Our family was planning a vacation a few weeks ago and I was trying to decide between hundreds of hotels in the Orlando area. We made a list of the things we needed in a hotel: close to Disney World, WiFi access, a nice pool, etc. The most important thing to my two daughters? “We want Mickey Mouse waffles for breakfast”.
Mickey Waffles? When we were looking at some of the hotels they saw a picture and now it was a non-negotiable requirement. We knew that the Homewood Suites, a hotel on my shortlist, had them. I had four other hotels on the list, but I didn’t know whether or not they had Mickey Waffles. I went to each hotel website and not surprisingly, they hadn’t listed Mickey Waffles as an amenity (though that didn’t mean they didn’t serve them).
This is a common occurrence. Not the request for Mickey waffles, of course (although many people like them), but the fact that consumers have unique requirements that can’t be wholly anticipated by marketers writing website copy for the things they sell. How many times would you have completed a transaction, if only your questions had been answered? You’re far from alone: Opinion Research found that not being able to speak to anyone to answer questions is the #1 frustration for shoppers.
In our case, we had to eliminate the hotels on the list for which we couldn’t locate the vital Mickey Waffle information. We ended up staying at the one that happened to talk about the waffles on their website. They answered my question; they got my business.
Imagine this—apologies if it’s too close to home. You buy a laptop, only to find out that it’s not compatible with your 220 –volt home power system. So, you return it, and the manufacturer spends money to refurbish it, while the retailer is now forced to sell it at a steep discount. What’s more, they now have an upset customer—you—that is far less likely to buy from them again.
If you consider the fact that most online consumers in the U.S. now turn to the Internet for research before they buy, the true scope of this problem becomes clear. Most sites don’t have highly-trained sales staff online, chat and 800 numbers are very labor intensive, and many customers don’t want to be pitched by a salesperson just to receive product information.
Imagine that I did a search for “Mickey Waffles and Orlando hotels” and found this on a hotel website:
I would have booked immediately. Allowing your customers to ask questions, and making it easy for those questions to receive responses from other customers, your employees and your suppliers goes far beyond providing that customer with the answer they need. You’re also letting that answer guide the decisions of the thousands of other visitors looking at your products. In our fictional scenario, I wouldn’t have booked the hotel if they hadn’t opened up their site to questions like, “Does this hotel offer Mickey waffles for breakfast?” Instead, the search engine picked up this user-generated question (and Robert T’s helpful answer) and led me to the right hotel.
Solutions like this produce real results. For instance, watch Mike Dauberman, Vice President of eCommerce at Norwegian Cruise Lines, talk about how our Ask & Answer technology is helping them book more guests and provide a better experience overall to travelers: