The Five-Star Guest Experience: Elevating Guest Communications

The guest communication landscape has changed. With over 80% of lodging reservations being made online, it is vital to have solid communication operations in place for your business to survive. New technology has enabled us to now have the ability to communicate with guests in a personal, yet often automated, manner.

Join E Scot Fuller-Beatty, Sr. Account Manager at ThinkReservations and Innkeeper/Owner of The Chadwick Bed & Breakfast in Portland, Maine, as he teaches, step-by-step how you can start to implement the tools that will help your customers find you and keep coming back for more!

What do attendees gain:

  • The timeline of the various forms of guest communication from customer acquisition to remarketing.
  • The importance of your web presence in the guest communication process.
  • Various tools and technologies that you can use to assist throughout the entire guest lifecycle.

Webinar Transcript

Please note: This transcript has been edited slightly from the original to include updates and remove irrelevant content that does not alter the overall message and takeaways.


  • E Scot Fuller-Beatty, Director of Sales & Education, ThinkReservations
  • Laura McDowell, Director of Marketing, ThinkReservations

Scot: How many of you wish that you could communicate better with your guests, and now, how many of you wish that your guests would communicate better with you?

Well, that's what we're gonna cover today, and the way that we really do that is through effective communication, through a variety of channels. So, what is effective communication? Effective communication really is about making your job easier.

It puts guests more at ease with their stay, knowing that they have the information that they need to know when they need to know it. It makes them feel comfortable to be able to ask for assistance if they need to. And I think we all would agree, we don't mind guests asking us questions to make their stay more enjoyable!

I’m going to walk through the life cycle of guest communications, starting with what I call discoverability, how guests find you in the digital age.

We're going to talk about website and booking engine interaction, the tools that you should be utilizing, and must-haves to aid guests with the decision-making process - the one where they need to decide IF they want to stay with you.

We're going to talk about while they're on the property and the best communication techniques for that time, as well as communication after they leave to hopefully make these people return guests and also help you draw new guests your way.

What is Customer Service? (3:35)

So, my question for everybody is, would your customers crawl over broken glass to return to your property?

Most of us are going to say, “No, they wouldn't be willing to”. But that just means that there's more work that we have to do to communicate effectively with our customers.

Exceptional Customer Service

So, let's talk about customer service because it boils down to what customer service is. When we talk about exceptional customer service, we’re really talking about, in the moment, making a customer feel that they're the most important person in the world.

[For example], if we're doing a return at a store, or we are asking questions at a store, it's really about that one moment. Exceptional customer service means there's nothing you wouldn't do in that moment to make their day better.

However, in lodging, our definition of customer service is really different. It's about making that customer feel that they're the most important person in the world before they even arrive at your front door. And there's nothing that you wouldn't do to make their day better even after they have departed. So we have a lot more responsibility. There's a difference there and if we want to excel in our communication and excel in our customer service, we need to be meeting the guests in all of these locations.

Discoverability (5:32)

So first we're going to talk about discoverability, where does communication begin in today's digital age?

And really, what that boils down to is using Google effectively. Why is it about Google? Because most web searches are done on Google. And the rules that Google sets up eventually are adopted by all the other channels, like Bing and Yahoo and all of that.

What it boils down to is, if you're making Google happy, then you're making everybody happy on the web. And so that's why I'm really focusing on Google itself and using that effectively.

So what makes you show up best on Google?

Well, I'm going to break it down into the three parts of the Google search page. When someone types in “bed and breakfast, Portland, Maine”, or “lodging, Portland, Maine”, let's kinda dissect what that page looks like and what they see.

Organic Results

The one that we always talk about is the organic results. This is really related to search engine optimization. That's what SEO stands for - for those that have been kind of “in the clouds” about that. I was there for a long time! The one that we always talk about is the organic results. This is really related to search engine optimization. That's what SEO stands for - for those that have been kind of “in the clouds” about that. I was there for a long time!

To appear in the organic search results, Google sets the rules for what they need from the content of your website and how your website behaves. We have some great industry partners out there that work specifically with small, medium, and large lodging, that they're really pros at building websites in our industry - they're really the ones who are on top of this.

One thing to know is that they penalize websites for not following those rules as well. So, if your page loads slowly, if you don't have mobile responsiveness, if you don't have those things that we continually are told by the industry we should have, we need to get there.

Now, some things Google actually penalizes you for. And you may not end up in the organic search results on that first page or maybe not even on the second or third or fourth page. And we are very focused on the first page, because, just think of your Google searches. How many times have you gone to the second page, much less the third, or the fourth page, for what you're looking for? As I mentioned before, all the other search engines eventually adopt Google's rules. And where the organic results appear now is on the bottom third of the first page of the search results.

Organic results, when Google first came around, were at the top of the page, But now, they’re at the bottom third of the page.

To appear in the organic search results, Google sets the rules for what they need from the content of your website and how your website behaves. We have some great industry partners out there that work specifically with small, medium, and large lodging, that they're really pros at building websites in our industry - they're really the ones who are on top of this.

One thing to know is that they penalize websites for not following those rules as well. So, if your page loads slowly, if you don't have mobile responsiveness, if you don't have those things that we continually are told by the industry we should have, we need to get there.

Now, some things Google actually penalizes you for. And you may not end up in the organic search results on that first page or maybe not even on the second or third or fourth page. And we are very focused on the first page, because, just think of your Google searches. How many times have you gone to the second page, much less the third, or the fourth page, for what you're looking for? As I mentioned before, all the other search engines eventually adopt Google's rules. And where the organic results appear now is on the bottom third of the first page of the search results.

Organic results, when Google first came around, were at the top of the page, But now, they’re at the bottom third of the page.

Google Ads

The other part of that first page of Google is the pay-per-click advertising (PPC). Google calls this Google Ads, Other search engines call it other things, but Google Ads is an advertising service you can use to appear in the paid search results, or at the very top of the page.

These are the types of ads that make sure that you do appear on the first page of Google, even if your organic result doesn't. We're all familiar with the 20 calls we get a day from people saying, “hey, we want to help you get on the first page of Google”. This is what they're trying to sell you, - paid search. They aren't necessarily trying to help you organically with your SEO, but they're just saying, “pay us a lot of money, we’ll bid on key terms and we'll get you on the front page. I recommend that you reach out to whoever your website marketing company is to talk about that.

This can be a really useful tool when you are in a heavily competitive market to make sure that you're showing up for those terms. If you've done all your work with SEO and you still aren't getting on the organic results, this is a great way to put your name on that first page.

But because we're very used to seeing these ads now, with almost anything you search on Google, I think a lot of people have been trained to look past the advertisements. And you'll see that it says, “Ad” next to it. I think we've been trained to look down further in the page.

But these are still important, and it's a great way to be able to show up in the organic results and in the paid results as well. The other thing I like to mention on this page is to acknowledge the things you don't know how to do and find the people who can do them for you.

I know I've mentioned already, reach out to your website and your marketing companies, if you're using those, or go to conferences. Go to industry webinars, and listen to the things that they are saying. Not all webinars in our industry are a sales pitch for a product, and they can really give you some great tips and tricks on how to do this either yourself or by utilizing their services.

For example, I don't like cleaning guestrooms as much anymore, so I've hired people to now do housekeeping. So, I'm acknowledging that I don't like doing that. And now I have people in place that do that.

Google’s Local Pack

So the third one is going to be Google's Local Pack.

