To boost reservations and grow your property business this year, you have to master the art of communication. In the past, communicating with customers was much simpler: it usually happened through one or two offline channels. Things are different today. Now instead of selling to travelers primarily over the phone, through the mail, or in person, you also have to successfully engage with them across a myriad of digital channels too.
But here’s the problem: you can’t communicate with leads and customers in the same way across all your channels. To be effective, you have to know how to adjust your messaging and communication style to serve different audiences and ensure that you’re following best practices for each of the channels you use.
If you’re interested in leveling up your cross-channel communication skills this month, or if you’d like to teach your reservation agents how to be more effective online and offline communicators, start by leveraging these 12 tips:
1. Know Your Channels
To train your team in the art of communication, you first need to have a better understanding of all of the channels you’re currently using or could be using to engage with your audience. As mentioned in the introduction, in the past, you might have just used one or two channels when communicating with your prospective guests. Now, thanks to the internet and smartphones, interested travelers can reach out to you and ask you a question at any time of day and from anywhere in the world.
Communication today occurs across a handful of online and offline channels. As a property manager, it’s your job to know what those channels are and how they differ from one another.
Here are the most common channels property managers like you are using to connect and engage with leads:
Phone – This is one of the most direct channels you can use to communicate with leads. It’s also probably the one you and your reservation agents are most familiar with. What you might not know, however, is that there are tools out there that you can be using to automate and optimize this channel. TRACK, for example, has a number of features that your team can use to boost phone call productivity and success.
Email – This is another fairly direct (i.e. 1-to-1) communication channel that can be used to communicate with travelers, and one that young consumers increasingly prefer that brands use over other channels. According to WordStream, “73% of millennials identify email as their preferred means of business communication.” If you’re not currently leveraging email to connect with, nurture, and close leads, take some time to explore this helpful guide we just published a few weeks ago.
Social – Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat also continue to grow in popularity among young travelers. According to Entrepreneur, “When booking travel, 89% of millennials plan travel activities based on content posted by their peers online.” As a property manager, it’s your job to train your team on how to participate authentically in these online communities. To be successful in driving more reservations, they need to know how to use this channel to reach the right people, answer questions, build trust and authority, and help people make the right decisions about travel.
Website/Blog – Your website and blog can also act as a communication channel between you and your future guests. Though not as direct as some of the others on this list, this channel can play an important role in your overall communication strategy. Because your website is often the first impression that your audience gets when they search for you online, you need to make sure you’re presenting them with the right information. That means doing things like keeping your website up-to-date with accurate information, including conversion-driven language on your homepage, and telling more experienced-based stories on your blog.
Messaging/Chat – More properties are using messaging and live chat tools to connect and communicate with their leads this year than ever before—and their efforts are paying off. According to HappyFox, “62% of customers were (more) inclined to purchase products online if live customer support is available.” Despite these early indications of the power of the channel, Live chat is still a relatively new concept for many business owners. If you don’t have a strategy or the right tools in place yet, don’t be discouraged. Just start exploring the options and adopt something that you think would be a good fit for you and your business.
In-person – This is the most direct form of communication you can have with the people who are interested in booking reservations at your property. In these real-time, face-to-face interactions, it’s incredibly important that your team understands how to actively listen, thoughtfully respond, and strategically steer the conversation in the right direction.
Direct mail – Although not as popular or effective as it once was, direct mail still has value in the travel and hospitality industry. In order for this channel to work for you in 2018 and beyond, however, you need to ditch the sales and marketing language and focus instead on featuring rich visuals and compelling stories about your guests, your team, and your surrounding area.
How many channels from this list are you consistently using to engage with your ideal guests? If you’re looking through this list and realizing that you’re not actively or strategically leveraging a lot of the channels you read about, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities. Take action by allocating time and resources to test and invest in more of these areas over the next quarter.
2. Understand Your Audience
To help your team become effective and efficient communicators across all the channels they’re leveraging each day, you also need to make sure you have a firm understanding of who it is that you’re trying to reach and convert. As a property manager and team leader, it’s your job to know who your ideal guest is, where they spend most of their time online, and how they prefer to interact with businesses and brands like yours.
Here are 6 ways to get to know your audience better:
- Create Customer Personas – use this template and framework from HubSpot to better understand and document who your ideal guest is.
- Leverage Data from Third-Party Sources – use helpful reports like this one from Pew Research Center to understand where your audience is spending their time online.
- Dig Through Your Own Data – look through your email marketing analytics, Google Analytics, and social media analytics to determine which channels your audience is responding to best in terms of engagement and activity.
- Talk to Your Guests – spend time talking to your guests about the channels they like using when interacting with businesses and brands. Include the question in a follow-up survey after a guest stays with you, or consider asking them at check-out.
- Talk to Your Agents – spend time talking with your reservation agents and get their thoughts about who your audience is and what their communication preferences are.
- Trust Your Gut – at the end of the day, you know your customers best, so don’t be afraid to trust your gut and lean into one communication channel over another if you’re confident it will bear more fruit.
Once you understand your audience and the channels they’re using to communicate with businesses and teams like yours, you can move on to digging into other areas that will help you and your team become better communicators.
3. Create Communication Guidelines
As any leader will tell you, if you want to grow your business, you need to be able to delegate tasks and responsibilities to other people that can help you scale your efforts. The problem is, in order to do that, you need to build and maintain trust with your employees first. You need to feel confident that, when it comes to communicating with prospective guests, your employees understand what your expectations are.
So, how do you do it? How do you ensure that your prospective guests are all getting the same experience no matter who they’re talking to on your team?
The answer is by creating and sharing clear communication guidelines that your employees can read through and reference whenever they need help.
Your communication guidelines should help your reservation agents understand:
- Who your audience is
- Where your audience spends their time
- How your guests prefer to be communicated with
- What questions they typically have during sales conversations
- What answers your agents can provide to prospective guests
- What kind of language and personality your agents should be using
- What company values your agents should keep in mind throughout all interactions with prospective guests
- How to respond when prospective guests are angry, confused, or upset
- Any other information that will help them understand what to expect when talking to leads
The guidelines you ultimately create should be shared with new employees as part of their onboarding process. They should also be stored somewhere where all employees can access (Dropbox, Google Drive, Wiki, etc.), and they should be regularly referenced and updated by you on a monthly basis.
4. Train Your Employees
As a property manager, a big part of your job involves providing your employees with the resources and support they need to be successful in their roles. Creating communication guidelines for your team is a great first step that you can take as a manager, but it’s not the only area for which you should be creating training documentation.
Here are a few other types of training your employees should receive in order to become better cross-channel communicators:
- Channel Training – your reservation agents should understand how to communicate in each of the channels they’ll be using each day to engage with leads.
- Active Listening Training – in addition to knowing how to speak to leads, your agents should also understand how to be effective, active listeners.
- Emotional Intelligence Training – emotional intelligence is another area that your agents should be familiar with. If you’re not familiar with the core principles of emotional intelligence, read through this article from the Harvard Business Review.
- Sales Training – to help your reservation agents know what to expect and how to respond during calls with leads, they should also should receive relevant sales training from you or an experienced member of your reservations team.
- Role Training – finally, your agents should receive general training on how to be effective in their roles. This training should help them understand what their responsibilities are, what your expectations are, and what they need to do to succeed.
When you make an effort to be proactive about providing standardized training to your employees on a regular basis, you’re much less likely to have to deal with situations in which expectations are not being met.
5. Practice Together
Another way to help your employees improve their communication skills is to spend time role-playing different scenarios that they might experience while talking to leads. If, for example, your reservation agents spend a lot of time talking to interested guests on the phone, pair them up at your next team meeting and ask one person to act as the agent and the other to act as an interested guest.
Give the person acting as the interested guest a script of dialogue and questions that they can go through with their partner. Similarly, arm the person playing the role of ‘agent’ with answers to common questions that they can reference throughout the exercise. Have each pair run through the scenario two times, then have them switch roles and go through the exercise again. As a manager, your job should be to float between pairs, listen to how the communication is going, and provide helpful and specific feedback whenever the opportunity presents itself.
The goal with this exercise isn’t to stump anyone or make anyone feel like they are inadequate in their roles—the purpose is to simply give your employees the opportunity to learn from each other in a safe, nurturing environment.
6. Be Consistent with Your Team
Improving communication across channels is all about consistency. To be effective, you need to ensure that you are providing each of your new employees with the same amount of training, feedback, and praise that their coworkers have received from you in the past. As a manager responsible for spinning a lot of plates all at once, this can sometimes be easier said than done.
