One of the biggest on-line challenges for a small business, especially a tourism related business, is developing on-line credibility. What do I mean by on-line credibility? Basically it is how credible or legitimate your business appears to be to yout on-line audience.
On-line credibility is very much like your real world credibility. In fact, I would argue that they should be part of the same strategy. The difference between the off-line and on-line credibility however, is that your on-line credibility tends to be driven more by your brand, design, and professionalism of your website and not by you as the business owner. In the off-line world, a customer can meet you and your staff and determine your credibility with personal contact. In the on-line world, a customer must make a judgement on your credibility based on the information you provide on your site, the design of your site, the way you conduct your bookings, and the way you follow up with communications. For many small business, this can be a challenge, especially when faced with competing with large on-line brands.
Here are some ways that you can build and maintain your on-line credibility:
1. Professional appearance & quality design: This is critical to your on-line credibility. Why? Because you have about 8 seconds to impress your visitor enough to convince them to explore your site further. Remember the old saying… “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression”. When that saying is doubly true for the web. If your website is poorly designed or broken, you will probably lose that visitor to a competitor. Here are examples of small tour operators who have professional designs:
Both these designs are clean and well branded. The products are easy to see with readable text, lots of attractive photos, and compelling calls to action. Both of these sites also clearly display their memberships and association relationships.
2. Content, Content, Content: Need I say more? You are an expert at what you do, so share your expertise with your visitors. That said, you may not be a great writer, so if need be, find someone who can translate your message into compelling text for your visitors. Be careful though, your message needs to be compelling, interesting, and AUTHENTIC. Your customers can tell when you are spinning a marketing message versus just telling it like it is. Your greatest advantage over your larger travel competitors is that you can tell your message in your own voice, because for many of you, your company and brand are intricately tied to you as the business owner. In this seemingly impersonal World, people are craving connections with authentic local experiences. You have a very real opportunity to build your on-line credibility by becoming the voice for your business and, in part, your community.
3. Share your credentials: Are you a member of your local Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Associations, Better Business Bureau, or Travel Association? Make sure that you clearly display your memberships and link to your profiles on these sites. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) for example, has an online certification program that allows visitors to view your company’s profile with the BBB. Assuming you have a good reputation and have been diligent about customer service, you should be proud to display this badge to your customers. The same may be true for other organizations but you may have to contact them directly to find out. Be careful of fake business sites that will create a certified badge for your company for a fee but with no background checks. A fake badge can do a lot of damage to your credibility and will destroy your trust with your potential customer.
Here is an example of our BBB badge for reference:
4. Embrace On-line Customer Reviews: Don’t fear on-line review websites. They can, in fact, be a powerful referral source for your business. Sites like TripReviews.com, which is one of only a few travel review sites that supports tours and activities, can add a lot of credibility by allowing you to collect and display your customer reviews on your website. Some booking engines, like Rezgo.com for example, also provide integration with customer reviews, so you can often combine the review process directly with the booking in order to support the sales process. Other sites, like GetSatisfaction.com, are not necessarily designed for tourism related businesses but can still be used to facilitate open customer communications. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you must take control of your reputation on-line or you will miss out on the conversations that are happening around your service. A simple way of taking control is to send your customers a follow-up email after they take your tour with a link to your TripReviews.com or TripAdvisor.com page and ask them to write a review of their experience. Don’t worry, over 70% of the reviews on review websites are positive, so chances are good that your customers will give you praise.
5. Security & PCI Compliance: If you offer on-line bookings (and I highly recommend that you do), you absolutely MUST have a booking process that is PCI compliant. PCI stands for “Payment Card Industry” and the compliance refers to a strict set of rules that your website must adhere to in order to reduce your liability as an on-line merchant. By ensuring that your booking engine is PCI compliant, you reduce your risk of fraudulent transactions and, more importantly, you protect your customers from possible credit card fraud. Using a hosted booking engine, like Rezgo.com for example, you can easily check if they are PCI Compliant by looking for a “Credit Card Safe” logo or security mark. If you have installed a stand-a-lone booking software, you may need to undergo the PCI compliance yourself which can cost between $99 – $7,000 per year depending on your volume of bookings. I recommend you contact Security Metrics if you need a good PCI service provider.
In conclusion, there are a lot of little things you can do to build trust in your on-line visitors. All of these credibility building measures mean nothing, however, if you don’t provide a good service or product. When combined with a solid offering, building your on-line credibility can go a long way to keeping you one step ahead of your competition and top of mind with your current and future customers.