And this has actually become quite important. This is the middle of the page, so we have the advertisements at the top of the search query. We have the organic results at the bottom of the search query, and in the middle of the page are local businesses, the Google Local Pack.

This is where they're trying to say, “Hey, we think we know what you're looking for, and we're going to make it easy for you and offer up some suggestions.”

The key to making sure that you end up in the local pack is to claim your Google Business page. It's absolutely free. You should claim that, and you should make sure that it is completely filled out.

Also, Google Reviews play into who gets to show up in the local pack versus who gets into the “Show More” area.

The other factor that plays into being in the local pack is your website SEO.


Another thing that I think businesses, especially in our industry, should really utilize is building on the local backlinks and working with other directories. This is really easy for us, because we're in the business of helping people enjoy and plan their vacations. So we have, for instance, restaurants that we always recommend, or we have amusements, places that people go, the museums, the festivals, and stuff like that.

Building those backlinks only helps your website build credibility as a place people do business with when they're traveling to wherever your region is.

The key to that is making sure that the backlinks themselves are staying current on your website. And there's lots of tools online to actually check to see if the links you have on your website are actually going to places, or if they're dead links. And when they're dead links, you want to make sure to update them, so that you aren't penalized by Google. So that's a really good technique - link you to other local places. So Google really knows, “Hey, they belong here.”

Similarly, work with directories to link to your site. If you have a local chamber, and they make it available for you to put your link from their website to yours, or you're working with other directories online, then you want to make sure that you're utilizing that and you have a link back to your website.

Should you make pricing available?

On another note, I say “make pricing available” with an asterix. Because currently, Google does not say to end up in the Google Local pack that you have to have prices available. But we know from experience with Google that, oftentimes, they don't say that it's required. They don't expose the algorithm that makes you appear in this. Then they eventually have a suggestion, like, “you should maybe do this.” And then they start to say, “you'll be penalized if you don't.”

As far as I'm aware, they haven't said that it's required or penalized for it at this point, but the more and more that I do these searches with properties, it's very rare that I come across a lodging business featured in a Google local pack that doesn't have a price that's associated with it.

So, what’s the goal?

Something I found very, very interesting was a Moz case study that showed where people are looking on the page when they do Google searches. I was pretty amazed to learn that in that study 44% of participants clicked on the local pack as their next step after doing a search. So for your property, if you want to get people there, with nearly half of the people actually using this as the next click, it's more important than ever to be doing the things to get yourself into that pack.

29% clicked on organic listings, so that still is really important. And nearly 20% clicked on the paid results. So it really is a combination of all of these things. Lastly, that smallest group was the group that chose more local results. And in the graphic example I have here, that would be the “More Hotels” area.

So really, the goal is, I think, for any business, is to actually appear three times on the first page of Google query. That's kinda the trifecta. Of course, we want to be in the organic results. As I hope you're walking away with, now, of course, you want to end up in the three pack itself. And then, because 20% are clicking on paid results, I think it is important that you participate in things like Google Ads. And make sure to monitor that so you know the money you're spending is actually money that's coming back to you. That you're making profit. That that's a good marketing decision for you. So that's the trifecta - titting all three spots.

Are OTAs important? (16:57)

Next, I'm going to ask the question of why OTAs are important, and what I'm going to ask everybody to do right now is let's just forget that there's any hatred in the world for the OTA. Let's just forget about it. Let's pretend that I'm introducing it for the first time to you. Because, OTAs, if you do use them correctly and effectively, they will do the two things that they promise you when you sign up with them.

Their sales line is that they're going to help you book more rooms, and they're going to help you make more revenue.

What we need to do is work smartly with them to actually hold them to those. And there definitely are ways to do that when it comes to yield management.

But there are a couple of other reasons why OTAs are important.

Wait, what’s an OTA?

First of all, if you're unfamiliar with the term OTA, it means online travel agency. I like to call them third party booking sites, because that makes a heck of a lot more sense to me. These are sites like, Expedia, Tripadvisor, and Airbnb, where people are finding your listing on their site and they are selling your room for you.

Now, they are commission-based, so you are going to pay these websites a commission for helping you book that room. In essence, I like to think of them as a marketing company. They’re marketing the available rooms that you have given them, and they're going to do everything they can do to sell them through their website.

So to do that, you're paying them a commission. And that commission can range anywhere from 3-20%, depending on the website that you're working with.

And why are they important?

But this is where it ties back to Google’s Local Pack or possibly affects your placement in the Google Local Pack. Remember how I talked about showing your price? Unfortunately, Google is not going to your website to grab that price.

Instead, they're taking an easier right route and doing a meta search and they're looking to find your pricing on places like and Expedia, and their affiliate sites, and that's where they're getting that pricing.

And as I mentioned before, I'm seeing less and less - I can't even think of a time in the last six months where I have seen properties without pricing for the top businesses. Unless it was a very small area where there's not a lot of lodging options, so there's not a lot of competition.

Now, there are a couple of things to help you with that local pack to keep in mind. When someone does search “bed and breakfasts, Seattle, Washington”, for example, they haven't provided Google a date that they're looking for. And what we do know is that Google was looking for a price two Sunday's into the future.*

That was the initial price that they were showing and when they click for more information, they can then put in actual dates and see the correct quote.

Please note that this has changed and can change again at any time, so keep an eye on how your own business shows up and tweak your strategy as needed.

Even if you don't really work with OTAs, or don't want to work with OTAs, if you have something up there it could help your results. And having a price there for people to click over into those results could lead them to your website to make a direct booking.

And as I mentioned before, if we use OTAs correctly, they can really help you drive more customers to your business.

I will say that all of these sites that you're on, whether they be OTA websites or social media sites or directory sites, cause what is called the “billboard effect”. And every marketer that I've spoken to has definitely said that the billboard effect is not dead. So, what is the billboard effect?

The Billboard Effect (21:20)

Each time I see your business name on different websites, it’s going to build my confidence as a shopper to know this is a place that people stay when they go to wherever your city is. It’s communicating to them that, hey, this is a place people like to stay, it's a good place, because they keep seeing this name come up. And I've heard a wide range of anywhere from an average of four websites, which I think is really low, all the way up to 30 websites people visit before they make any sort of booking decision.

And all of these companies are dealing with their own SEO placement. So, the more that they can come up in search results, that's going to only increase the number of times you maybe show up in paid results,but also in the organic results, as well. So there is a possibility of actually appearing more than three times on the first page of a Google search.

Social Media (22:21)

That leads us really into social media, and my feeling with social media is that you should either use it or lose it.

I feel like there was a big drive years ago to say, “Oh, you need to have Facebook, and you need to have Google+, and you need to have Pinterest, and you need to have Twitter, and you need to have Instagram, etc.” But I can say, as a shopper, if I click on your social media link, once I get to your website, and social media is coming up in organic results more and more, and I see your Christmas tree from 2013, that's not really telling me that you're interested in communicating with your guests or that you really participate in this.

So if you have one, or two, or three that you're really comfortable using, make sure to use them. Ask yourself, when was the last time I posted on it? And I'm not saying necessarily get rid of it, but if you know you aren't going to keep using it, get rid of it. It doesn't make sense and it’s not good communication for your guests.

As for your actual posts on these social media sites, remember they don't always have to be about you. I'm going to talk a little bit later and basically say people aren't coming specifically to stay with you or your property. They're coming to the area because they have things to do. It's either attending the wedding, exploring the city, or for a romantic getaway.

