs, if you embrace new technology and new marketing mechanisms together with listening, awareness, trust and relationship strategies, you have a foundation to communicate with your social community.
If you take a deeper look at Zappos, there is nothing unique with their products. The uniqueness was in the culture, employee happiness, and their social communities. Their mission was to value to the customer experience and as a result, the Zappos social community became their best social media ambassadors. Zappos did not sell their products, they exchanged experiences.