Loyverse POS Tips for Diving and Activity Centres

If you are running a small diving or activity centre, then you can sometimes think that you are ‘not quite big enough’ for a high-tech solution. My diving centre in Gran Canaria only does about five to ten transactions a day, so for many years it was easy enough to have a manual (paper) system for recording sales. With 85% of the transactions by credit card, a traditional ‘cash till’ was not exactly the right solution, and until recently most of the pc/desktop systems were either a bit inflexible or had a price tag which did not make them cost-effective.

There were four main problems that I wanted to solve with a new solution:

  • Mis-pricing was costing me an estimated €100 a month .. not a fortune but €1200 a year adds up.
  • Most divers were not bothered about not having a printed receipt but a few people did ask for one.
  • Working out bills for multiple days was more time-consuming and did not look professional.
  • It was time-consuming to transfer the detail of the transactions into my spreadsheet to do more detailed analysis at the end of each day.

However software authors are constantly creating and releasing new products, and with the dropping cost of tablets and small printers I thought it was time to do some more research.

That research led me to the ‘Loyverse package which has been designed as a simple POS (Point of Sale) for small bars and restaurants. At first I was a bit unsure, as if anything it seemed ‘too simple’ for my business, but after a few days I was beginning to understand the power of the package.

Now that we have completed the first month I am very happy with the system, and it has given me some unexpected benefits as well.

So how did I set Loyverse up for my Dive Centre?

There are two sides to the Loyverse system, the POS device and the Back Office configuration. I used my normal laptop for the Back Office and purchased a new small 8-inch tablet (an Acer Iconia One 8″) for the hand-held device and a Bluetooth-enabled till-roll printer (both from Amazon.co.uk). The configuration of both was very easy, loading the Loyverse POS package from the Google PlayStore, and simply plugging the printer into a power socket.

The bulk of the work in setting up the system comes when you start to set up the products. Here I found that the terminology used was a bit misleading for me, having spent many years in IT, but when you start to understand their structure it becomes easy to mirror your business onto the system.

The main structural element in Loyverse is the ‘ITEM’, but I think of it as a ‘GROUP CODE’ rather than an individual product or service. For each ITEM you can then have several VARIANTS, and this is where you can enter individual products or services.

So for example, our top-level items include ‘1 day of Diving’ ‘2 days of diving’, ‘Introductory Dive’, ‘PADI Open Water Course’ and ‘T-shirts’, while the second level (VARIANTS) has ‘1day, 2 dives’, ‘1day 1dive’, ‘1day 2 dives & equipment hire’ etc. This makes it very quick and intuitive to use on the tablet .. First, select the Product group, and then by setting up ‘common case’ Variants select the one that matches the customer.

The ITEMS are shown on the main screen

A nice trick is to then use the ‘Modifiers’. After a bit of experimentation I set up a Modifier called ‘Dived With’ which has itself five options . ‘You Dived with Brian’ for me and one for every other member of the team.. all with a price of zero. When you select the Variants, you can switch this on or off, for example on ‘1 day of diving’ it is enabled, and on the final receipt it will then tell the customer who they dived with. There is another advantage in that if we have any questions later about the dive, we can track back quickly through the receipts to confirm who the instructor was.

One of the benefits I had not expected was to be able to easily link receipts to individual customers by their e-mail address. You can either type the name and or email in when you set up the receipts, or set up an import. 85% of our bookings (and so our receipts) come from Internet bookings, so with a bit of tweaking I can get the forward bookings exported from my booking system, and then import them into the Loyverse progrmme. Again it makes it very easy to later find or review an individual receipt.

So what are the benefits?

The implementation had a few hiccups but nothing serious. This is probably one of the easiest systems I have set up for many years! There are some features I would like but essentially by keeping the core product fairly simple it is easy to use, and it looks very professional. It looks smart, professional and exact.

As everything can be done on the tablet it allows more staff freedom, we can move around the centre and sit down with the customer to do the receipts, so no more queing to pay at the front desk. Putting the instructor name on the receipts, as well as the customer name, improves the personalisation of the receipt, and we can also email the receipt straight to the customer.

We can prepare the bills in advance (i.e. while the activity is taking place) and then as customers come to pay can show them on screen the breakdown of the costs, split bills, add discounts or save them for a later date if the customer boooks more days.