And you're a part of that but you're not the main attraction when it comes down to it. So talk about things that you can do in your area. Highlight other area businesses. Highlight special events that are happening. Because they can really be used to entice people to come to your property. Maybe they've liked you, but they've never actually stayed with you. If they fall in love with your destination, they're more likely now to book with you, because you're the one who told them about it.

Also, with social media on your website, I recommend that you do have links to it. But don't make it so apparent for people to click on your social media, because kind of the rule of the game is, once we get them onto your website, we don't want them leaving your website unless they're going into your booking engine to make a reservation.

And we all know what happens when you click on any one of these social media links. It brings you to, for example, your Facebook page, and then you happen to see that you have some notices and then you start reading those posts that were there. And then you start looking at something else. And all of a sudden, you're watching cat videos and 45 minutes later, you're still watching cat videos. And you forgot that you were supposed to be, you know, researching for your getaway, your vacation, whatever, and that you had already fallen in love with the property that brought you off of their website and into your social media.

So I say almost make them hidden on your website. On my website, I've purposely muted them so that they don't stick out as much.

The Value of Guest Reviews

Then, lastly, we hear all the time that reviews are important, but that's part of the discoverability. And reviews are very important to your discoverability. Most third party advertising websites have some sort of review component to that, like, where you can review after you've stayed.

Or, maybe it's just a straightforward review site. They give guests an opinion about your business before they actually even experienced themselves. And what they read on those sites can either boost their booking confidence, or they can hurt it.

So I'm admitting that this is a big part of discoverability, but I actually think that it's the thing that ties the whole circle together after the guests stay with you. So, we're going to talk about reviews later.

Q&A Part 1 (26:25)

So, we have reached our first point to do some Q&A. So, I'm going to hand it over to Laura to see if there have been any questions that have come up.

Laura: Right now, we have one question just looking for a little bit more information about what a backlink is, if you can give a little bit more detail there, Scot.

Scot: Yeah, an example of a backlink - I'll actually talk about my website. Portland, Maine is an extremely foodie city. It has the most restaurants per capita after San Francisco. So little old Portland, Maine, more restaurants per capita than any other place except for San Francisco.

We actually have a “What to do in Portland” page, and on that we have a section about restaurants. And each one of those restaurants that we're recommending, well, they all have websites. We have a link directly to their website, which then connects us to the greater local community in Portland, which, apparently, Google loves. Because it shows that you're active, that you're you're a real thing in Portland, Maine, in my case.

On the other side, the links that other businesses post to you, as well. So I know a lot of people advertise on places like, I Love Inns. Those links are important to come back to you as well. Because those websites have done their work to build authority as a directory in that case. And so they have an authority of being a website people go to when they're traveling and looking for lodging and oh, they happen to have a link back to you and only build your credibility in Google's eyes.

It also helps to have other businesses in your area have links to you. So one of the big ones that I really recommend is your local Chamber of Commerce, or whatever that group is called. And just like you connected to restaurants, maybe a restaurant isn't going to give lodging recommendations, but maybe something like the local museum, or the local concert venue, attractions that attract overnight guests, they may be willing to have a link to you, back to your website.

The real key here is that you want to make sure that they have quality websites as well. I may be wrong on this, but my understanding is that if they are, you know, the greatest websites and greatest of SEO, that it might have an effect. Those links coming to you might have an effect. So it's not just about getting your link out there. It's also having other quality websites that link back to you and you linking to quality websites as well.

Any other questions, Laura?

Laura: Yeah, we have one more that just came in. Do you require a recommended backlink to link back to you, or do you just request it?

Scot: I have never required anything. I have not required anything. For me, I can only think of 2 or 3 times I've actually asked someone to link back to me, whereas, most of the time, I have put a lot of effort into who I link with. But also making sure that things that I have control over, like the directories, or my Convention and Visitors Bureau page, stuff like that, where I can edit my own sort of profile to make sure that everything is working correctly.

One of the big things I did when we moved from HTTP to HTTPS, was making sure to go back to all those websites and update it to that link from HTTP to HTTPS, just to make sure that it was an absolute clean transition over to me.

Laura: Alright, thanks so much, I think we're ready to go forward.

Communication Through Your Website (30:56)

Scot: OK, so next, what we're gonna move into website and booking engine interactions. So now, they found out about us, they are on our website and what can make our websites effective communication tools that express our brand and our message?

One of the things that is really important for your website in the industry is called NAP + Website. That stands for name, address, phone number, and website. Customers need this information and Google wants it there. too.

I cannot tell you the number of times I've had somebody say, hey, we're interested in ThinkReservations and here's my website, and I go to the website.

It's the first part of my day. I'm on the east coast, it's maybe 8:30 in the morning, and I'm looking at your website, and I have no clue where you are even located.

Are you east coast? Are you west coast? Are you in the middle of the country somewhere? When is it a good time for me to actually call you and respond to you?

And if I'm having that problem, as someone who you've reached out to to do business with, imagine what your customers are feeling, if they aren't able to even tell if you're in the right place that they're even traveling to, or that there's no communication technique with a phone number, or even an email address, or anything like that.

And Google, like I said, Google wants it there, too, this is something that they will knock you down for not having it. So, you definitely want to get that on your homepage and all of your pages I believe. And this should not be a graphic. Sometimes I look at websites and I see that the name is actually a graphic, but it never appears like a logo. It never appears anywhere else typed out on your page.

This actually has to be typed out, including your website. It should appear, you know, on your website as because Google is scouring all that information.

Make sure that this information is easily accessible, because some guests, they just simply prefer to call. Not everybody is going to do online booking with you. There always will be people who do want to call, so let's make it easy for those people to do that.

What about your booking engine?

And, if you do experience a high number of calls, you may want, it might not just be that people want to make those phone calls. It might be the effectiveness of your booking engine.

There are booking engines that work better than others. At ThinkReservations, we're confident that we're one of the best booking engines out there. We know from our research that our customers experience less calls after they make the switch to ThinkReservations because it isn't an easy process to go through.

So you want to check the effectiveness of your booking engine. I highly encourage you to go to your booking engine and try to make a reservation as though you're the guest, because that's not something you're exactly used to, and see if you get caught up in the process, or if you're able to do it smoothly. Note where you maybe had a second of hesitation or had a question about what you should do next. And that could be something that is causing people to call your business to make the reservation.

Use Your Voicemail Greeting

Also have a voicemail message that lets people know that they can book online. I do call businesses a lot and get voicemail. And I hear, you know, “Thank you for calling the Mainstay bed and breakfast. Please leave a message after the beep.”

We can communicate better to people so that they can go to our website. “Here's our website, in case you haven't found it, and you even have the ability to make your reservation online.”

Targeting Your Ideal Guest

I'd like to talk about targeting your ideal guest on your website, also, and your website should really tell your core values of what you're offering as a brand, and what your core values are as a human being. Your Website should be able to communicate those two things, your brand, and what you're offering.

And I say that because when you attract people to your business that are like-minded, that are like you, then you're gonna have a much easier time with those guests. You aren't going to have nearly as many problems, I should say, then with guests who show up and it's something they did not expect.

So for instance, if you absolutely love going out to restaurants, and you love sharing that, you should be sharing that on social media, that's great for posts. But if your area offers great restaurants, talk about that as something that people can do, that when you come here, you can experience wonderful restaurants. It's a great reason to come.

