Q&A with “Talk to the Manager”

An ancient relic of the hospitality industry has been revived to help navigate the ever-important digital conversation between businesses and its customers. Talk To The Manager (TTTM) is the prodigy of the primitive comment card that used to adorn nearly all businesses who wanted to gain customer feedback.

TTTM doesn’t rely on metrics that traditional comment cards can measure. Instead, they’ve realized that a customer’s perception is priority number one and what better way to make a great impression than to let the customers ask the questions rather than default to a business’s pre-scripted survey. Along with TTTM’s analytics, customers help hone the exact tools that business can implement to improve the quality of their experience in real-time.

The way it works is: when you sign up with TTTM, you receive a unique phone number that customers can text their anonymous comments to whereupon the management staff can respond. The applications for this simple yet effective app can be used by any business to tailor their experience to meet customer expectations.

We recently had a chance to interview the creators of Talk To The Manager. Their business model is proof that tackling tough issues in the hospitality industry don’t always demand complex solutions.

What kinds of variables do you track besides the negative and positive feedback?

We’re currently building out a TON of new features in the dashboard that will provide much deeper analytics, but be displayed in an easy-to-understand (and actually use!) format. However, until they’re completed we’re unable to disclose exactly what they are, but keep an eye out in the coming months. They should all be released within the next three months (hopefully much sooner).

Your service seems like a more proactive approach to customer satisfaction opposed to reading about  performance and food on websites like Yelp. Do you think your service will facilitate not only better reviews, but also relationships that create repeat customers?

We definitely believe our service to be a proactive approach. And you hit the nail on the head, we built this specifically to help get better reviews and create brand loyalty. We don’t want to stop reviews, because that would be silly, they can be a great tool and are never going away. But we want businesses to get a chance to respond to issues privately before they end up on public review sites, that way they can resolve issues and get better reviews. A lot of people today are talking about online reputation management (ORM) but we like to think of our service as preventative online reputation management.

Have you considered building a space online where people who use your service get to post a review on your site instead of Yelp?

No. We don’t want to be another review site. The point of our service is to get private feedback directly to on-site management in real-time so they can resolve issues. We are all about privacy. We keep both the manager’s and the customer’s phone numbers hidden from each other, and all feedback is kept in our dashboard for private viewing by the business. We like to think of it as their diary. Sometimes you make mistakes and have bad days, hopefully with our service you get a chance to correct those mistakes and they don’t have to be written on a public review site for everyone to see.

On the other hand we have found that over 75% of the messages from customers are positive, so we have created a way for the business to share these positive anonymous customer testimonials on their Facebook and Twitter profiles if they would like, but that is their choice.

Disruptive technology is a big topic that’s discussed right now. Did you consider how your service would change the traditional conventions of how restaurants will run their kitchens and services?

In all fairness most things being created for the restaurant industry today would be disruptive if they were actually adopted. The restaurant tech industry has so much competition right now because there really hasn’t been too many tech advances adopted by the industry as a whole, so there are some MAJOR opportunities. That’s a big reason our technology is so simple. We’re not some new app you and your customers have to download, or some website you have to visit, instead we are a simple text messaging service that requires absolutely no set-up. At our most recent trade show we had an older gentleman who owned a chain of restaurants pull out an old flip-phone from probably 2003 and ask us if our service would work on his phone. He was kind of being snide and joking until we told him yes it would work no problem and his jaw about hit the floor. He has since signed up.

So I guess in answer to your question, yes, we absolutely understand the possibilities of how our service could ‘disrupt’ the industry, and have a ton of additional features/products in the pipeline that can help it get there, but for now we are only worried about proving to the restaurant industry how simple our tool is and that it is a tool that is ACTUALLY USEFUL.

Some argue that this trend is a step toward the digital obsession with people and their electronic devices. How do you respond to this type of commentary?

There’s really not much that can be said at this point to stop the digital revolution. A lot of people don’t like the fact that consumers are becoming so addicted to their devices. As a company we don’t have an opinion whether or not this is a good or bad thing, we just see opportunity and pursue it. We’re entrepreneurs.

Instagram Launches Photo Indexing, Photos of You

Instagram has established itself as a piece of a vast digital mosaic that businesses and companies have used to gain insight on how trends emerge. Since acquiring the infamous photo-sharing app in early 2012, Facebook has adapted one of their key tagging tools to Instagram called “Photos of You.”

Until now, the only way you could tag a friend or your favorite restaurant was to add their handle in the comments section. Now, you’re able to tag friends and venues by hovering over the photo itself, much like Facebook.

These photos will then be indexed in its very own profile section on the tagged individual’s profile, allowing anyone to be able to see photos they have been tagged in by simply searching their name. As a result, a convenient listening tool for brands has emerged, creating the ability for businesses to track how they are seen by an online community.

