We all tend to think that technology makes life easier, believing that it can simplify the task of generating a new stream of business. While there is some truth to that idea, the fact is that the most effective technologies require a commitment of both time and old-school business principles. If you are a small business owner, the time that must be invested is quite likely to be your own.
The Internet is often seen as a technological panacea with respect to the harvest of a new base of customers. For campgrounds, the entire online process is typically funneled toward online reservations, the e-commerce component of the hospitality industries. Unfortunately, many people still buy into the “if you build it, they will come” concept that was the mantra of the 1989 fantasy-drama film, Field of Dreams. Things are not that simple in real life, and the reservation process rarely flies on autopilot.
In many instances, prospective online customers have pre-purchase questions that must be answered prior to making their decisions. These inquiries are almost always going to involve either e-mail or a phone call, with the customer expecting a prompt response (in the case of e-mail) or an immediate response (in the case of a phone call).
For campgrounds in the northern states and Canada, winter is the off-season, when owners are operating with skeleton staffs and simply trying to pay their utility bills and mortgages. Others are more fortunate and are able to vacation when their parks are closed for the season. This is perfectly understandable in either case; however, the off-season is the prime time for campers to make reservations for the upcoming season, and it is also the time when you, as a campground owner or manager, are likely to have the least number of interruptions competing for your attention.
If somebody is determined to camp exclusively at your park, they may be more patient in awaiting a response to an immediate question; however, a camper who is seeking a park in your local area may very well be contacting you and several of your competitors. Being the first to respond is the equivalent of getting your business to appear on the first page of Google or Bing search results.
If you are away from the office or away on vacation, either make arrangements to access and respond to your e-mails or delegate that responsibility to a trusted employee. Never use an auto-responder, which simply encourages the recipient to look elsewhere. Try to use personalized templates that will streamline the response process and that will minimize the number of back-and-forth e-mails that must be exchanged. Next, check to insure that the sender name on your e-mails is clear and intuitive to the recipient. It should include the name of your business. I am amazed at how many e-mails arrive in my inbox identified solely by vague sender names such as ‘info’, ‘reservations’, ‘office’, or some other generic term. If a customer has contacted several parks, ensure that he or she can immediately identify the source of your response. Finally, your e-mails should always include a “signature” that includes the full range of alternate contact information, including your mailing address, phone number(s), and social media addresses.
As you may be aware, at some point in 2014, the typical website will see the scales tip, when over 50% of online traffic will involve users of mobile devices. Internet users, in general, are characteristically short on patience, and users of mobile devices carry the need for speed to a new level. Anything that interferes with a smooth process can effectively become a roadblock. Typical hindrances (in the eyes of your potential online customers) include:
- A slow or unresponsive website.
- Content that is not easily viewed on a mobile display.
- An overly complex process, including non-essential questions.
- Lack of information. For example, what is the price of a site? What are the check-in and check-out times? Is wi-fi available?
- Lack of social reinforcement. Provide testimonials or links to review sites that will help to assure new customers.
To overcome last-minute obstacles, provide your online visitors with one or more alternate means of contact. Online chat is great, as long as you have somebody available to respond at any given time; however, the single most important alternative is a telephone number. According to a recent Google AdWords report, 70% of users of mobile devices are likely to “click to call” either prior to or rather than completing an online purchase, and this statistic equally applies to online reservations at campgrounds. A smartphone user may be ready to make a reservation but would prefer to do so over the phone rather than fumbling through an online process.
What happens when someone calls your campground in the off-season? Do they get a message telling them that you are out of the office and will reopen in April? If so, you can almost be certain that you have lost a sale every time your phone rings. According to online industry statistics from SeeWhy, an average of only 3% of first-time website visitors finalizes a purchase, with 72% bailing out before hitting the ‘submit’ button. In other words, it could be a long wait before your next phone call, so you need to make each call count!
Of course, callers should expect to reach your voice-mail during off-hours and on weekends; however, if you are available to take a call during those times, do so. The caller will be highly impressed. What callers do not want to sense is a lack of response, whether that is an unanswered phone, a non-reassuring outgoing message, or a phone that is answered in an unprofessional manner. It is essential for the business phone number to forward directly to either the owner or manager of a campground and that the call be either immediately answered or returned within minutes. Do not include an alternate phone number “for a faster response” in your outgoing message. If another number will reach you more directly, forward the call to that number, rather than expecting the caller to write down that number and then place a second call. That second call is unlikely to be made.
When attempting to make the most of e-commerce, online reservations, or any other buying process, the bottom line is for you to put yourself in the shoes of the person at the other end of the transaction. When the transaction involves the Internet – and mobile devices in particular – be aware that the process is time-critical and do everything possible to respond accordingly.
This post was written by Peter Pelland