If you're an outdoor enthusiast in your area and you have a place that has no TVs, no cell phone reception, stuff like that, if a guest doesn't know that before they get there, they might end up being upset. But if they know that they're booking a break away from the world, getaway vacation, retreat, whatever that is and you offer great outdoor activities to get people out and about and really disconnect then those are the people you want. So does your website communicate that information?

We have a customer who is a big quilter - she loves quilting, and she actually had a whole space in our house that was dedicated to quilting. And she ran all of these quilting retreats in her slow season that have brought a lot of business, throughout the year, not just for those retreat weekends. It brought the people who were also interested in quilting, and had great conversations with her about that.

Another group is LGBTQ. I can't tell you the number of people that have, because we give the impression [on our website] that we are LGBTQ friendly, privately told me as guests to say that they so appreciate their stay with us because they have never, even in 2018, felt welcome at another lodging property that they have stayed at. But they knew coming here that there wasn't going to be any sort of issue with the fact that, you know, they were traveling together, and we're part of that group.

So those are just some examples of things that you can think about - what are your core values, who is your ideal gas? And make sure that you're marketing to those people, that your website is marketing to those people. It's going to make your job easier. You're communicating exactly who you want to come stay with you.

Good Photography is Worth the Investment

Another thing on your website is good photography. Photography tells the story of your property, and we know today, more and more people are doing less reading and are more visual. If we think of the largest social media platform that is growing today, it is Instagram. And Instagram started out as only pictures. You couldn't put any words or text to it. And today, it's the largest growing social media platform. And you can't post unless you have a picture attached there.

So when I talk about photography with people, I talk about three areas you really want to focus on when you have this done: room, property, and food.

The room, because this is where the guest needs to be able to see themselves staying. They're going to be spending the most amount of time in this place and they need to be able to see themselves enjoying this space. Sometimes I'm asked, “Scot, should we have people in our photos?” And I say, it depends on a room photo, I don't think you should, because the guest needs to be able to picture themselves and their partner in this space, not being surrounded by other people.

The next is the common area spaces, the property photos. These are great photos to actually have people in, because people expect to be around other people in these types of photos. So highlight what they're going to experience, because this is where they're going to spend the second most amount of time: in your dining room, in your living room and other common areas. Maybe it's your fire pit outside. Maybe it's the great hammock. Maybe it's the beach that you have. Whatever your property and amenities are.

And lastly, most of us on this webinar today have B & B, and our title, so let's not forget about that second “B”, breakfast. Let your breakfast sell. I hear, and I see on our reservations that come through all the time, that, especially with men who are booking, that the food is what actually sold them.

We'll have reservations that will come in that will ask for specific dishes that we have photographs of on our website, and that's what they would like us to serve while we're here, and we're happy to accommodate that when we can. So let's not forget about that.

And food photography, it just really brings most properties to the next level. Because all of us here, we are not serving eggs and bacon. This is a huge thing that we provide that the local hotel is not providing.

If I go to the Hilton Garden Inn, I'm gonna have a make your own waffle station, a paper plate and plastic fork, but there's still advertising that you get breakfast with your rate. Why are we not highlighting that? This is what you get, this photo right here. This is what you get when you stay with us, and your breakfast is included. It's a no-brainer decision about where I'm going to book now.

Tell Them What to Do

Next on your website should be really great call-to-action buttons. Again, when I go to people's websites sometimes I'm amazed at the number of times I have to click around to even find out how to make a reservation with them, to find out what booking platform that they're using. So, call-to-action buttons should literally appear on every page, because you never know what is going to be the trigger that makes them decide they want to make a booking. If you have a breakfast page and you have recipes and stuff like that, maybe it's when they read what you're offering for breakfast or a recipe that they go, “Oh, yeah. Totally staying here.” Have something, a Call to Action button there. It's an invitation for the guests to click on it.

Specifically with your homepage, research shows that it's when it's in your header, in the upper right-hand corner, that is instinctually where people are looking for that button. And it should stand out visually. It shouldn't blend into your base page. I've heard people use the words, “se a contrasting color to your website for your call to action buttons.”

And there's been research done on “Check Availability” versus “Book Now”. And by far, “Check Availability” is clicked on more often than “Book Now”. So that's something to consider about what your button is also saying as well. We want to make it easy for people to book with you online.

So I've already touched on this, social media links should almost be hidden. We don't want them leaving your website. I said that. But also as more and more of us are adding video to our website, whether you're using YouTube or Vimeo, you want to make sure to take a look at your settings and make sure that autoplay is turned off. Because when those autoplay videos are turned on, it's bringing them to something that YouTube or Vimeo has decided, “Oh, this is pretty similar.” And in our case, it could be the bed & breakfast next door, and maybe they have a better video than what you have. So we don't want to use our websites to make people leave to go checkout somebody else. So if you do have that video, make sure in your settings that the autoplay is turned off, and usually that is done in your YouTube or Vimeo account.

Stop the Music

And I do have to just put this out here, because I still am seeing this in 2018: do not have auto music play on your website. Research shows most people are looking and shopping, well, at work, and the last thing they want is to all of a sudden have music play. And in most cases, it just results in people instantly leaving the website, turning it off. They aren't even giving you a chance. So if you have music on your website, take it off, in most cases.

In some cases, if you absolutely want it there, just don't have an autoplay. It is, I promise, you, turning people away from your website, before even giving you a chance.

They're Ready to Check Availability

So next, as they move off of your website and into your booking engine, we want to make sure that this is easy for guests to use, and that we're continuing to effectively communicate with them. And it is important to test your booking engine for some of these things.

So one of the things that people don't often associate with communication is using communication techniques to actually make more money, to increase your revenue on the guests that are coming and staying with you. So how can we use those opportunities?

What if nothing's available?

One thing that I really like that we offer in ThinkReservations is the Waitlist. The question I ask is when you're in your booking engine, what if you're fully booked for a particular date that a guest is looking for? What is your booking engine telling them? Is it just saying, “he process stops here”? Or is it telling them that, “hey, we could collect some more information, and we may be able to help you out”? And that's really what the Waitlist does. It gives them an option to sign up for a waitlist, without having to have to call you.

And these are some of the key features the Waitlist should offer:

  • It needs to show up automatically
  • You need to be able to keep track of who's waiting for a room so that when you get those cancelations, it's easy to rebook those rooms potentially on the same day that the room was canceled
  • It should also be separate from your customer list; you want to market to these potential customers differently

If you're sending out a newsletter or an email blast that says, “Remember your great stay at the Chadwick Bed & Breakfast?”, that's not going to have as much of an impact if all they ever did was sit on your waitlist. And they just feel like they're part of an automated process. So, make sure that your waitlist is separate from your customer list.

The Price is Right

You should also be able to communicate different pricing strategies. Maybe you offer special rates like a AAA or a military rate. If you talk about those things on your website, make sure that it's easy for people to actually book that way. A lot of times, I see that people have special rates, but they tell people to call to book it this way.

But specifically with ThinkReservations, we give you the ability to actually put a description with your rates to let them know what they're getting with this special rate. And you can also add language like “must present military ID at the time of check in, or it reverts back to the standard rate”.

You can put those restrictions in there so that the guest can make that reservation online, when it's convenient for them, in the fashion that they want to do it.

Tell Me More

And make sure that the booking engine itself, that it's really easy for people to find answers to the questions that they have. When it comes to room descriptions, for example, ThinkReservations provides the ability to share a detailed overview. Let them know exactly what they're getting with what they're booking.

