Has Technology Taken the Hospitality Out of Travel?
This week I was having a phone call with the leader of a travel business and she described to me how web-based lead forms were a significant originating source (50%+) of all the leads they generated off the web, but how today's prospects just were not filling out the forms anymore. Form abandonment is at an all-time high in her business and she said they're anxious to develop new methods to collect the lead. What I've been hearing constantly now is: the customer lead gen form is on life support.
So, is it time the lead form to go away? Well, not so fast. The lead form is still one of the most practical places to help a traveler, visitor, prospect or customer who has developed purchase interest or intent to state their purchasing desire to your organization. Before pulling the plug on the lead form, we have to acknowledge that there is a dearth of replacement mechanisms. If you pull out X and X is critical to your business model you better have Y to replace it, right? Well get back to that Y in a second.
The reality is that travelers don't like lead forms, and here's why:
Lead forms are impersonal Lead forms don't address a traveler's sense of immediacy or urgency Lead forms ask the traveler for something BEFORE offering something Lead forms don't generally explicitly state how disclosed information will be used Lead forms assume the traveler is ready and willing to part with their anonymity Lead forms are not evident to WHEN the traveler will get a thoughtful response Lead forms are not evident to HOW the traveler will hear back Lead forms are insulting to a traveler who has endless choice [insert your own reason here based on your personal experiences] Hospitality professionals don't necessarily like lead forms either, and here's why:
Lead forms create latency between traveler desire and a hospitality response, and hospitality professionals know that reaction time is critical to customer experience success Lead forms DO NOT introduce personality and personal selling skills Lead forms generically qualify a traveler; all travelers are unique Lead forms give an otherwise interested traveler a reason to abandon O.k. So what is the Y? What can replace the web-based lead form, a data extraction tool used since the dawn of the Internet? The prospective replacements are few, but let's take a look at each:
Commodity Chat Support: Tools like legacy live chat which are used by the call center to capture the lead and follow up with the traveler through another method such as phone or email. o Pro: Relatively quick o Con: Impersonal, unauthoritative, traveler may sit in queue, buyer can never find the same chat call center rep again
Immediate Direct Engagement: Tools like Engage.co provide instant one-to-one interaction and relationship development between customer facing agent and buyer. See an example here used by Travel Leaders: http://tvlleaders.com o Pro: Personalized, trusted, immediate (really fast), relationship continuity
o Con: Requires change and utilization by hospitality professionals
Virtual Agents: These can be pre-scripted and automated Q&A interactions with the traveler that allow natural language to help guide the traveler to an answer in a self-service fashion. o Pro: Relatively quick, doesn't require humans o Con: Impersonal, cannot cover 100% of questions, can frustrate/dead-end customer
In-Asset Collection: Tools like Docalytics.com can take the existing concept of form collection, and make it feel less threatening by tastefully asking the right lead extraction questions to the traveler at the right time, inside of assets like digital brochures and landing pages. o Pro: In-context data extraction is subtle (less pushy) o Con: Impersonal, requires thoughtful integration, less than immediate response time
Click-to-Email: Enables the traveler to email your organization directly. o Pro: Makes the inquiry/outreach quick o Con: Impersonal, typically generic (info@company), open-ended, less than immediate response time
Click-to-Call: Enables the traveler to connect to your organization via phone. o Pro: Relatively quick o Con: Typically unknowledgeable reps supporting calls, difficult phone tree system navigation
Facebook (and other auth/sign-up tools): Tools like Facebook enable website publishers to empower travelers with a way to join the site with a single click. And, customers LOVE clicking things. The Facebook API provides an obvious replacement for lead forms and letting people fill out a form with a click ... your conversion will likely ascend back to where it used to be. o Pro: Relatively quick, convenient for visitor/customer o Con: Requires integration work What about a hybrid approach? Blending a combination of traditional lead forms, as well as these alternatives above may extend the life of your lead form practices without a complete overhaul or removal. On the page where you want to collect the lead, can you surface 2-3 of these tools? It's possible by giving the traveler a choice over the available methods to reach out you'll catch them through THEIR preferred method vs. trying to force them into YOUR preferred method.
Summary Lead forms are no longer attractive to many types of travelers for a number of reasons. They also are not appealing to hospitality professionals who understand how relationship-driven this industry is. However, there is a short list of alternatives. Rather than killing off the lead form, or continuing to use the lead form ONLY (at your own peril), consider a blended model that empowers travelers with choice. This may offer the next step in the evolution of lead collection practices.