By loading other links on the tablet we can use it to discuss weather, check the tides, use Google maps to suggest places to visit or to eat and access other information to give the customer an overall good service.

The Back-office also gives more than I originally expected. From the simple looking reports menu I can get an immediate month to date figure, or daily figures, or dig into the detail of individual days, receipts etc. By exporting the sales into a spreadsheet, I can now quickly reformat the data to fit straight into my original spreadsheet, so my annual summary still is comparable with previous years.

Finally, not only does the system help avoid mis-pricing but it allows me to easily change and increase pricing. I estimate that the system will increase my takings by about 2-3% this year through careful pricing actions. We are getting a second tablet so we can do payments in parallel and look at other ways we can take the information to our customers on the tablets, rather than them clustering around our desktops and laptops.

In summary then the Loyverse POS sale system should be an obvious choice for a small to medium sized diving or activity centre. It has a stable well laid out interface which is easy for both staff and customers to use and understand. It will do all the basic operations including refunds, splitting orders, recording cash and credit card sales, and you can export the data back into other systems if you want more detailed analysis.

Tool for backlink cleaning

Since the introduction of the Google Penguin and Panda updates last year, many webmasters have struggled to find a tool to help with the cleaning of their backlinks.  We were faced with the task of sorting out which of our 3500+ backlinks were of any use and which were not, and which ones needed to be disavowed.

Fortunately we already had a comprehensive SEO Tool which has a backlink building tool and extensive backlink management options  – SEO PowerSuite.  This tool already has 95% of the features we wanted, and by using the tool carefully we have been able to radically cut the time required to analyse and clean up our backlinks.

The Suite consists of four major tools, but for this exercise we started with the SEO profiling tool .. SEO Spyglass.   This already has an import option for Google Webmaster Tools output, so that was what we did first, download the ‘complete’ list that Google will let you see, and import it straight into a new project.   One minor tip here is to ‘normalise’ the URL’s to either be all with or all without ‘www.’ before you import data as this removes duplicates and can make future database matching easier.

When the data is imported into SEO Spyglass it is immediately validated, and each link checked.. the link is read, and the page analysed, and then additional information for the page or the domain is read from other sources including Google, Alexa, Yahoo Directory and DMOZ.  Based on their own algorithms a link value is created for each backlink, and this is where we start to use the product ‘back-to-front’.  Normally I look at which pages are generating good link value, but here we can also sort and select the low (and zero) value links.

There is still a problem however with the volume of entries, so by using the ‘tags’ column I add different tags to different groups of records.. I make up tags such as ‘GOODLINK’, ‘404ERROR’, ‘SITEDOWN’ and apply them to the different groups of links.

It can still take several hours to work through a big list of links, but with many different parameters visible for each link, you can quickly slice and dice, especially when you combine with the ability to sort on any column and apply different filters.  For example there are some links in the ‘zero’ category which have high relevance to my website, and by putting a geographic term in the filter I can find say all links with ‘canary’ as part of the domain.  I was easily able to identify pages with over 100 outbound links (including one page with 26,000 outbound links!).

Finally, you end up with a tag against each .. showing what to keep and what to disavow and which to contact to request removal or change.

To complete the next step .. negotiating with website owners, I imported the group of URL’s into a second product in the suite, Link Assistant.  This is normally used for link building, not link destruction!  However it has an integrated email client with templates, and the ability to search out contact email addresses on websites.  So, I modified one of the templates to become a ‘please remove me’ message, processed  the data and sent it out!.

By using the SEO Powersuite I believe I have saved many hours, and when we came to review the data a couple of months later it took half the time to regenerate a disavow file for google, which disavowed sites that were down, pages where the link had been removed, and downright spammy sites.

Beware the statistics in niche SEO markets

How well are you doing with your SEO?

This is a question anyone involved in promoting an on-line business is constantly asking.  And if you have even the most basic information on SEO you will already know that the best place to start getting good actionable information is from Google’s own products – Google Webmaster Tools or Google Analytics.

However, when we have been watching these figures recently, there seemed to be some anomalies, and in particular the most popular search keyword was showing well below par click-through rates (CTR).

The website in question was about Gran Canaria Diving Centre, Davy Jones Diving, which can in worldwide terms be considered a ‘niche’ market, with just a smallish number of main competitors and a market of visiting tourists.   The customers come from all over Europe and it was noticeable that the CTR for English queries was lower than the CTR for German or Spanish.