And if you're getting a lot of questions from people saying, “hey, I'm in the booking engine, and I have a question about this room”, maybe it's time to add that to that room description, to clarify things.

Generally, I like to say your room description in your booking engine should match exactly your room description on your website.

Would you like fries with that?

Also, you should be able to offer packages as a rate type. This is what we call a true package. It's the items that they're purchasing, bundled with add-ons. These generate more revenue for your business and customers like to buy packages because it's one buying decision instead of two or more buying decisions. With ThinkReservations, you’ll see a total price for all of the things included.

And when packages are purchased this way, you have a lot of flexibility over how you actually price those items. So that’s to your advantage. Maybe you want to include a service fee in there. The good news is, we're not going to itemize those things to the customer. They're just going to see the package price without those individual components.

Another thing to consider with packages like this is are your taxes being correctly calculated? Some of the other systems I've looked at, when you create a package, it just takes whatever your lodging tax is, and just applies it.

But maybe you have certain components of that package that need to be priced and taxed differently, like a romance package that has a bottle of wine in it. Well, in the state of Maine, I don't have to collect lodging tax on a bottle of wine, but for whatever I'm selling that bottle of wine for, whatever that equals in the package needs to have state alcohol tax applied. In every state this is going to be different.

The Traditional Upsell

Another thing is traditional upsell items, which I break into three categories: items, services, and what I call standalone packages.

Standalone packages are available after you've picked your room and rate and now you can choose to pay additional for a package of items and services.

The packages that we see do really well with our customers are the packages that I call broad scope. They would apply to the majority of your guests. So, things like lovers packages, adventure packages, foodie packages, pampering packages, those apply to many of your guests. But things like a birthday celebration, babymoon, or anniversary, that's a smaller group of your guests and those do really well as standalone packages along with additional items and services.

With a Twist

One thing that, if you're a ThinkReservations customer, you should know, is that you have the ability, with your upsell page, to really customize this to the guest who has made it this far in your booking engine. So maybe you have your chocolate-covered strawberries but you need at least two days notice. If anyone wants to order those for reservation, you can set up a rule that says, only offer this if they're booking two or more days in advance.

Maybe you offer an in-room massage. But it's only offered to the rooms that are large enough. You can set up restrictions on those items to say, only offer these to people when they have put one of these rooms in their cart.

Maybe you only do certain things on certain days of the week or during certain times of the year, like your high season. Or you’re booking tours for someone. Or you have a restaurant, but you only serve certain nights of the week. Again, you can set restrictions to show on your booking engine only when those requirements are met.

So, just like how we're all familiar with the Rooms page in ThinkReservations not offering them rooms that they don't actually qualify for., we don't want to offer them things to buy that they don't actually qualify for. I think the only thing worse than not selling items is selling them and having them to contact them and, in essence, say to them, thanks for spending money with me, and offering me more money, but I can't take that money, because we can't actually give you this.

If you're wondering what you should do, think of those packages that you want to sell, and those included items can be broken down into a la carte items. So maybe you have a romance package where you have flowers, a bottle of champagne, and chocolate-covered strawberries. Maybe somebody doesn't want to pay for the whole package, but they'll pay a premium for just the chocolate-covered strawberries or premium for just the bottle of champagne.

And this is all about perspective. Don't worry about sounding too salesy and upselling things. Remember, people are coming for experiences, not just to stay at your property.

You're actually helping them make their vacation better by offering them these things. And we know from our research that, point blank, our customers that offer packages and items make more revenue. And they sell more frequently as they offer more items and services.

You're not forcing anyone's hand over the flame and telling them that they have to do it. This is up to them. You're just saying, “hey, this is a way you can make your experience even better”.

Upfront Pricing for the Win

With the booking engine, I talk about upfront pricing. Because customers do want to know exactly what it's going to cost and they've been conditioned with online shopping carts to see that. So, your booking engine should calculate all the fees, including extra guests fees, all the different variable taxes that you have, and all the additional items and packages as they're adding them to their cart.

Also, don't leave them waiting for receipt of their actual transaction, So, make sure that you have an automated message, as that reservation is made, that goes out to them, that highlights all of their reservation details. This is going to save you a phone call from someone who says, “I just made a reservation online, but I'm not sure if it went through”, because they don't have anything.

Think about it. Anytime you do online shopping, you instantly receive an email. So, you know, 99% of ThinkReservations customers have this feature turned on, but if you're not a ThinkReservations customer, definitely check to see if your PMS offers this.

Ring, ring!

And all of that said, even if they've made it all the way to the end of your booking engine, some customers will always call. So how do we have effective communication when they call?

First, be pleasant.

I was at a great conference session, once, where the presenter, and I honestly don't remember who this was, because it was a remarkable session, asked the question, how do you look in the mirror when you answer the phone?

And she talked about how, for her and her staff, she actually has a mirror next to the computer, and she tells her employees to look in the mirror when they answer the phone and say their greeting. Because, how you look is exactly how you sound.

So, making sure you look pleasant when you answer the phone will make you sound pleasant as well.

One of the questions that we get a lot is, do we have a room available? And especially if it's today, tomorrow, sometime in the next week, and especially in our high season, we would say, we do have a room available at the moment. And, this is where I'd tell a little white lie - I spoke with someone else today who's interested, but they haven't confirmed that they want the room yet.

Why do I do this? Because, immediately, I've created a sense of urgency to make that reservation and to close the deal.

And at the same time, you also reduce the possibility of them asking for a discount, which is oftentimes an awkward conversation for us. Because we are genuinely nice people, and we do want to make people feel welcome and comfortable. But we also have to remember we're business people, and we need to make money off of the business that we're in.

Q&A Part 2 (56:52)

We're at our next Q&A break. So I'm going to hand it over to Laura, and go ahead with any questions that have come up.

Laura: Thanks, Scot. One question we have, which actually came through just shortly after we ended the last segment. They say there's a big tourism city 15 minutes away. They’re not geographically located in the city, but the town next door. Can you give some ideas on how to get customers to get to my website while they're searching for the touristy city?

Scot: Yeah, so I think that actually goes back to your own website and your SEO. Make sure that on your website, you are mentioning that city in several places and that you aren't just throwing it in there just to throw it in, but you're talking about how you’re located 15 minutes outside of, you know, Houston or wherever you are. And also highlight the great reasons why they should come to you.

Maybe you offer bigger rooms. Maybe you offer a beautiful setting, a quieter area. Maybe there's an attraction that is popular outside of the main city, but is right next to you. Maybe you’re vineyard... I'm just trying to come up with a thousand reasons why people would love to come and stay with you instead of staying right in downtown Houston, in my example.

Make sure that, in the copy on your website, that you have that, because Google is going to see that. And they don't know that you're just mentioning it, because you're in Houston, or you're not in Houston. They're just seeing Houston. So as people start to search Houston, you may come up in more of that organic, and even possibly the local pack, listing.

But tie it back into why it's a good reason that you're outside of Houston and the great things that your area offers. How close you are, stuff like that.

Some directories also offer you the ability to offer a second city listing. I always think your primary listing should be your actual area if it's offered as a primary city, but don't be afraid to use your secondary listings as well for the other areas that you want to attract.

Laura: We have a question asking, do you have any suggestions for getting the direct personal email of new customers who bought through one of the OTAs? Communication via the OTAs seems very clunky.

Scot: So if you're a ThinkReservations customer, if you go to the Support Center, there is actually an article that we have published that is an email template that you can create through your own account to connect with these guests.

