Adapting the way we work at Anytime Booking HQ

Adapting the way we work at Anytime Booking HQ

Leaner, quicker, smarter

Agile at Anytime

We’ve come a long way since our humble beginnings with only one developer. As the Anytime team and user community has grown, we are adapting the way that we work.

Like many startup businesses, we have gone through something of a step change in the past few months.

Our challenges

As the system and user community grows, so do the questions on how Anytime can help our users to process and manage their bookings. Whilst we remain focused on camping and holiday businesses as our core offering, the level of feedback and feature requests have been fantastic over the years.

We manage hundreds and thousands of lines of code. We write new code, we revisit old code and find new ways of improving it, and we clear out bugs in the system when they appear. We juggle feature requests that come from customer discovery as well as those borne from our own ideas about better ways to design the software, whilst keeping up with the ever changing requirements of the internet. All of these need to be balanced. We also need to think about the impact of development on all our customers and on our communication in terms of sales, marketing, training and updating our knowledge base.

We welcome Agile

Agile is an umbrella term for a spectrum of work flow practices that all follow the same principle of working in small cycles known as iterations (usually two weeks).

Anytime adopted Agile this year with the help of a Cornwall based Agile business coach, Matt Hosking. Utilising Agile means we try to match our team’s capacity to work with a predetermined and time estimated set of tasks that the team here have all agreed need to be completed within that iteration.

Adaptability

It works for us as it’s a lightweight, efficient, but constantly moving workflow methodology. It allows for flexibility along the way – as there can often be setbacks, especially in the digital age. Agile allows us as a team to accommodate change at any point in the iteration or development process, yet still feel that we are moving forward and able to deliver value in short yet meaningful loops.

Before every iteration takes place, we move to our board. We review all our candidates, suggestions from our user community, and our backlog. Our backlog is development to the system we know we need to do.

Every card on the board is a story, a story of development on how it improves the Anytime community. These stories vary by the scale of the works required to update the system. We have epic stories that take us months to complete, down to short stories that can sometimes take a few hours.

Within every iteration cycle, we look to balance the variety of stories to keep the workflow moving forward.

Every morning we stand up to review our progress within the current iteration; pushing all new code to a testing account for the team to learn and review.

Quality Assurance & Testing 

Because Agile breaks our workflow into two week chunks, we are always testing as we go, leading to high-quality releases. If something isn’t quite ready, we will push it back into the next iteration; not done means it isn’t shipped.

Not only are we are continuously planning, testing and deploying code, we are then retrospectively reviewing the success of the past iteration. This means we are also always measuring our processes and eliminating time wastage.

Speed to market

Your requests, or user stories, become as real to us as they are to you. User stories form the backbone of the Agile plan. We assess them, size them up and prioritise them just like any other wish list.

We work out how many tasks we can get done in our two-week iteration and plan them in, a prioritised to-do list drawn up by a team with a drive to get things done. This means we can always react and pivot quickly which leads us into very regular development and release cycles – adding more value to you.

User feedback is immediate

With software as a service in an online environment, both delivery to, and feedback from, the market is immediate. The emphasis on getting shippable features or system enhancements into your hands frequently means the whole Anytime project is guided largely by you, the market. This keeps our software relevant but equally as important, it increases the possibility that together we’ll find the next big thing, that killer feature to keep us all ahead.

Change in development cycles used to be a no-no. But now we review progress daily in a brief morning meeting or stand-up. With stand-up, we have the chance to let our team mates know if we have any blockers to our workflow, and how we might break through them to keep focused and on track. We constantly inspect and adapt to change, always ready to modify what we are doing – it’s never too late.

A bonded team

Getting things done becomes a process involving every individual at Anytime. Everyone has a voice, everyone is empowered, everyone has opportunity to contribute to the task at hand. It also means that we are all accountable and motivated. It is a truly strategic and collaborative environment with everybody interacting daily with business direction.

So, behind your software that you use every day there are real people breathing life into it, discussing your request round a candidate board, moving it into our agreed backlog or prioritising it into the next iteration of work, then executing, testing and releasing it.

The really cool thing about working this way, is that we avoid the burnout rate so often associated with the software industry and every two weeks you get something of value.