To businesses in the hospitality industry, this means additional real estate for loyal fans to represent the company’s image.

Restaurants will be able to collect real-time data from the photos that are tagged at their venue. They’ll see what dishes are more popular than others, as well as what their customers find favorable in the ambiance or interior decor. What guests find thoughtful or unobtrusive in a hotel suite will now be more accessible to owners to implement solutions.

Instagram will also feature an easy way to untag photos of yourself to mitigate any apprehension from users, leaving only the best photos intact. This adds a level of storytelling that will create meaningful associations between brands and their influencers.

Photos of You streamlines the ability to see photos tagged by anyone in the format of a collage instead of notifications. Additionally, photos taken of you by a friend will not only be seen on their Instagram feed, but now in yours as well. This eliminates the gaps in your activity that otherwise wouldn’t be seen by your followers.

There is great potential for user-generated traffic that will reveal what kinds of photos are tagged. These in turn can be used to pioneer better campaigns that focus on specific demographics and themes. Combined with other Instagram marketing strategies or a social media marketing platform for Instagram, brands can use analytics to leverage Instagram as a business tool.

Will this tagging feature impact the way you use Instagram? Tell us how!

What Spiderman Can Teach Us About Mobile Marketing

I’m a huge movie fan, and am subscribed to AMC Theatres‘ newsletter that emails news and featured offers for upcoming releases.

They sent out an email promoting The Amazing Spiderman, the new Spiderman movie coming out July 3.

The Amazing Spiderman

When I clicked to view more info on how to enter to win tickets to the premiere, I noticed the barrier to entry involved downloading the movie’s mobile app and “swinging around” it in search of the entry form.

Rather than supplying a basic online form, or guiding people directly to the appropriate page on the mobile site, they encourage people to explore it, thereby allowing people to learn more about the movie as well as experience the usability of the app itself.

They also provide a few clues, adding a game-like component to the hunt, and the clues indicate one should watch the movie’s trailer.

This is an awesome idea for a sweepstakes, and a great way for a hotel, restaurant, or any business, to both promote AND get people to explore their new mobile app.

They could also include a video about their venue, and increase views by offering some kind of incentive.

This mobile marketing initiative allows people to become familiar with app, and perhaps recommend it to others and/or offer feedback on how it could be improved, and it also allows consumers to (inadvertently) learn more about (whatever the app is about).

What are some other ways brands can get users exploring mobile websites?

When is a Small Business Mobile App a Good Idea?

Computers are far from being phased out, but mobile devices are giving them some stiff competition. As a small business, you have to be ahead of the technology trends. More small shops are taking advantage of mobile applications to connect with their customers. Sometimes it makes sense to embrace a mobile app, but other times, you could be wasting your time.

Will My App Provide Useful Services?

For a business that gives customers direct control over certain services – a bank, for example – an app might make sense, especially if it lets them perform tasks they already can on a computer.

Banks use mobile apps to give customers more access to and control over their accounts, as well as the tools to make minor changes (transfers, balance inquiries and online payments). Some have even adopted technology that allows a customer to deposit a check simply by taking a picture and submitting it through an app. Chase Bank and USAA are larger companies that are paving the way for local banks who are rolling out similar services.

Other service related apps are targeted at business owners. From any location, they can keep track of inventory, manage freelance billing and other data and gauge employee productivity. Vehicle tracker GPS apps, for example, let a business monitor company vehicles en route.

From a consumer standpoint, mobile apps allow them to store data and images (think cloud storage) and browse merchandise or news articles based on personal preference. Consumers increasingly take these service features for granted, so it’s important not to be left behind.

The window is finite, to be sure. Not all businesses are built around interactive services, and developing an app could be a waste of your time. Still, if you are pushing a product, you could offer a different type of app. More on that below.

Will an App Help Me Sell Products?

When it first became clear that mobile apps would grow to dominate how consumers interact with businesses, restaurants and other delivery companies were among the first to get onboard. Larger companies – such as pizza chains, Amazon and Ebay – went first. Then came businesses like GrubHub and Delivery.com. Since then, even smaller shops have followed suit. Agencies like ChowNow have emerged to help restaurants develop apps for consumers.

In general, a mobile app makes sense for a food delivery business. If your restaurant offers only carryout, you could make an app work, but that would be a bit of a stretch. And dine-in only? You don’t need an app.

For retailers, your business must consider whether customers want to browse what you have. For that matter, is it something that would be fun for them to browse? If you’re selling shoes, sure. If it’s cotton swabs, probably not.

Can App Users Leave Valuable Feedback?

The answer is almost always yes.

Your customers have outgrown paper comment cards, and many won’t even bother to email you with comments or complaints. If you want to hear their opinions, which are invaluable, you need to give them an easy way to communicate with you. Let your customers sound off on your bacon cheeseburgers, or let them recommend ways you can improve your glass block designs.