The way we handle this at our property is when we see an email come in from an OTA, we open it up and we send out this email where we let them know there's additional information that we require for their booking.

Now, in my specific case, there's actually things that the city requires in the case of an emergency, so I phrase it more as, you know, we have to get this information because of requirements. But some of that information I don't have to have. I am asking them to update their email address with us, so that I can get that direct email address.

Also, my staff knows that when these particular guests check in, if their contact information, and specifically, their email address, is still that masked email address from, or Expedia, that it is very important that we get that, that we update to their current email address. Then we have the opportunity to market directly to them, to communicate directly with them, because and Expedia, they're going to do everything to get that customer to book through them again. And we know we want them to book through us directly, so that we don't pay the commissions on those.

So, as I said, go to the Support Center. There's a whole document with an email template example. Feel free to make a template and just send that to all of your OTA guests.

Laura: The next question I believe is related to the one where we discussed not being located in a tourist area. Where would you suggest mentioning these things? In blog posts? Is that enough? On specific web pages? How would you recommend getting that information out to people?

Scot: I am the worst when it comes to blogging. Do I absolutely know that I should be blogging for my business? Absolutely. Because blogs, these show up. They help dramatically with your SEO as you start blogging about experiences, things to do in your area, or even talking about the city that's near you, the more popular area that's near you. That is going to only help you build credibility as being the place where people stay when visiting that more populated area, and you might start ending up showing up in the example before the Houston results.

The more content that you get out there, when you're able to share your experiences, that's what customers, that's what guests are looking for. They're looking for experiences and you just look more like an authority. So, I think blogging is really important. And, that's another great way to get information out about your specific area, but, also, the larger surrounding areas that people are looking at near you.

Laura: I'm not sure what kind of insight we can share here, but do you have suggestions to optimize results?

Scot: I am going to defer that to your marketing company because you're paying your marketing company to really know what your specific area is.

There's some obvious things that come to mind, like the phrase bed and breakfast, or hotel as part of your SEO search. If you have other hotels in your area that aren't really making the effort, then hotel might be a good keyword for you.

But also, I'm going to tie it back to experiences. If you are in an area where people come and do a ton of mountain biking, mountain biking might be a good keyword for like Google Ads and stuff like that.

If you do wonderful romance packages, people are looking for romance packages. It's one of the most popular packages out there. Talk about that romance package, talk about relaxation, and rest, and all of that stuff. Think of the reasons why people come and stay with you specifically, but also why they're coming to the area, and those are the words you want on your website.

But, with the big caveat, that every area is different, every region is different, and the keywords that work for me, or the SEO terms that work for me, might not be the best ones for you. So, it is different for everybody. Talk to somebody who really will take the time to learn your area for those specific terms.

Reservation confirmed!

Let's move into our last section.

Now they're coming to stay with us. How do we engage the guests right before they come, while they're here, and after they depart?

Emails Matter

One of the things that I think is important is branded emails. ThinkReservations customers have the ability to customize their email templates. They look professional. In general, we're bringing over your logo and your brand colors to help build the basis of those, and you have the access to edit your content as well.


If you're not using ThinkReservations, I do pose the question of what about mobile? How do your emails look on mobile devices? We know that just under 80% of reservations are made online and studies showed that 31% of online reservations last year were made through mobile devices.

So if a third of your reservations are being made on mobile devices, that tells us that people are not only making reservations, but they're probably continuing the process there. So when you send those confirmation emails, are they looking great on mobile? With ThinkReservations, you don't have to worry because we’ve designed them to work well on any device.

People rely more, and more on smart devices and their cell phones. I have friends who no longer have a laptop computer. They literally do everything on their phone. Maybe they have a tablet, but the only computer they have is their work-issued computer, which usually stays at work, so how does it look on mobile? It's a big, important question.

How about an ugrade?

Additional communication before they arrive - I think it's important to also consider doing an upsell email.

At this point they've already made their purchase, and maybe they want to buy something else. I'll use an example that will prove my point on this.

If I look at how much I spent on Amazon last month, and I took all of those individual orders, and I added them all up together, there is no way that I would ever spend that much in one shopping trip. I have spent far too much money, and Amazon is successful because they've built on this.

You have, in essence, forgotten what you purchased yesterday or the day before. Today's a brand new day, and it's like the calculator starts over again. It works and we can take advantage of that as well.

After someone makes a reservation, they've spent that money and maybe it's two months before they're staying with you. Well, now that they're closer to their trip, they may be willing to spend more money with you, because it’s just an extra hundred bucks now.

And I encourage you to use your most popular upsell items. We aren't sending them an email with everything that you offer, just your most popular items or packages. Give them a couple of options.

Using the example of your babymoon package, it probably makes up less than one half of 1% of your guests unless that's your brand. So I don't want to put that babymoon package in front of everybody.

But I do want to put any sort of romance upsells up in front of people. Because I know most of my customers are couples, they aren't bringing their kids, it's a vacation. Even if they're coming for someone else's wedding, for example, they may want to have a little bit of a celebration of their own. So, the upsell email is a great communication technique to help you make more revenue.

And I hear all the time, “but I don’t want to sound too salesy.”

Well, people change their mind and they change their mind at the last minute. And if we look at it from the perspective of helping to improve their experience at your property it sits with us better. That's really what we're doing. We're helping improve the travel experience that they have. Again, we aren’t holding their hands over the flame, forcing them to buy anything from us.

And I've never heard from one of our customers that use this upsell emails ever say - and I encourage you, if this has happens to you, call me up after this, and tell me - but I've never heard anyone say that they've sent an upsell email that has resulted in someone cancelling their reservation. What it has resulted in a good number of people actually spending more money with them, and them making more revenue.

The Welcome Email

Another tip is sending the welcome email. This is a feature you have available in ThinkReservations. If you have it and you aren't using it, you may want to consider it.

This is an email that's automatically sent. I say send it several days before arrival to let them know you're excited about their stay, but also to get them excited, too.

Timing is Everything

Big caveat here is do not send this welcome email until after the final phase of your cancelation policy has gone into effect.

We have clients that I remember talking to, and they said, Oh, we send our welcome email 14 days before the guests are to check in. And they hated sending it because all of a sudden, the same day that email was sent, they'd get all these people calling and canceling their reservation.

And he thought it was because of the content of the e-mail, maybe they didn't want to get an email.

But their cancelation policy was up to 10 days in advance. You would get a refund minus whatever their small cancelation fee was, but after 10 days, you were responsible for the reservation. And I said, I think you're sending them an invitation to cancel before they reach that 10 day mark. So it's almost an advertisement and it's hurting your business. It's not the content of it. It's just that you're giving them a reminder that there's still time to cancel your reservation without actually saying those words.

So I recommend sending your welcome email after whatever that timeframe is for your business.

Say it again for the people in the back!

Emphasize the reservation details and any important policies that you have, especially if you have policies that you feel are being broken by your guests on a regular basis. Make sure that if you've been given their arrival time, that you've communicated that to verify that with them. If you have any special check in or check out policies - maybe you offer an after-hours check in or self check in; maybe for a fee you offer early check in - add those.

And also go over and include your cancelation policy. I think it's important here because, by this point, they should have seen your cancelation policy on your website. They should have seen your cancelation policy in your booking engine. They should have seen your cancelation policy when they made the reservation, got their confirmation email, and now they're seeing it for a fifth time. So it's really hard for that guest, if they need to cancel last-minute, for them to say, I didn't know you, never told me. Actually, you've had four opportunities to see that information.

