It’s a story we’ve all heard or experienced ourselves: A guest at the hostel has an easily fixable problem, but instead of letting the staff know, they keep it to themselves, feeling unhappy, waiting until they’re checking out, or even worse, until they write their review. Naturally this is a frustrating experience for all hostel operators. We can’t help you if we don’t know you need help! However, it’s interesting to see where different hostels place the blame.
Some people say its the lazy millennials’ fault for being too addicted to their phones to walk down to reception and let them know there’s a problem. Others, like Podstel, are adapting to the change by using messaging to interact with their guests. Messaging is the future of communication for customer service. Your hostel can use messaging not only to keep guests happy, but also to make more money. Today we'll cover why messaging is great for hostels, give you some ideas on how to use messages, and then provide a few tech recommendations for making your messages easy and effective.
Twillio found that 9 out of 10 consumers would like to use messaging to communicate with businesses. And this isn’t just a millennial thing. Messaging is 3 to 8 times more preferred than face-to-face communications across all generations. Messaging is easy because it’s informal and we can do it from our phones, which are always close at hand. However, in the context of hostels, there’s two additional reasons why messaging rocks.
The number one reason why messaging is great for hostels is because it enables guests and staff to communicate with each other asynchronously, meaning when it’s convenient. Hostels have to keep their staffing levels low, which means it’s common when a guest needs help, the front desk staff is already busy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve personally experienced this issue, when I need something and there are two check-ins waiting in front of me at the front desk or the staff is helping another guest sort out their kayaking tour. If the hostel used messaging, I could be waiting for a reply while I’m out exploring the city.
The second special benefit to messaging for hostels is that it erodes language barriers. If your guest isn’t comfortable with English, they can re-read a message instead of asking the receptionist to slow down and repeat themselves. If the guest doesn’t understand a certain word, they can use a translator app. A picture is worth a thousand words and you can add a photo to a message to help you get your point across. Messages are especially easier than face-to-face communication when language is an issue.
Besides helping in-house guests, hostels can use messages to make more money. You can use messages to encourage more direct bookings. Many messaging solutions add a chatbox to your website, which means you can send a message to someone browsing through photos of your rooms, answer their questions-on-the-spot, or send them a promotion. In this situation you already have their attention and you can use messaging to seal the deal before they go back to the OTA to book, or decide to consider other hostels.Messaging guests before they arrive can help you and your staff sell more tours. Once someone has made a reservation, follow up with a message, asking them what they want to see and do while they’re visiting. At the very least you are helping your future guests plan their trip, adding value to their stay with a personalized recommendation. “You want to try to best Philly Cheesesteak while you’re in Philadelphia? We’ll tell you just the spot.” However, you could be doing much more. Imagine if a backpacker books a $30 bed in Airlie Beach and through a chat conversation, ends up booking a $300 Whitsundays sailing tour on top of that. If your front desk staff make good salespeople, your chat function could be worth more revenue than your booking engine!
Send guests a message the night before they’re due to check out. Remind them in a friendly way what time check out will be in the morning and ask them if they’d like to extend. We hate it when in-house guests use Hostelworld to extend their stay, but again, like it or not, a lot of backpackers are not coming to the desk to tell you face-to-face they’d to book an extra night. A quick message might save you a commission on extra nights.
Did you know that 90% of texts are opened within 3 minutes? Send out texts to your guests letting them know about tonight’s family dinner or this afternoon’s walking tour. You’re sure to get a few more participants who forgot you mentioning it during check-in and are immune to the signs you post around the hostel.
Everyone loves saving money. You can get guests to hand over their phone numbers or engage with you in messaging by offering them special incentives. How about a drink special that you unlock by showing the bartender the text? Offer a “flash sale” on a tour package if they book in the next 24 hours. You can use messaging to make guests feel “in the know” and also to create a sense of urgency.
Hopefully you can see the reasons why messaging is valuable to your hostel. Let’s talk about how to implement messaging at your hostel.
First, you don’t need any special software to start using messaging. It can be as easy as actively replying to Facebook messages on your Page, answering Instagram DMs, and texting over a phone that you leave at reception. However, with a little software help you can make your messaging strategy much more powerful.
Facebook Customer Chat is a free plugin for your hostel website. People browsing your website can instantly send you a message through Facebook Messenger by clicking on the Messenger symbol that this plugin embeds on your website. This is super convenient for your potential guests because they don’t have to fill in any details. If they’re already logged into Facebook or Messenger, it’ll work seamlessly. Second, because this is a Messenger conversation, you can pick it up later after the person has left your website. For example, if a in-house guest sends you a message on the website asking about tonight’s pub crawl, but the staff is busy and takes an hour to reply, even though the guest has closed your website and moved on, they will receive the follow-up in their Messenger app. The Facebook Customer Chat plugin is free, it only requires a Facebook page, and it enables your website to receive messages, which means every hostel should at least go this far towards embracing messaging. Next, let’s go more in depth.
Hoperator is a messaging platform that lets you handle Emails, texts, Facebook Messenger, and chat on your hostel’s website, all from one single dashboard. Having an all-in-one home for these different messaging channels is very helpful for any hostel. When you have many guests, lots of communication channels, and multiple staff-members responding, it’s way more effective to keep it all in one place.
If you give Hoperator a try, be sure to let them know that BackpackerBiz sent you so we can get a bonus. Thanks for supporting the BackpackerBiz blog!
We’ve seen a number of software start-ups come and go, techies who stay in hostels and think they know what owners need to be more effective. Hoperator is different. The nerd behind Hoperator is Michael Foltz, former owner of the Stranger Hostels in Poland. Coded by a hostel owner, you can be sure this tool is built with hostel operations in mind. Second, Hoperator is super simple to set up. Add a line of code to your website, spend an hour configuring your account, and you’re ready to rock. Third, Hoperator is free! They have some more advanced features that you can unlock if you decide to become a power Hoperator, but the basic level is gratis. Hostel owners are very weary of trying new things if it will take a lot of money or time to get the ball rolling. Hoperator requires neither.
If you fall in love with Hoperator and decide to step it up to their paid plans, there are some great features that will make your communications more effective and efficient. Imagine automated messages, engaging your guests on autopilot to help them plan their trip and book tours, and follow-up messages to get their feedback and remind them to leave a review.
If your hostel company is bigger, you might consider using some of the more powerful, expensive solutions that cater to hotel companies. Zingle, HelloShift, and Whistle are the industry leaders for big hotel companies. Their prices are out of reach for most hostel operators so we're not going to focus on them here.
Messaging is a very powerful tool for customer service and it’s one of the big trends we’ll see in 2019, especially for hostels (to learn about all the trends for 2019, join me at the American Hostel Conference later this month). Some hostel owners lament the decline of face-to-face communication in their hostels and wish we could go back to the good ol' days when the phone rang with direct bookings and guests came to the front desk when they needed help. Like it or not, those days are gone, and as we’ve discussed here, there are reasons why messaging isn’t just a shift, it could be an upgrade. An effective messaging strategy can improve guest ratings, grow ancillary revenues, maximize direct bookings, and increase staff efficiency. So what are you waiting for? Time for your hostel to get textually active!
Byron has worked with hostels big and small, city and rural. His first job was as a receptionist in San Francisco and his favorite was leading the events for a 500-bed hostel in Sydney. Today he's a Market Manager at Cloudbeds. Besides all things hostel related, he enjoys motorcycle riding, especially because it's the perfect way to get from hostel to hostel!
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