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HomeColumnsArticlesWired Hotel: Are you “watching” or “listening” to your online visitors? by Jerry Tarasofsky

Wired Hotel: Are you “watching” or “listening” to your online visitors? by Jerry Tarasofsky

More than ever before, hospitality marketers are being asked to justify expenses based on metrics and it should be no different for those responsible for the development of your web site initiatives.

The question is – are you presently using analytics to measure the effectiveness of your web site initiatives? If the answer is no, you are not alone. A recent study by the CMO Council shows that fewer than 20% of senior marketing executives have developed measurement metrics. And even the definition of what should be measured varies widely. For instance, only 23% of online retailers define conversion rates the same way and 66% still use click-throughs to measure ROI of a marketing campaign, according to a Jupiter Research Online Retail Metrics Report. If you are among this group that is not presently using analytics of any form, it would be my suggestion that you immediately assign a member of your marketing team to lay down the ground work for establishing a web analytics program ASAP.

If you are using analytics to measure activity at your web site, you need to understand what metrics provide the most valuable information and how best to use that information.

First and foremost, it is imperative that you have metrics that allow you to understand what makes your web site visitor tick – you must access their “Consumer DNA”. Companies that develop a learning dialogue with their customers and access that “Consumer DNA” create a competitive advantage that is defendable, unique and permanent. Your web site is a channel ideally suited to open, nurture and sustain that dialogue.

To create this dialogue, I believe attitudinal analytics are the best way to watch and truly listen to what your web site visitors have to say. It has been our experience however that many site owners believe behavioral analytics – simply “watching” or tracking “hits” and following click-streams is sufficient to understand what is going on in the minds of their users.

The analogy of someone watching vs. listening best describes the differences I am referring to. You can observe a guest’s reaction to your new room design and know whether it had positive or negative impact, but until you actually listen to them and get their feedback in a form you can take action on, you won’t know what if any impact that design had on their intention to return to your hotel.

I think it is important for web site owners to recognize that there is quite a fundamental difference in these two actions and that at iPerceptions we believe it is far more important for web sites focused on providing a rewarding customer experience to listen rather than simply watch.

In both cases, web site owners also face the additional challenge of finding the correct mix of web analytics that will give them the data they need, in a format they can easily understand and react to at a price that is competitive and within budget.

At first glance, the difference between the actions of “watching” or “listening ” in relation to understanding and interpreting visitor behavior at your web site does not seem that great. It can be argued that in the end, both analytics provide some information about the visitor’s overall experience with your site. How you interpret the information provided by watching and listening and how your marketing or development team takes action on that data, to a great degree, will determine how well you are able to respond to the needs, wants and desires, of your visitors – and how well you can build customer loyalty and encourage repeat visits through your web initiatives.

The following is brief overview how the hospitality sector uses behavioral and attitudinal analytics to watch and listen.

Behavioral Analytics – Watching There is a wide array of “Watching” software out there – both customized and off the shelf that can be used to analyze web site activity. Log files are a rich source of data – they track click-streams, time spent per page/section, page visits, and unique visitor counts. They can tell web site owners where visitors came from and where they go after they leave your site. They can also be used to track a user’s path during a site visit. Your team can sift through log and transaction files and other usage data every day if they want and monitor the number of hits, page load time, and session lengths etc. All of this information exists in your log files and I recommend that some form of log file analysis be included in your online analytics program. Watching also includes the simple tabulation of basic information available from your existing data sources including changes in number of reservations booked via the online channel, changes in the number of queries to your call center that were generated by your web site as well as requests for additional information generated by the site.

Attitudinal Analytics – Listening

There is an art and science related to listening to your web site users. Placing a “send us your comments” button on your web site is not what I am referring to when I speak of listening, though it is a place to start. When I refer to listening, I am talking about a structured, organized effort to continuously monitor the state of your site by asking your visitors to interact with your web site. It is my firm belief that the profitable and enlightened web sites of the future will be shaped by their community of users by empowering those users to direct the relationship. This will only happen if your users are offered an opportunity to interact, which by its very nature means there is an exchange of information – your user speaks and you listen.

Because relationships are dynamic, what users need today to build a strong relationship with your site may be different tomorrow. By continuously monitoring, listening and responding to what users like and don’t like about your site, a strong relationship is created that turns users into repeat customers, and repeat customers into loyal advocates—in effect, these users become your hotel evangelists.

The key to building such loyalty is not only discovering these previously invisible connectors, but also knowing how to use them to increase the bond between the organization and the user. The deeper the bond, the greater the value each brings to the relationship.

I believe that when organizations regard users as long-term assets, they maximize this exchange of value. By listening to users, responding to them and collaborating on what the relationship means from their point of view, your company not only increases profits, it gains other valuable benefits such as user advocacy.

And as important as listening is to the profitability of your web site, the ability to collect that “listening” data in a form that allows you to act on it is critical as well. In the hospitality sector for example, organizations like InterContinental, Radisson, Homestead and Savoy Group listen by mapping user feedback to a strategic perceptual framework that allows them to measure both immediate and long-term value as well as the value of the site experience to the user in terms of meeting their immediate needs..

So whether you choose to use a framework to organize how and what you listen to, or you simply ask your users for feedback using another structured format, remember that is it critical to stop and listen. It is no different than in the traditional business world. Where would you be if you ignored what your guests had to say?

Jerry Tarasofsky is CEO of iPerceptions Inc, a company whose attitudinal analytics solutions capture the attitudes and perceptions of actual web site visitors within the context of their actual site visit to discover the issues that matter most to them.

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TravelDailyNews Asia-Pacific editorial team has an experience of over 35 years in B2B travel journalism as well as in tourism & hospitality marketing and communications.