Instant messaging: a lifeline for customers – and your brand?

As a tour, attraction or event operator, if you aren’t using instant messaging in your communications mix, you might just miss the boat.

Right now, you (and your customers) are navigating uncertain and rapidly changing waters. Shifting circumstances might be beyond your control (eg snap local or national lockdowns) or unforeseen (like Covid-related staff illness or self-isolation). However, keeping your customers updated as quickly and directly as possible is your responsibility. There are myriad instant messaging tools and products available to help you do this well – so it’s time to get on board.

Your comms…in an instant

Imagine you are running a London Eye event and an hour beforehand protestors decide to chain themselves to it. Or a hurricane has shifted course, meaning a much-loved sporting event in a major US city has to be cancelled. Or a staff member in Paris has called in sick with Covid-19 so the rest of their team are now also having to self-isolate. You need to quickly reach large numbers of event attendees who may be spread out far and wide. With one SMS or tweet, you alert them to the problem and explain your solution. 

Instant messaging is direct in nature, making it a powerful comms tool for connecting with your customer. There’s no middleman to intercept, delay or change your message. What’s more, it helps you accessing unfiltered feedback direct from source. Throw in the ability to harvest real-time data on what is working for your customers (and what isn’t) and you are getting the kind of genuine customer insight and interaction previous generations of tour and event operators could only dream about.

But which to use? You have the option of using stand-alone messaging channels, including email or SMS; or you can adopt channels provided by social media platforms. To help you choose, here’s a recap:

— Aleksei / Adobe Stock social channels
How do you choose the right messaging channel — Aleksei / Adobe Stock

SMS: tiny but mighty

The humble text, or ‘SMS’, is still your most powerful and effective way of delivering time-critical messages directly to your customers. Recent research demonstrates they have a 97% open rate within 15 minutes of delivery. Also a fantastic feedback tool: 31% of recipients will respond to SMS-delivered surveys within 5 minutes, making it a great means of collecting consumer data.

With the almost universal adoption of mobile phones, SMS reach is as close to complete as it is possible to get – so an ideal tool for instant messaging.

Email messenger: perfect for the marathon, not the sprint

Unlike SMS, email messaging doesn’t come with a character limit. So for messages that are not time-critical and content-heavy, this is a strong choice. But note these keywords: “not time critical” – they are important! There is considerably more email ‘noise’ out there than SMS chatter so emails take recipients much longer to wade through. This explains why emails have a much lower open rate (20%) and response rate (6%) than SMS – making them a very poor choice for your most urgent messages.

We will be covering email messaging in more depth in a future blog. Make sure you don’t miss it by signing up for our blog updates email list.

Social media channels: connecting where other comms cannot reach  

If you’re reading this, social media won’t need any introduction. It is a fact of our lives. 

The biggest social network, Facebook, has over 2.7 billion active users worldwide. 500 million tweets are sent every day. Instagram has the 4th-most users of any mobile app. The latest user figures reveal that just over 55% of Americans get their news from social media. 

Recent global events have cemented the pivotal role of social media in our personal and professional lives. Which offers you an exciting opportunity to get closer to your customers – and give them an even better experience.

The broad reach of social media means that messaging channels may reach further and faster than many of your own messaging facilities. The unprecedented worldwide and cross-generational adoption of platforms such as Facebook means that one message using these messaging channels can now boldly go where most other messages couldn’t go before.

Choices, choices: social media platforms

One of the most important decisions you will need to make is selecting which platform (or platforms) to use. Ideally, you should pick the one (or more) which your customers most use. If your events are targeting an older consumer, they are much more likely to be users of Facebook than Instagram or Snapchat.

Drawing from your unique customer personas, ask yourself key questions to help identify the most appropriate platform(s):

  • Which age group(s) do they belong to?
  • Which platform do they spend more time on?
  • What’s their provenance? What are the usage rates for that region?

Good news: when it comes to platforms, tour, attraction and event operators have an embarrassment of choices. Ideally, we suggest you use more than one channel. However, make sure you are servicing that channel properly, otherwise customers relying on it alone won’t get essential messages. If you stop using it, then close it down to avoid confusion.

The biggest and most used platforms are:

  • Facebook – has the widest reach and distribution, both geographically and among middle-aged and older adult users. The broad nature of content available means marketing messaging can be more varied and engaging to customers. This means you can offer multimedia excitement-building, desire-inducing event teasers and incorporate glowing reviews.
  • Twitter and Whatsapp – great when you need speed, so ideal for rapidly delivering reminders, as well as messages about last-minute changes and joining instructions.
  • Instagram – visual-driven. Working in tandem with your blog, this platform is a strong brand communication tool, excellent for building up a following or creating desire in potential customers.