Businesses with customized apps can solicit feedback directly through their apps. OpinionLab is one company that lets businesses garner feedback through mobile devices. Information can be as detailed as location of the user, and some include the ability of customers to attach photos or audio to their comments.

Will I be able to Bond with Customers?

Establishing a strong relationship with your customers is important. One of the primary purposes of developing an app is to market yourself and to keep your business on the radar of your customers.

You can develop a lasting loyalty with your customers by providing them a simple way to interact with you. You have to show them that as they move away from traditional media, you’ll be there with them. Be on the cutting edge, and don’t let your competition beat you there.

If you have any advice for small businesses seeking to take advantage of mobile phone apps, please feel free to use the comments section below.

This guest post was contributed by Chris Peterson. Chris is a copywriter for Straight North, a leading Chicago web design agency with clients that range from providers of vehicle tracker GPS devices to glass block designs specialists. Follow Straight North on Twitter!

New Mobile App Helps Inns Connect with Guests

Mobile Meteor just debuted a new product designed specifically for inns, Show Me Inn. Show Me Inn is a web application that seamlessly transforms an inn’s website into a mobile-friendly version, allowing customers to easily see rooms, learn about the area and contact the inn to make a reservation. It’s built to the specifications of the innkeeper, and works on iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys and other smartphones.

Mobile accessibility is crucial to inns, as more people look for information and make travel arrangements from their smartphones.

“As a travel-oriented business, it’s important to reach customers on the move. My Show Me Inn website provides directions and an easy phone link to my business – which brings guests to my door,” says Paul Breitenbach, Innkeeper at the Jacob Rohrbach Inn in Sharpsburg, Maryland.

show me inn mobile app

Mary White, owner of BnBFinder.com, agrees about the importance of adapting to the mobile web. She used Mobile Meteor to build her mobile-friendly site and is enthusiastic about what Show Me Inn offers B&B owners. “Innkeepers need an easy and economical way to ‘go mobile’ and Show Me Inn provides just that,” she says.

Word got out about Show Me Inn in the development phase, and early adopters are already pleased with the results: “Our mobile site has definitely paid off. We’ve already had many new bookings because guests were able to connect immediately to information about our inn,” says Sandra CH Smith, Innkeeper of the Cliff Cottage Inn in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Show Me Inn also provides access to a dashboard so innkeepers can see how users are interacting with their sites. This intelligence can help B&Bs better understand their customers’ needs. Furthermore, while most businesses charge a premium for access to such analytics data, Show Me Inn includes it with the base price.

show me inn mobile app features

Making Show Me Inn useful and affordable is central to founder Denis Hurley’s vision for the tool. “Our goal is to help grow small businesses. We make it easy for B&B’s to paint a true picture of what they are offering – and better connect them with their customers,” he says.

“A mobile site shouldn’t be crazy expensive – it just has to be smart. And look good.”

Shop for Good on Black Friday

Plano, Texas-based retailer JCPenney is welcoming the holiday season with several new digital initiatives, which it hopes will bolster sales both online and at its 1,100 stores.

First, JCPenney has joined forces with The Salvation Army for an online charitable effort, the Salvation Army Angel Program. This year, they hope to reach more children, teens and seniors in need than ever before. You have the option of adopting as an individual, or, it’s now possible for groups and companies to participate, adopting up multiple angels at once.

“We wanted to make it easier for companies and groups to participate, so now groups can adopt up to 10 or more angels,” a spokesperson says. “Over the past two years, we’ve had more than 100,000 adoptions, and we’re hoping to add even more by expanding the program this way. Supporters now have the means to come together and significantly impact more families in need.”

She says the company will air TV ads from Saatchi & Saatchi, as well as online banners, to support the effort.

On Thanksgiving Day, every person who adopts a Salvation Army Angel at jcp.com generates a $50 donation, up to $400,000. And every person who checks-in via Foursquare at a JCPenney store on Black Friday triggers a $25 donation, up to $100,000.

They’re also supporting the program with a mobile feature, as well as an iPad app, allowing people to adopt an Angel anywhere in the US directly from their mobile devices. To make things even better, gifts purchased through jcp.com get free shipping from UPS.

The company is also introducing QR Santa Tags, which allow shoppers to record a personalized voice message for gift recipients. Shoppers scan the tags, which will be available in its stores beginning Black Friday, record their personal gift message, and then attach the tag to the gift. The recipient then uses the code to retrieve the gift message. The tags are free with purchase.

Will you be shopping at JCPenney on Black Friday?

QR Codes for Upcoming Theater Performances

Segerstrom Center for the Arts showcases a wide variety of the most significant national and international productions of music, dance and theater to the people of Southern California.

