Having an online booking system is a no-brainer; it increases your business by putting customers in the driver’s seat, allowing them to purchase your services at any time and from anywhere in the world. By putting self-serve bookings in place on your website, you decrease your overall administration duties and have more time to focus on giving customers the very best.
Consider some of these statistics culled from our Checkfront users:
38% of bookings made on Checkfront happen outside of normal business hours
37% of bookings on Checkfront are made by customers shopping on their own
58% of visitors to your site have come there to check your prices and availability, with the aim of booking
According to comScore.com, business-to-customer e-commerce sales in the United States reached $322 billion in 2013; eMarketer estimates that there will be over 215 million digital shoppers in the US by 2018. Customers are shopping online more than they ever have; it’s easy to compare prices, view different options, and pay in advance. We’ve seen what Checkfront can do for a rental, accommodation, or tour business, but signing up with us is just the first step; new customers won’t just pour through your doors instantly (we wish!). Luckily, you don’t have to pull teeth to get more business; you just need to spread the word a little. So with that in mind, here are six simple steps you can take to increase your online bookings—and therefore your revenue.
1: Shout it Out
If a store gets an online booking system on the Internet but no one hears about it, does it make a sound? Unfortunately no; it’s not enough to just have the option installed, and if you sit back and wait you’ll end up waiting a very long time. Visitors to your website should know immediately that you’re now accepting online bookings, and also know how to get to the booking page. Customers will arrive at different parts of your website depending on how they’ve searched, so put a ‘Book Online’ link on every single page of the site (preferably in the main menu banner), and have a clear call to action (“Book now!”) visible on the homepage and your major landing pages.
Remember, visitors are coming to your site in order to check availability, pricing, and maybe to make a purchase; don’t make it a scavenger hunt! If a customer doesn’t see what he or she is looking for within a few seconds, they will hit the Back button and move on to the competition.
2: Reach out to Past Customers
Make sure to let your existing customer base know that you’re now accepting bookings online; don’t just assume they’ll find it next time they visit your website. Announce the change on your blog, and update Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media sites you maintain—it’s the quickest way to directly access the people who already enjoy your services. If you have a mailing list, don’t bury the announcement in your regular newsletter; send out a dedicated email campaign to let everyone know about this exciting new change. You can even give existing customers a reason to try the new system by offering coupon codes exclusively to your email subscribers, rewarding their loyalty and inviting them to celebrate this new change with you:
Thanks for your past business with us. We are pleased to now offer the ability to check availability, pricing and book online directly from our website!
If you book online with us in the next 30 days, use the coupon code NOWONLINE and receive a 10% discount.
Book Online Today at: http://www.example.com/reserve/?discount=NOWONLINE
3: Change Your Voicemail
If you get a lot of off-hours calls or have a hold queue for your reservation number, make sure to change your voicemail/welcome message to mention that customers can now book online. You’ll be surprised how much your phone queue will shrink; most people prefer to view, compare, and buy online, and they’ll be thrilled at how much easier it is.
“Thanks for calling MyBusiness; we are currently on another call or out of the office. Did you know you now can check availability and make bookings from our website? Book online now at http://www.example.com/reserve.”
4: Reward Self-Service
It’s expensive to take bookings by email, phone, and fax; it uses up time that could go elsewhere, and can be frustrating for customers. Consider rewarding those customers who book online with a small discount or other freebee incentive, especially if they use the system instead of one of your old methods. Coupon codes are a fantastic way to track the source of a booking. For instance, mention a specific code on your voicemail, and another one in your emails; customers can type those in when they book inline, and you’ll be able to see just how many people have converted over—and how much time and money you’re saving in the process.
5: Update Email Signatures, Flyers, and Business Cards
You will continue to get requests for pricing, availability, or general inquiries via email; some customers like to stick to what they know. Put your booking page URL in your email signature, so customers know where to go once their questions have been answered. Wherever you’ve listed your email address and/or phone number, add a direct link to your booking page too—and make the URL easy to remember and type out, so customers can just go to www.example.com/reservations instead of www.example.com/id=5992. Make sure to update any other media you circulate, including advertisements and business cards. Raising awareness is the name of the game!
6: Engage Your Customers—Regularly
The initial announcement will grab the attention of some people, but don’t let things slide after that. Continue to use social media, mailing lists, and other marketing efforts to steer customers to your booking page; it’s a major part of your business model and you should treat it as such. Put together online-only packages or seasonal campaigns that will encourage customers to use the new system, and make sure you collect email addresses, follow customers on Twitter, and prompt them to like you on Facebook to keep up to date on these last-minute deals. If someone has booked with you, send an automated follow-up email thanking them, asking for feedback, and providing links to your social media pages. Being communicative is part of operating a business online; the more consistent you are in your updates and engagements, the better.
* Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2012 and has been revamped and updated for our readers.