In that welcome email also answer the questions you know that guests are going to have at this point. How do I get there? What do I do if I arrive early or late? Where should we eat? If you get asked those questions all the time make sure to anticipate and answer them.

And my favorite tip is tell them exactly what will happen next! At our property we say this: We will be sending you a text message the day before your arrival to confirm your arrival time. So they know exactly when the next point of communication is going to happen.

Maybe you don't do that. Maybe you just say, When you arrive just ring the doorbell, and we'll be there to answer the door. Just let them know exactly what to expect next, because it's going to reduce questions for you before the arrival.

To Text or Not to Text

And I touched on text messaging. It really is the new communication tool in the lodging industry. So, what's the big deal? What's the benefit?

Well, we use it here before guests arrive. We know people don't always answer the phone, people definitely don't check their voicemails regularly. People run busy lives. They can't always pick up the phone, but you always have time to take a glance at your phone, to look at a text message, and possibly answer that text message. Inconspicuously. Like if you're in a business meeting.

We use it specifically to better identify arrival time so that we can plan our schedules around arrival or share self-check in information if they don't know when they're going to be arriving.

And the benefit here is that it gives your customers a way to talk to you unobtrusively, with any last-minute questions they may have. A guest might not take the opportunity to seek you out to find you. You might not even be available. You might be at the grocery store preparing for tomorrow's breakfast and no one is at the property. This is a great way for them to feel like they aren't getting in your way. Believe it or not, there are guests who really don't want to bother us either.

And once guests become comfortable with texting for their needs, the engagement between the staff and guests actually increases, resulting in a higher overall level of satisfaction with the entire experience at your property. Once guests know that they are always being taken care of, it actually frees up your life to do more of your things that you want to do. I don't feel like I did when I first bought my property. Nine years ago, I felt like I had to sit in the kitchen with the kitchen door open until 9:00 pm every night in case a question came up, in case guests needed to see me.

Now, since we emphasize text if you need us, we hear from travelers all the time, that let us know in their reviews, and also tell us personally, or email us to say they felt very well taken care of, that I could talk to anyone at any time. And I look at my innkeeper and say, Do you even remember who this guest is?

We don't remember who, or we can't put the face to the name, because maybe all we ever did was help over text messages.

There have been guests of mine who have come, checked in after hours, and they've checked out before breakfast the next day. And they've asked a couple of questions. We've helped them, we've given them restaurant suggestions. But physically, we're never in the same room together, but they're going and writing a wonderful review about how well taken care of they were.

So the real breakthrough here is that it's the capability to connect with guests on their own terms.

Sometimes I'm asked what we use for texting. We actually use Google Voice, which is a free service. You can get a local area code number.

We use that telephone number as our 24 hour communication with our guests. So that's the number we tell people to call, instead of the main business number, when they're a guest with us, but it's also the number that we use to text. And the nice thing is that it can be on multiple cell phones so that it rings at multiple places. It can ring sequentially.

Then with text messages, they appear on everyone's cell phones as well. So whoever can answer that question first will. It also has a desktop component where you can use it right from your computer for text messaging. So check out Google Voice if you're interested in text messaging and not interested in giving everyone your personal cell phone number to do that.

NOTE: Since the original presentation of this webinar, ThinkReservations has announced our integration with Whistle, a robust text messaging software. You can learn more about Whistle here.

Look who's here!

So now the guest has arrived how do we cater to their needs particularly with face-to-face communication?

I think it's really important that if you have staff, that you train your staff to make sure to be able to answer any question. And there's a wonderful tool for all of us, whether we're the owner or staff member, and that is Google. If we need to get information for guests, we have this whole worldwide encyclopedia to help us out with that. It is our job that when a question is asked, that an answer be given, and if your staff can't get to get that answer, ultimately, it falls on your shoulders to find that answer for them.

Make a list of the questions that you get asked all the time. Communicate that on your website and your email correspondence before they arrive.

Maybe you have guest binder books in your rooms with a lot of information. What isn't included right now? Make a list of those things and incorporate them into your spiel at check in or any of those other avenues so that you've already answered the question before it arises. It gives the impression that you're taking better care of them.

It's Not About You

I talk to my staff about being visible, and then disappearing. You're going to get the most questions within the first 30 minutes of their arrival, when they're settling in. And many problems that they're having are easy to solve. Maybe they’re unpacking and realize they forgot a toothbrush or they don't know how to make the air conditioner work. So I like to be visible to my guests when they first arrive.

I’ll be available if they need me, but then after that, we disappear.

Guests are here for their own reasons. Your property, your breakfast, 99.9% of the time, is not the featured activity. You're not the main event.

There are some people who we all know will check in, lock the door, and we don't see them again until check out. And whatever they're doing, you weren't invited to be part of that process.

Make Them Feel at Home

Another big thing is to satisfy their creature comforts. And really what I mean here is including two things you need to have at your property in 2018. You need to have the best Wi-Fi you possibly can, unless it is part of your brand that you disconnect - I'll give you a pass on that one.

But regardless of where you are, you need to provide the best internet possible, because these people want to communicate with the other people in their lives, as well. And if they're talking about your property on social media and what they're doing, while they’re doing it, that is all free advertising for you. So you want to make sure that they have that.

And don’t forget simple things, like having enough outlets in your rooms. It is so inexpensive to buy those outlets that plug into two prongs, but create six outlets for you right there. They're like $5 each.

Have nightstands that allow for people to charge their devices. When I travel, I travel with my iPad. I travel with my laptop, and I have my cell phone. I also have my Bose headphones that I need to charge. So I need four lines for charging things. And it's one of the biggest complaints I see in travel - that there just wasn't a way to charge devices.

And that's just me traveling alone, if I'm traveling with my partner, they have all that stuff, too. So, we're talking about a lot of needs for outlets, so those are two of the big creature comforts. Making sure you have great internet connectivity, and make sure you have enough outlets that are easily accessible. You don't have to pull out the bed to do it.

I remember talking to an innkeeper who said that she feels she goes into the room to clean it, and the bed is always pulled out. She says why are people rearranging my rooms?

Because the only available outlet was behind the headboard, so make sure that you're satisfying those creature comforts.

It's Been a Pleasure

The next step in communication is that checkout, and I call this really gauging the temperature of that guest. And this can actually solve problems before they actually happen. So, while the guest is checking out, don't feel ashamed to ask them if they enjoyed their stay.

A lot of us don't ask this, because we're afraid to hear that there was a problem. But I'm going to tell you that if you want to have good communication and if you want to be on the proactive side of this, if there was a problem, you absolutely need to know about it.

If they express how much they loved things - and they're probably going to point out particular things like, “those cookies that you made were so delicious, the bed was so comfortable, we loved the sheets, breakfast was amazing,” or that a staff member was so sweet - ask them then to mention that in their review.

And tell them why it's important to your business. Let them know that you're going to ask them for a review. And say, these are the things we would love you to mention. They've already written their narrative for themselves.

And why is it important to your business? It's important to your business because the more reviews we can get, the more our business grows, and I usually throw something in there, especially about the slower season with the guests that are coming and staying with us then.

Feedback is a Gift

Now, if they express any problems with their stay, you must bite your tongue, and thank them for letting you know. And I do say, if it's appropriate, meaning if it's completely against your brand value, if it's completely against your own personal values, there's no need to thank them, but just to take it in.

