An article by Tambourine came across my feed today discussing the merits of live chat modules on hotel websites, titled Want More Bookings Get Chatty. They listed four very good reasons as to why a hotel should consider installing the live chat module, but failed to give any options. There are a lot of options available, it turns out. I will focus primarily on one, mainly because I enjoyed the default look of it without taking too much time to customize it.
Live chat modules, if unfamiliar with them, are a window that pops up on a website, allowing someone to chat through text with a support person on the other end. They are becoming more and more common, especially on websites that are looking to sell their services and businesses that have busy support systems (i.e. phone or cable companies.) They are unobtrusive and will disappear after a short time if they aren't being used.
The best part about the chat modules is they are simple to use, both for the user and for the admin person. A user only needs to enter their name and start typing away. All of the chat modules I looked at can be installed on a website in a few minutes without too much effort. After installation, the admin person(s) can communicate with the guests through the website or through mobile apps on their phones. Some of the chat modules even offered desktop applications to make things even easier.
Pricing varied with the services: free to $200+ a month. The core features are always available on the lower-tiered plans. The limits placed on the tiers generally have to do with how many users the site has, and how many chat sessions can occur per month.
As mentioned previously, there are lots of options available online. Here are a few to get started with your exploration:
- Olark - 1 user with unlimited chats is $15/month.
- LiveChat - 1 user starts at $16/month.
- Tawk - Completely free. Unlimited chats, unlimited users.
- PureChat - Free for 15 chats, $15/month for 3 users and unlimited chats.
All of them offer the same basic functionality: - web chat interface for users and admin - customization for the look of the chat window - chat history - triggers for when the pop-up occurs, which pages it's displayed on - multipe users - mobile apps to communicate while on the go
I will run through some of these features with PureChat.
Setup of PureChat is quite simple. You sign up for an account, get a snippet of code and then paste it into the header of your website or on individual pages. It was painless and installed within minutes.
Next was running through all the basics of the chat experience. This would include the words on top of the boxes, colours, location of it on the webpage (bottom right is the default), and what kind of animation to have the chat window first appear or disappear. When the window first opens, you have additional options, like whether you want people to enter a name or email address, or how you greet the people automatically. There are options for what happens when someone closes the window: download a transcript or have it emailed, rate the admin person, and have a button to direct them to a different part of your website. There are additional options for what happens when the admin person is unavailable. The default is to give the person the option to send a quick email.
Next you setup your users: name, email address, and their level of access. When the users first sign in, they will have to choose a password. They can also set a different profile picture.
The last step to get started is downloading their mobile app for your phone, and logging in with your credentials you used when first signing up.
Depending on how thorough you are in wanting to change all the default actions, setup can take from 5 to 20 minutes.
The chatting experience is rather self-explanatory. There is nothing too fancy about it because it is designed for quick sessions to ask for help. There is no video conferencing, file attachments, audio communication, and so forth. Only text.
There are a few things of note for the admin users. Most of these services will allow for a canned response, a message prepared in advance that you find yourself sending out often. This will be rather handy for hotels that have to send out their cancellation policies or directions to the hotel frequently. You can setup as many canned responses as you like, and can set limits on who can use them if need be.
The other nice feature are the transcripts of the conversations. It will include the full converation for review if you want to see how your agents are responding, the agent involved, time stamps, and also an optional rating on what the customer thought of the conversation. Transcripts can be downloaded or emailed from the site, but can be automatically emailed to someone for review, which is useful at the start when usage may be the lowest.
If you happen to have a spammer messaging you, you can also ban their IP address and prevent them from messaging in the future.
Mobile apps are available for iOS and Android. They offer quite a bit of functionality for the user: access to chats, transcripts, canned responses, other team members, and scheduling.
Scheduling can happen on the site, but can be set for the users individually. That will be nice if you want a morning shift to respond during their hours, and then the evening shift takes over. Another nice touch is the ability to manually override your scheduling and turn off your availability.
For PureChat, the app is minimal and functional, exactly what you would expect to be using.
All of these chatting modules integrate with other sites and services to offer more functionality. Depending on what else you use for your hotel, this may be useful. The information collected from the chatters can be sent to MailChimp to invite them to join your newsletter, or it can be sent to Google Analytics to track where people are visiting from, and more.
Most of these applications will also offer multilanguage support. Very useful for hotels located in major centres with international travellers.
Overall, these chat modules are easy enough to install and use that there is no reason for a hotel not to be using them. It will save guests from calling the hotel to ask questions and keep them in the booking process until the reservation is finalized. It will also offer one more amenity that your competition likely has not introduced yet. It is only a matter of time before they start including the chat interfaces on their sites, so get a jump start on them and start looking into one today.