To ensure that no one one your team is being unintentionally left in the dark when it comes to understanding how to effectively communicate across all the channels they’re expected to use, follow these three best practices:
- Best Practice #1: Create an actual onboarding program for new employees. Don’t let them learn the ropes by themselves. Set expectations up front and encourage them to ask questions as they go through a week or two of onboarding and training.
- Best Practice #2: Put someone else on your team in charge of mentoring new employees and teaching them how to communicate with leads across every channel. Remember: as a manager, you need to be delegating. Do this by pairing your most effective and loyal employees with your newest hires.
- Best Practice #3: Schedule regular 1-on-1 check-ins with each of your employees. Before attending them, listen to phone calls or review emails and chat logs in order to prepare actionable feedback that your employees can apply right away in order to improve.
When you’re managing every aspect of your business, it’s easy for something like employee training to be deprioritized, but don’t let it happen. Be proactive when it comes to training and mentoring your employees, and ensure that everyone on your team is set up for success from the moment they start working for you.
7. Ask for Feedback
As you work to improve communication across each of your channels, remember to take time to get feedback from the people who matter most: your guests. You can collect feedback from your audience in several ways.
Here are a few ideas:
- Build a survey using Typeform or Mailchimp and email it to your list. Ask recipients how they prefer to be communicated with and give them a few options to choose from.
- Have your reservation agents ask for feedback at the end of every call they have. All they need to do is end the call by asking this question: “Is this the best way to reach you?”
- Pose the question in each of the channels you use to engage with guests and prospective guests.
- Ask for feedback when guests check-out after a stay with you. Find out how their experience was in terms of communication with your team.
To improve communication, don’t just work off assumptions. Take the time to reach out and have genuine conversations with the people who did or didn’t book a reservation with you.
8. Look for Learning Opportunities
As a manager, one of your jobs should be to actively look for opportunities across all your channels to improve communication. You can achieve this by:
- Reviewing specific conversations with your team members to identify what’s working and what isn’t working.
- Spending an afternoon engaging in channels as an agent and talking to leads yourself to experience what your employees are experiencing.
- Regularly researching and reading about how channels and audiences using those channels are changing to determine if your existing communication strategies and tactics need to be updated.
As you identify learning opportunities, try to develop actionable takeaways that you can prioritize and work through with your team.
9. Test New Ideas
You can also improve communication across the channels you use by testing new ideas. In business, the worst thing you can do is set your strategies and tactics on autopilot once they’ve been finalized. If you’re not testing new tactics, it’s impossible to uncover areas that can be optimized and tactics that could drive more ROI for your business. The question is, how do you come up with new ideas to test?
Here are a few places you can go to find new communication tactics to test in your existing channels:
- Draw inspiration from the businesses and brands you love. Think about the interactions you have with brands as a consumer and what you like or don’t like about those interactions.
- Read case studies and blog posts from others in your industry. Read about what they’re doing differently and decide if you can apply their learnings to your own business.
- Talk to other business owners and colleagues about what’s working for them. Have friendly conversations with others about what they are testing and why.
As you come across ideas, document and prioritize them based on what you know about your business, your audience, and your team.
10. Be Open to Change
In business, you have to be open to change. If you’re like most business owners, you’re going to experience times when what used to work well no longer works. It’s how you respond to these types of situations that determines your success. If you find out, for example, that direct mail is no longer an effective communication channel for your business, it’s ultimately up to you to decide to reinvest your time, energy, and money into another more profitable and effective channel. Your team relies on you to steer the boat and make tough calls like this—don’t let them down!
11. Give Your Team the Right Tools
If you want to help your team become better communicators, make sure they have the tools they need to do their jobs. That might mean using software to help them boost call efficiency or automate email follow-ups, it could mean giving them access to online training tools and courses, or it could mean paying for a monthly subscription for a task management tool that they think could help them be more successful each day. It really depends on each individual, so make sure you spend some time talking to your employees and asking them what they think they need in order to become better communicators.
12. Be Human
Finally, at the end of the day, remember that you are a human talking to other humans. Be honest, transparent, and helpful with people. Don’t let the fact that you’re using automation tools prevent you from connecting with your leads on a personal level. Avoid coming across as too robotic or cold. Treat every interaction across every channel like it’s happening face-to-face in a coffee shop. Focus on having a real conversation and position yourself as someone who has the answers and solutions your prospective guests are looking for.
Over to You
How are you working to actively improve communication across the channels you use? Share your ideas in the comments below.