But if they are letting you know that there was a problem, the toilet was not working, thank them for letting you know that. Because not only is it helping you fix the problem, but it's going to help future guests as well. You can say, “great, the leaky toilet isn't going to be a problem for the people that are checking in later today. Thank you for letting us know. We're going to be able to fix that.”

Once you do that, people genuinely feel good when they're thanked for helping you out. So it's going to make them think twice about their review and if they want to talk about that leaky toilet because you've made them feel pretty good about letting you know. And you've also shown them that you care enough to make sure that it gets fixed. Whatever the situation is, it's going to reduce the chance that they mention it in a review.

Always wish them safe travels and emphasize what a pleasure it was to host them and thank them for their stay. A simple thank you can go a long way in changing a negative experience into a positive one. Maybe there are things that they just didn't tell you. It's really hard to trash someone online after your stay, when you yourself have been so nice and kind to them and really let them know that you appreciate their business. It makes people, most people, think twice about saying something nasty, or posting a bad review online about you. It may prevent them from writing anything, which is better than them writing something bad.

And these simple touchpoints, they just leave a lasting impression. That's what I'm getting at with this.

Continue the Conversation

So now post-departure. They're leaving now. How do we continue the conversation to remind them of their experience? By sending a thank you email. Automate this to send 1 to 2 days after checkout. I don't recommend sending it the day of checkout because maybe it goes out before they’ve even left.

You want to have them hit the road and let them know again that you're thankful for their stay. The follow-up email really kind of puts that cherry on the top. And it's a great opportunity to ask them for an online review or direct feedback if there was a problem.

And on this next slide, the bottom of this, this is exactly what we say in our thank you email.

Be Direct

We influence the guests to leave a really positive review for us. And we lead them to say, or do what we want them to:

“If you can give us an exceptional review, like a five star review, we invite you to share with us and future guests what you enjoyed most about your stay on Tripadvisor or Google. Your excellent rating helps our business grow, and it's very much appreciated.”

Then we say, if you have any concerns that you would like to share, please call or email us - again, directing them to come to us directly and we'll help resolve the issue for you and future guests. We will never stop trying to improve.

This is why I truly believe my business has five stars, after five stars, after five stars on these review sites. And, yes, we have received letters. We've received phone calls. We've received emails when people have read it to let us know that there was something they felt we could improve on.

So this is working. Direct them, use a little psychology to get them to do what you want them to do. If it's good, tell the world about it. If it's bad, tell me about it.

And reviews are important.

Make Lemonade

Here is an example of how a bad review led to a reservation: This is an actual review for a property that says, “I actually chose Barefoot Beach Resort based on a bad review. It was actually the response of the manager that solidified my decision to book there.”

Don't react, respond to reviews. I think it's very important that you do respond to all reviews, whether they're good or bad. It just shows that you're interested in your business, that you care about the customer experience. You don't have to write a novel as every response. It can be as simple as “thanks for the great review, we're so glad you enjoyed your stay.” Or it could be more of an explanation, but regardless of what you're doing when you respond, don't react.

I want you to take the high road instead of the low road. So, even if you know your side of the story is completely different, go ahead and write your response, but take a second to read through it or, better yet, have other people read through it before you post it. You do not want to sound unprofessional, you do not want to sound unproductive, you do not want to be filled with emotion, you want to stick to the facts. Because if you do that, that's what other people are going to see your response was.

And if you're just saying, “no, you were wrong”, then other potential guests looking at this might think, “oh, do I want to stay there?”

But if you are able to answer professionally and be productive in your response, for instance, like saying, “if you had let us know while you're staying, we definitely would have taken care of that problem. This is exactly why we provide a 24-hour guest phone number, why we provide text messaging.” I'm not belittling the guest. I'm just sharing ways that they could have had this resolved. I'm presenting to the reader of this review and response a way that this could have been solved before they even left.

You really want to make sure that it's void of emotion. Emotion makes it into a, he said, she said, thing. Removing emotion can really take your bad review, and turn it into your best review, exactly like the Tripadvisor example. They read this bad review, and it was the manager's response that made their decision to actually book there, even though someone else had a terrible time while they stayed.

They'll be back!

And the last thing I'm going to mention is just email marketing. Implement a newsletter for your business. They really do pay off.

You can use them to target specific groups of customers. For example, in the wintertime, I know that my guests are generally coming from the Boston and New York metro areas. I don't have as many travelers coming from other parts of the US. So, in the wintertime, that's my customer base.

And I'm often asked, how often should we send newsletters? Really, there's not a tried and true answer, I don't think. But the guideline I would like you to follow is that, if you don't do a lot of newsletters, if you're only sending out a newsletter 3 or 4 times a year, or maybe even 1 or 2 times a year, then you can pack that with lots of information for them to read and go through.

But if you're doing email marketing or a newsletter every two weeks or every month, you need to limit the content for those because people aren't going to stop their lives 12 times a year to read through all of the information. They might read a couple of paragraphs, but they aren't going to read pages of information. So the less you do it, the more content, the more you do it, the less content.

Q&A Part 3 (1:35:28)

I'm going to take it over to Laura now to answer any last-minute questions.

Laura: We do have a couple last questions.

Do you feel an email is as effective as a hand-written thank you note?

Scot: I personally haven't done it. My initial reaction is that hand-written notes are going to take a lot of time out of my day. I would be interested in testing that. See how many people do have some sort of response, that follow your link to a review site.

And maybe test, try for a couple of weeks doing the hand-written thing, and see if you get as many, if the reaction is the same.

I'm more interested in the time That it takes me to do things, because sometimes, I think my time is actually more valuable than I give it credit for. So, I like to automate things that I know are working and asking for a review for me via email is working. You can always customize those emails, as well. So you can put additional information in there, for example, If you talked about something specific. You can always have a personalized variable in the template to make it a little more personal. But I find that what I'm doing works for me.

Laura: Where is the most beneficial place to have guest posts reviews: Tripadvisor, Google, on your website?

Scot: So I think the ones that stick out to me most would be Google and Tripadvisor. Now you know your Google SEO is actually dependent on the Google reviews that you have online. So we've just recently in the last year and a half or so started adding the Google link to our Thank You email. And when people are checking out, we let them know there's going to be some links to some of our favorite review sites. If you have a particular favorite, we would love it if you could post a review there.

9 times out of 10 people are just posting one review on one of those sites. Every now and then we will have a person who posts a review on all three of the sites. But I really feel that it is important to actually have a broad scope of reviews across multiple websites.

Some people will only find you on an OTA because that's how they shop for lodging. They only go to Expedia or, and that's your only opportunity to pull them in as a customer. And they are reading the reviews there.

I would never direct somebody to an OTA, which is why I don't include that in the thank you email, but I do think it's important for Google and Tripadvisor. Those are the two big ones.

And maybe you send out a separate email to people who booked through a third party channel to ask them to review you there, as well. But I wouldn't send that to all of my guests in an automated email.

Wrap Up (1:39:25)

Laura: We don't have any other questions, so before I wrap up, I just want to let everybody know, if you’re a ThinkReservations client, the name of the document that has the email template for collecting OTA guest information is “ Expedia Information Request Email”.

So, with that being said, I want to just thank everybody for attending today's webinar, and thanks Scot so much for sharing all this insight today on how to use guest communication to provide that five star experience they're all hoping to have. Thank you, again, and we hope to see you all next time. Have a great day, everybody.

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