Ever heard of MySpace?

If so, you’ll know it as the classic perfect cautionary tale on how platforms can have a shelf life. New platforms are continually being launched and instantly seized upon by the insatiable rapid adopters that form younger customer groups. If you are targeting these ficklest of consumers, you’ll need to be thoroughly switched on to emerging platforms and be prepared to switch to them. 

Instant messaging for tour operators
How do you make the most of mobile communication?

It’s good to talk, but it’s even better to listen…

Whichever method you choose, your messaging channels must be a two-way street. Your outgoing messaging is invaluable for instantly alerting a widely-spread group of customers about a last minute change of plan, event cancellation or tour postponement. It is also a cost effective and timely way to provide real-time travel information or remind event participants about joining instructions.

However, time is also money when it comes to gathering feedback and acting on it. Real-time complaints or comments about things that aren’t working mean you can swiftly address problems. This gives you a valuable window to address unhappy customers’ complaints before they press ‘send’ on a brand-tarnishing or revenue-crashing review. Averting this potential disaster is ever more vital to tour and event operators with the ever-growing power of review sites such as TripAdvisor. 

Do’s and don’ts

Done properly, instant messaging could enhance your brand, helping you build customer loyalty and further market share. But do it badly and you run the risk of angry customers, bad reviews or even going viral for all the wrong reasons. To help you make sure your messaging policies are robust, here are our key best practice tips:

1.Be available

When you open an instant messaging channel, make sure you actually use it. The worst thing you can ever do in a crisis is leave customers in an information vacuum. 

2. Appoint a team or key person to manage that channel

Have a team or person whose responsibility is to ensure that alerts or customer updates are sent out and messages from customers are dealt with.

3. Have a clear turnaround target 

The rule of thumb is that you should aim to respond to most customer instant message queries or concerns within an hour.

4. Empathy is key

Anyone communicating with customers should be skilled in understanding customers’ concerns and be experienced on using an appropriate tone of voice. 

Tone is important. By default, stick to being respectful, personalised where possible. It should reflect the unique situation and circumstances in which customers find themselves. Using humour requires acute judgement – it is all too easy to get badly wrong. Err on the side of humility: recognise your weaknesses, explain your efforts to remedy them and don’t take yourselves too seriously. 

Above all, your message should leave customers feeling confident that their concerns are being understood and properly addressed.

5. Content is never ‘one size fits all’ across channels

If using more than one channel, be mindful that audiences vary and behave differently according to which one they are on. Your message and content should reflect this and therefore be tailored appropriately; in length, content and tone, for starters.

6. Be prepared

Have a clear strategy on how to deal with a range of specific challenges, crises and circumstances. Your channel messaging team must be thoroughly trained and briefed on the steps each scenario requires – particularly regarding crisis management.

7. Stay connected

Regardless of demographic, it is strongly advised to frequently review which channels you are using and assess whether they are still the most effective available.

8. Be available!

(Yes, it’s that important..!)

Don’t be confused…aggregate

If you are using more than one platform, you may need a social media aggregator. For those of you who have never heard of this super-useful device, an aggregator is simply a tool which collates all items referring to a specific event or topic from your multiple social media feeds and presents them in a ‘one stop shop’ view. Or, in your case, a single inbox.

There are many, many aggregator products available to you ranging from very basic free ones, customisable mid-level tools, right up to highly sophisticated, heavy-on-the-marketing-added-value uber-versions. 

Now for the smallprint…

So we’ve (re)convinced you of the need for instant messaging. Great! But – surprise, surprise! – success comes at a price. There are a couple of cost considerations to consider:

  • Firstly, if your tech is relatively old, you might need an upgrade before you are able to integrate with a platform.
  • Secondly, you’ll need people to manage, send and receive the messaging. How many will depend on the size and reach of your operations.

It’s up to you to do the cost/benefit analysis. In these uncertain times, can you really afford not to?

Got the message?

There is no question that instant messaging offers considerable benefits to tour, attraction and event operators. Developing closer, faster and more direct dialogue with your customers will benefit your business (and brand). You will deliver a better experience, manage challenges and crises more effectively, and react faster to feedback. 

It is your choice which products and tools to use. It is also your responsibility to ensure your messaging is done correctly. But however you do it, by addressing this now you are helping to future-proof your business, giving it the best chance to thrive in the best – and worst – of times.

Can we help you?

Find out how Ventrata’s booking platform software will help you boost your tour, event or attraction business. Contact our sales team to book a demonstration.

If you are an existing customer and you’d like advice on how to integrate communication channels into your booking processes, please speak with your account manager.

Finally, don’t miss our essential weekly blog full of essential tips on how to grow your attraction, tour operator or event business. Sign up today.

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