Our emoji magnets on the board don’t always represent the emotions we experience towards the development work we are working on! 

The future is bright

We are constantly working hard to improve our service to you and we have some new and exciting projects that we are currently planning for the New Year and beyond. These include designing and deploying a new availability chart, working on the UX look and feel of the admin area, improving speed and building relationships with OTAs to help you collect more bookings.

By working in an Agile way we believe it will provide us with the best working environment to deliver these changes.

Every Word Means Business

Every Word Means Business

This blog looks at the best ways to communicate with your guests in the digital era.

It covers three key areas to give you food for thought:

  • Making sure your website is working hard enough to best reflect the holiday experience that you are offering.
  • Looking at pre-arrival communications with your guests to make sure you’re pitching to them just right.
  • Understanding your clientele and building ongoing relationships using clever content to promote guest loyalty, referral and repeat business.

Your website: is it working hard enough for you?

Glampers want to live and breathe the great outdoors while moving beyond traditional camping and trying something different to the good old self-catering cottage. As such, they are expecting a VIP service, so the images and content on your website should reflect that. Getting your business online is one of the best things you can do to reach new and potential customers.  But there’s an art to getting it right. Having a clear website and further information ready to fire out to them is absolutely key. There are some basic steps to help you make your website memorable and engaging.

Strong and clear message

Your website is your best chance to make a lasting impression to your customers. They will need to get the very essence of your holiday offering from the moment they land on your homepage. They want to see top quality, attractive photography and clear, honest information about what kind of holiday experience they will get. Addressing this will dramatically reduce turnaways from potential guests and therefore any loss of precious revenue. Many websites online fail to communicate the essence of their business to customers on their homepage and lose valuable leads and sales as a result. Make it count.

Responsiveness and connectivity

Holidaymakers now expect to be able to browse a holiday on a responsive website from their mobile or tablet. They also expect to be able to book their holiday online there and then through a clear, responsive booking engine. No-one has the patience for paper booking forms and cheques anymore! This is so important. Responsiveness doesn’t have to cost an arm and leg either. Depending on your budget, you can either go to your local web design agency, or use a simple website builder and do it yourself. Check out this website builder comparison site, it’s a great tool to work out which one is best for you: http://www.websitebuilderexpert.com/.

Easy navigation

Keep the navigation around your website easy, really easy! Put yourselves in your visitors’ shoes and imagine what you would want to find out before you make a choice. Include well-structured pages and clearly labelled tabs that intuitively lead visitors to relevant sections of your website. The moment you start to add pages in lots of sub headings, the customer is going to head off to the next website. The customer journey is very important, if you make them feel cared for, wanted and welcomed from the beginning you are more likely to be making that sale.

Content is king

Your website must convey relevant content to your visitors about your accommodation and site, but also things to do and what’s going around you, where you fit in the world. Your content is the single most important element in increasing customers. SEO (search engine optimization) plays a huge part in people finding you online. You’ll want to include keywords that are relevant to your business and industry in your page titles, meta tags, headings and in your website’s content. If you’re not a good content writer, it’s important to find one, you’ll thank them for what they can do for you. Don’t forget to also include beautiful, professional photos of your site and give them alt tags.

If you haven’t already, make sure you have Google Analytics tracking on your website. This is a sure way of knowing your pages are being read, how long visitors to your site are browsing for and which are your most popular pages. Another cool tool is https://www.crazyegg.com/.

Build a community

Your business will benefit if you build a community, so visitors feel they have the chance to become part of your gang. Start with the obvious networks you know and are active on – the most common being Facebook and Twitter. Include Facebook “Like” from your business Facebook page or a Twitter follow button will allow visitors to connect with you through other media. It’s also wise to create and maintain a blog as a way of talking directly to your fans, developing the level of trust and to increase content. The use of reviews and testimonials also increases your desirability.

 

Essential information pages you will need on your website

About Us: Don’t be shy! Who are you? Where do you come from? What makes you tick? What are your hopes and dreams? Making your guests feel something will influence their decision to stay with you.

The Accommodation: Make this visual as well as providing a list of what’s included. If you have a structured building, try and get a floor plan as well as high quality images. If there’s something quirky about it, point it out. It isn’t enough to say it’s a bell tent or pod. Why will they love it? Show them some great photography and content.

