Now that so many technology companies have provided the means to chat online with customers, an ever-increasing number of vacation rental companies have yet another way, beyond email and phone, to engage both prospective and existing guests. Maybe this is a new medium for your lodging company or perhaps you are well into the process. Either way, it is important to recognize what a fantastic tool this is for reaching out and connecting with those web-surfing guests who might otherwise book with another hotel, resort, or vacation rental company—or book via an expensive third-party travel agency.
While conducting reservations sales training for all types of lodging operations, I frequently get to peek behind the scenes and see firsthand the live chat exchanges popping up in real time. Most of the time, I see guests who have already committed to a booking sending over basic questions such as, “The reservation is in my name, but my spouse is arriving early, can he check-in?” or “Do you have a crib and high chair for my baby?” Other times I see those who are ready to book, but who still have simple questions such as, “How many parking spaces are included?” or “Besides the rental fee, how much money will you be holding on my credit card?” Occasionally, the questions are a bit more complicated but still pretty easy to answer via chat such as, “Hello, I already booked a reservation, and I know you don’t take pets, but can I bring my dog? He never barks, doesn’t shed, and has no fleas.” Of course that’s “Unfortunately, no!”
However, what always surprises me is how many times prospective guests send us complex questions that potentially take up a great deal of time (and a lot of typing) to fully respond to. For example, “Which accommodation would you recommend for honeymooners?,” or “What’s the difference between the standard and premium category homes?,” or “Is this one a good choice for families?”
In my training programs, I always advocate for a phone call in these situations. Participants resist at first, and the most common response is, “If they wanted to talk on the phone, they would have called us! These are ‘chat’ people, Doug!” Managers seem to be biased towards using pre-written templates to respond quickly by simply answering the question rather than personalizing the messaging to push for a sale. Yet, once they give my ideas a try, they find that some guests are very open to talking. It’s just that, for whatever reason, they started out on chat. Hey, it’s worth a try, right? Isn’t it better to engage an undecided guest via phone so we can share our enthusiasm and show empathy for their travel plans or circumstances? Can’t we read the guest better when we can hear their reactions, vocalizations, and inflections?
So when you find yourself fielding complex questions that make it obvious that the sender has not yet decided to book, try replying, “That’s a great question! Are you by chance near a phone so I can give you a quick call to help you plan?” Indeed, some might respond back by saying, “No, I’m in a waiting room,” or “No, I’m at my kid’s piano school,” or “No, I’m supposed to be working and my boss is in the next cubicle!” However you will also find that a good percentage of them say, “Sure! Call me at . . .” and your chances of converting the inquiry into a sale have just increased many times over.