Segerstrom Center for the ArtsThe Center presents a broad range of programming each season for audiences of all ages including international ballet and dance, national tours of top Broadway shows, intimate performances of jazz and cabaret, contemporary artists, classical music performed by renowned chamber orchestras and ensembles, family-friendly programming, free performances open to the public from outdoor movie screenings to dancing on the plaza and many other special events.

Social Media for the Arts

They’ve done a phenomenal job of keeping fans up-to-date via social media: Their Facebook page has over 17,000 fans; their Twitter account has over 3,000 followers; their YouTube channel has nearly 300,000 total upload views; their Flickr account has over 90 sets of photos; and their blog boasts regular behind-the-scenes incite to show rehearsals and more.

As a subscriber, I recently received their latest brochure in the mail with information on the upcoming season.

What caught my attention as I first started flipping through was the inclusion of QR Codes throughout. I hadn’t before seen them in this capacity and found it fascinating that a venue of this magnitude would note the value of using QR Codes mobile marketing.

How to Use QR Codes

QR Codes are basically barcodes that people are able to scan very easily from their cellphones. They’re typically square, and take users to a specific website of their choosing.
There are various mobile applications that scan QR Codes, including many free options. As soon as you open the app, it knows if/when it’s looking at a QR Code and begins reading it accordingly.

Sonny Rollins Audra McDonald

The purpose is to simplify the process of visiting a website from a mobile device. Rather than having to open a browser and find the desired website, a user can simply scan the barcode and be directly taken to a relevant page.

Here, for the arts venue, when you click on the corresponding codes, it takes you to a YouTube channel featuring a trailer of the corresponding show or performance.

This is awesome in that fans can learn more about artists they may not know about and/or get a sample of a Broadway show they may be considering. Because it’s a printed brochure, people may not be sitting at their computers while sifting through it, and thus being able to grab their phone (rather than the computer) and swiftly scan the code simplifies the “research” process.

Have you seen any other venues using QR Codes in creative ways?


Foursquare Lists Perfect for Destinations

Foursquare, the location-based social networking site with over 10 million users, recently unveiled a list of features allowing users to create lists of certain genres. For example, you could create a list of venues you hope to visit on your upcoming vacation, or restaurants with the best views.

Lists are easy to create via just logging into Foursquare and organizing places you already frequent. Plus, it’s easy to share lists with friends, encouraging interactions and conversations surrounding the featured locations.

Colleges have been jumping on-board, creating lists for welcome week activities, school traditions or tour locations.

This is extremely useful for destination marketing in that it allows tourism organizations to create customized lists for visitors. This could simplify the planning process for those coordinating vacation plans, plus it’s virtually free advertising for the featured venues.

Categories could include lists for family-friendly vacations, girlfriend getaways, romantic retreats and other such niche vacations.

There could also be lists of specific entities, such as hotels, restaurants, shopping, attractions, etc., which could appeal to the local audience as well.

The gamification aspects of Foursquare could also come into play — guests could earn certain destination badges for checking a certain number of places on a city’s list.

This is a great opportunity for CVBs to connect with travelers on a new, innovative level.

Would you use a Foursquare list when visiting a new location?

 

Simply relaying, “Debsville is at McDonald’s” probably doesn’t matter to Joe Schmo following your account.

Mobile App Helps Asian Hotels Engage

Digital Jungle is a socially led digital marketing agency that spun out of SinoTech Group in 2011 with the goal to help brands “understand the conversation” to meet business goals. They have offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sydney.

The company recently released an innovative hospitality mobile application called “mGuest.” This mobile application was developed for 4 and 5 star Asian hotels noting the uniqueness required in usability, navigation style and social media connections for this region.

Digital Jungle recognized a need to develop a cost-effective and engaging mobile application for hotels in Asia. The hospitality sector is one of the most competitive industries in the world: the hotel industry is estimated to grow at a rate of around 15% over the next five years and in 2010, the Asia-Pacific region led the hospitality market with an annualized RevPAR growth rate of 15.2%.

mGuest offers hotels the means to create deeper and more meaningful connections with their guests, thereby increasing awareness of the property and brand, offering an online functional e-concierge service and even facilitating bookings and in-room services.

“I am excited at the release of this new application for hotels. Not only because it provides functionality for hotels but more for the very real value it provides for guests staying at the hotel. Imagine being able to do 360 walk-arounds of your room before check-in on the way from the airport, or getting informed about a happy-hour happening at the bar while you are in your room. These simple things will make the guest’s stay a much more pleasant experience.” said Dr. Matthew McDougall, CEO of Digital Jungle.

Extra features of mGuest include social media integration with blogs, venue check-in, group buying and even add-on modules such as Events and Weddings. Elegantly useful, this mobile platform allows hotels to quickly customize, manage and easily update their mobile applications from the Digital Jungle platform.

The mGuest application is available for iPhone, iPad and Android platforms.