The Experience: The customer is looking for something a little different. Be creative, but be real. Tell them more about yourselves, the local area, the farm on which they’re staying, the people involved, the animals they might find there. Will they be feeding goats called Greta and Bob before breakfast? Bring your story to life.

Location: This is a little more than just your address details. Are you in the middle of a farm, are you 20 miles from the nearest shop? As well as being really informative, this helps on the SEO front. A little pin on a map and your full address is super helpful!

FAQs: Glamping is great. You can rock up with little ‘stuff’ and relax. Give your guest a list of FAQs so they know what to expect on your site. Tell your customer what’s including in their stay, what they do and don’t need to bring. We went glamping last year, it was a fantastic place, everything was provided, kitchen utensils, bed linen, tea and coffee. But no toilet roll!

Availability and Pricing: Always display your availability and pricing on your website. If you provide this information via your booking management system it will be delivered in real time and the customer will have the opportunity to book there and then, that pitch, for that price. No disappointment.

Book Now : Implement a Book Now button, a super quick way to let the customer react to your offering. You can attach this to your booking system by a simple web address straight to the booking form. Easily added to most social media channels too!

Contact: Even today, there are still plenty of people who would prefer to call you to make a booking. Make your telephone number easy to find!

 

Pre-arrival communication sets expectations and improves the guest experience

The guest experience has already started, they have found you online and made a booking. Now don’t disappoint. It’s really important to keep up that momentum of communication.

Acknowledge their booking, thank them, say you’re looking forward to seeing them. Confirm dates and times. Make yourself available for further questions. You won’t regret going the extra mile. A good PMS (property management system) or online booking system [such as Anytime!] will take the pain out of regular communications and automate the process for you once you have set up the template communications you want to fire out.

Be helpful. Again, put yourself in the shoes of your guests. What they should bring? What do you provide on site? Remind them of some of your facilities, your farm shop hours, how to check-in.

Make sure that you personalise the pre-arrival communications that you send out. The right information at the right time, empowers your guests and helps them prepare for their stay. This timely communication staves off any fears, simplifies the pre-arrival process, and improves the holiday experience. You’ll benefit by decreasing no-shows and increasing engagement and satisfaction.

Setting the tone

  1. Keep it cool and choose words carefully
  2. Choose appropriate greetings and closing
  3. Write in an active voice
  4. Order the information
  5. Stylised fonts, capitals and bold

Supporting articles on setting the tone…

http://www.inc.com/articles/2001/09/23688.html  

http://www.toptenreviews.com/software/articles/setting-the-tone/

https://blog.zopim.com/2014/07/31/how-to-satisfy-your-customers-using-the-right-tone-of-voice/

 

Understanding and communicating with your guests to build relationships and loyalty

Less transactional, more personal
In order to build relationships and create memorable stays for your customers, you must move beyond thinking of customer service as a transactional thing. It’s so important to personalise your customer service. Transactional customer service can be friendly and welcoming, but it’s worth going that bit further to try to gain a personal or emotional connection with your customers. This is what ultimately builds loyalty. Personalised customer service shows your guests that you recognise them, that you are listening to them, understanding them and that you care about them.

When you physically see your guests, be genuine, be nice, smile, put them first. Stop chatting to your colleague or typing or sharpening your pencils! First impressions really do matter.

Think outside of the box to treat your best customers

Give your loyal customers plenty of reasons to stay with you and no reasons to leave. Push your business to continually find ways to make your customers’ holidays better. Look after your best customers, and they will tell everyone about you. Put a hand-written note in their accommodation, randomly surprise them with an upgrade or a bottle of champagne in their welcome pack. It’s okay to think outside of the box and do things like this. Glampers are a discerning crowd and will shout from the roof-tops if they feel spoilt by you.

In an era when a tweet or a bad tripadvisor review can tarnish your brand and sales, you have to focus more on the customer experience. Wowing the customer will bring you brand loyalty and word of mouth referrals, without doubt. By treating your customers well, you will be amazed at how willing they are to support your business.

Have virtual conversations with your customer base

Give your customers the chance to opt in to receiving communications from you. Look at segmenting your customer base and offering them something, a discount to something, or information that relates specifically to them. Families, walkers, cyclists, pet-lovers, first-time campers, you can engage with them on a more individual level with tailored content. The more it comes across as a conversation the better.