Then it finally dawned on us … because there are several companies all monitoring their position and rankings, probably on a daily basis, some of whom will use automated tools to measure their position, this will lead to a disproportionate increase in overall impressions in a small, niche market, compared to a bigger market with good search volumes.   In this case all the main players are managed in English and this has traditionally been the strongest market for Scuba Diving. So, if 6 competitors all check their status every day twice on average, then after 30 days .. they will have generated 300 impressions between them, so if the market is only running at say 2000 impressions per month… you can see that 15% of the apparent volume will come from competitive monitoring of the SERPS output by the main players in the market.

So the best advice in small markets, apply some caveats and segmentation to your stats, and you will have to learn how to interpret your data more effectively to take the best decisions from it.

 

Reputation Management – a powerful tool for niche marketers

If you are a small niche player, then reputation management is vital.  Most small niche players focus on customer service as an underlying strategy, and hotels, restaurants, shops and other service providers who ‘get it right’ will build a loyal band of returning customers.   It can often seem, especially when setting up the business, that you are offering or delivering a service which ‘costs’ more than the price paid by the customer.  However the key to understanding and planning a service strategy is to evaluate the ‘lifetime value’ of the customer and not the individual transaction.

In the online arena of the web, your reputation can be laid bare and open in an instant.  Get something wrong, upset a customer, or not understand their needs properly, and suddenly you get a negative review, some adverse comments on Facebook or another social media site, and you feel as if the world has fallen down around your knees.   Often the problem is that while you have many happy customers, these will generally not put anything on the reputation sites such as Tripadviser unless prompted.

The three challenges are therefore are 1)Making sure it all goes right 2) Getting the silent majority to share their experience and 3)being professional when it all goes wrong.

Making sure it goes right

If you sell yourself on customer service, then you have to consistently deliver that customer service.  You have to give it on the 1st January, the 17th May and the cold windy day in November when the boiler breaks or one of your staff is ill.  That means developing your people to understand the value of customer service and monitoring constantly both for consistent levels of service but also for that little service improvement.

Getting the silent majority to share

The majority of our customers left the dive centre saying they had had a good day, enjoyed themselves etc.  Many put a line in the paper comment book, and a few sent us emails which we pasted into the online guestbook.  But only a tiny few did anything more…. until we started asking them to do so!

The idea was passed on to me by a friend in the travel industry who had just returned from a holiday in Iceland.  He said he got ‘a nice email from them after he got home, sharing some photos and inviting him to put a review on Tripadviser’.   By leveraging the data we already had in the enquiries and bookings database, it was not difficult to construct a semi-automatic system, personalised with a memory of the day.  The result has been a dramatic increase in the number of people posting on our TripAdvisor Page for Davy Jones Diving, and we have moved up to become ranked second among 55 activities in our market area.

And many of those who don’t add an online reputation, reply to these emails, thanking us for their visit and generally reinforcing our belief in the business model.  Some link into and ‘Like’ our Facebook page, while others will, like our friend who went to Iceland, comment on these emails to their friends.

And when it all goes wrong?

the law of averages says that every now and again you will end up with an unhappy customer, who had a different level of expectation to the service that was delivered.   If it was your fault .. own up, apologise and offer a solution.  If it was somebody who was genuinely upset, even if you think you did nothing wrong, then again apologise.  If they present impressions as fact, or information that is incorrect, then take the subtle route to defusing their bomb.

We were hit by a negative review in August 2012, after a family came to visit us.  We posted what we hoped was a balanced review online, and over the coming months were amazed at how other customers would come into the centre, dive with us and then rubbish the claims made by the lady.  Look at the subsequent online reviews and different customers all opened up all the negative arguments for us and threw them out of the window!

Summary

Online Reputation Management has to be integral to your customer care package if you are in a service sector.   Make sure you are constantly prompting your visitors to leave online comments (on your website, Blog, Tripadviser or elsewhere), and if it goes wrong, be professional rather than confrontational in sorting out the problem

 

Brian introduces the Diving Industry SEO Blog

Welcome to my new Blog.

I have been working in the IT Industry for over forty years, in marketing and customer service roles for over thirty years, and running a dive centre for more than ten years.  This blog is a way that I can share some of the experiences of marketing in niche markets over the web, and provide some tips and help to others looking to manage their online marketing impact.