Have you forgotten about voice reservations?
 
Have you forgotten about voice reservations?
27 MARCH 2014 6:50 AM

Voice remains a productive and important distribution channel as there is an interplay between voice and online. 

 
For most hotels, online bookings have grown significantly in recent years, while voice reservations bookings have declined. That being said, voice remains a productive and important distribution channel as there is an interplay between voice and online channels. 
 
Prospective guests are calling because they are:
  • confused by conflicting online guest reviews and social media postings;
  • overwhelmed by the number of room types and packages they have viewed online;
  • verifying that the rate online is in fact the lowest rate and/or that it is the “final” price, inclusive of all taxes and hidden fees; and/or 
  • multitasking (such as driving) while on the phone and not wanting to use their thumbs to complete the booking on a smartphone. 
Voice is an especially important channel for certain properties, such as hotels with a diversity of accommodation types (suites, villas, concierge floors), or a multitude of packages and rate options. It is also important for hotels with higher rates and longer stays, and thus an overall higher “price tag,” along with any property offering non-standardized, out of the box accommodations. In short, the more choices guests have to make and the more money and time they are investing, the more likely they will pick up the phone for advice. 
 
Also, while calls might have declined, today’s front desk and reservations agents are fielding much more challenging call scenarios than ever before. When it comes to information, the balance of power has shifted to the caller’s side of the equation. Whereas in the past, callers had very little information prior to dialing, such as a listing in a hotel directory or a tourism guidebook, today’s guests often spend hours researching online. 
 
In the meantime, most hotel revenue and distribution managers spend a disproportionate amount of time focusing on electronic channels, inadvertently neglecting voice. If you are concerned that your executive team has fallen victim to this trend, consider these questions:
  • When reviewing your schedule for the last four weeks, how much time did you spend in meetings or conference calls about managing voice versus electronic channels?
  • In looking at the last three brands, association or other industry conferences you attended, how many sessions focused on voice versus online channels?
  • If you have in-house reservations agents, what are their names? How much time and resources have you invested in training the voice team as compared with channel management? 
  • If you send all calls to an offsite call center, when is the last time you conducted familiarization training?
When conducting telephone mystery shopping for hoteliers not focusing on their voice channel, it’s easy to see evidence of the void of attention. Generally, we find agents providing nothing more than “website search support,” which is to obtain the caller’s dates, number in the party, bedding requirements and then click “enter,” and then read verbatim the list of options that come up. 
The second most common approach we find is agents who are still using the 1990s era reservations sales processes, which was to find out if the caller had stayed before, the purpose of his or her trip, then to read a scripted “30-second commercial” highlighting amenities such as in-room coffee makers, ironing boards and wireless Internet.  In listening to dozens of calls each month, I have yet to hear a single caller say, “Wow, you have Internet at your hotel? Really?” 
 
Refocus your efforts
Here are some training tips to refocus your transient sales-and-marketing efforts on voice as an important distribution channel:
  • Spend one hour each month listening to real calls from real callers. You can simply sit with your in-house agents or ask your off-site call center to provide call recordings.
  • Ask agents to list the most challenging objections they receive, such as those regarding price, product and/or processes. Then, help them find new ways to overcome these objections. 
  • Review your reservations sales process checklist. Has it been updated for today’s highly informed callers? Are you having agents ask the most important question circa 2014? For example: “As I’m checking those dates, are there any questions I can answer for you about our location or amenities and services?” 
  • Review the list of standards from your rating service (such as Forbes, AAA or brand). Do they focus mostly on how to complete a booking with a caller who says, “I want to make a reservation.” If so, do you also have sales standards in place? 
  • Have you provided your team with training for the questions asked by today’s highly informed callers who have viewed pictures online, such as how to “narrate the pictures” and how to reassure callers who have read conflicting reviews that they are making a good choice?
  • Do you know offhand your call conversion rate? What is your average revenue per booking for an in-house reservation versus online? If not, take time to measure and calculate these metrics. 
Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over two decades. Since 1996, Doug’s monthly hotel industry training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hotel industry training writers. Visit KTN at www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly
 
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