Use social media too – on your Facebook or Twitter page, post updates no matter how big or small or anecdotal — this will make your customers feel like they know you. They will have a behind-the-scenes look into your world and you will make them feel something. Feeling is influencing.

Reward repeat customers – it’s a no brainer. Keep thanking them for coming back. And remember to say thank you in some way to guests who refer their friends’ business on to you too!

Encourage reviews

If you like what you hear from your guests, ask them if it’s okay to share that snippet with your other visitors, if it’s okay to give them 5 seconds of fame on Twitter or Facebook. If you are engaging, warm, and full of good humour, you’ll be amazed at how forthcoming your visitors become with the things they like about you! Feed the fan base and grow that feeling of community.

We hope you find the tips in this blog helpful. If you have any questions, please come back to us on sales@anytimebooking.co.uk

Happy St Piran’s Day

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The team at Anytime Booking are feeling patriotic today with an obligatory pasty and saffron bun today!

For our non-Cornish friends…

St Piran’s Day (Cornish: Gool Peran) is the national day of Cornwall, held on 5 March every year. The day is named after one of the patron saints of Cornwall, Saint Piran, who is also the patron saint of tin miners.

Here’s our #StPiranDaySelfie if you’d like to join us on Twitter!

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Anytime Booking Conference Timetable

Anytime Booking Conference 2015

Thursday 5th February – The Old Cattle Market, Helston, TR13 0SR

10:00am Registration and Welcome Tea / Coffee 

10:15am The Journey of Anytime Booking – Wendy will kick off the day with what’s happening next with Anytime Booking and Partners.

10:30am Workshops

   Workshop 1: Introduction to Anytime Booking
   Workshop 2: Making the most of marketing features on Anytime Booking
   Workshop 3: Revenue management

11:30pm Hot Topic: The feature list! What would you like next?

11:50pm Guest Speaker – Taking Payments: SagePay – Katy Wilson

12:00pm Guest Speaker – Peter Rees, Erwlon Camping Park

12:20pm Lunch and networking

13:30pm Guest Speaker – Raising your profile through We Are Cornwall: Sue Bradbury PR

13:50pm Guest Speaker – Campsite Chatter ‘Your Location Matters’

14:20pm Workshops

   Workshop 1: Digital Marketing
Workshop 2: Social Media and your business
   Workshop 3: Making the most of your website

15:20pm Tea / Coffee

15:30pm Feature request feedback / Q&A with the Speakers – what’s important?

16:00pm Close

Throughout the day there will be various stands from partner companies and plenty of networking opportunities.

Exhibitors:-

SagePay http://www.sagepay.co.uk/ – Katy Wilson

Sue Bradbury PR http://www.suebradburypr.com/ – Sue Bradbury

Creative Mustard http://www.creativemustard.co.uk/ Vanessa Glossop / Matt Timmins

Campsite Chatter http://www.campsitechatter.com/ – Ben Donovan

3HW Architecture http://www.3hwarchitecture.com/ – Steve Hole

 

The Impactful Reception

There is a buzz in the air about the park reception. It is a changing and challenging environment. ‘Reception’ is no longer solely a physical space, it has stepped into the realms of the virtual. A park now begins to receive its guests long before they physically walk through its doors.

At Anytime Booking we work with many parks around the UK to streamline the check-in process; the diversity of reception facilities is fascinating. From offering innovative welcome packs, to uber-cool tent tags and basic self check-in systems (we’ve seen a piece of paper pegged to the gatepost with a highlighter pen!), there are so many different approaches to receiving guests.

Stepping outside of the physical reception space, ‘Reception’ also comes to mean the feelings instilled in your guests when they find your website or listing; the involvement they have when they make their booking; the continuous communication they’ll have before they arrive. They like to feel the welcome, the warmth and the support from the start.

We would love to hear about your reception! ‘The Reception’ is also a hot topic at our Anytime Booking Conference on Thursday 5th February 2015. There are still delegate spaces for our free one-day event.

For more information about Anytime Booking, call 01326 574660, or email info@anytimebooking.co.uk