Brands should refocus on voice reservations
 
Brands should refocus on voice reservations
29 MAY 2014 6:51 AM

Call centers should update their sales models to provide the experience today’s channel-surfing callers respond to.


During the past decade, most major hotel brands have encouraged hoteliers to send all of their reservation call inquiries to offsite call centers. I recall the original concept was to create regional call centers to handle inquiries for a small, finite group of hotels within their geographic area. The idea was such an arrangement would allow calls to be handled more efficiently, reducing wait times, and local area experts could provide better service because they were dedicated to this function and removed from daily hotel operations. 
 
While hoteliers were sold on this fixed-rate model, as it seemed like a better deal, branded call centers then turned to reducing their own costs, moving away from the regional call center concept to having ever-larger “big-box” centers. 
 
Perhaps this model of an “order-taking” call center was ideal for the early 2000s when callers were suddenly armed with all the information they needed prior to calling, theoretically having fewer questions about services, outlets and amenities. 
 
Yet, the tides seem to be shifting once again in the reservations world. Each month I spend several days training front desk and reservations agents at call centers and onsite. Sure, the volume of overall calls has dropped, but from what I hear, the “distribution channel-surfing” callers who still call usually have specific questions and concerns. 
 
Many are confused by conflicting online guest reviews showing diverging opinions. Others are overwhelmed by the number of room types and packages and want help in deciding. Still others simply no longer trust the pictures they have viewed online and ask for opinions such as “Is it nice?” or “Would you stay there?” 
 
Then again, I am also hearing there are plenty of guests who simply want to call in a reservation, having viewed the information online but not wanting to book with their thumbs on mobile or tablet. 
 
As a result of these trends, it’s time for call centers to update their sales models to provide the experience that today’s channel-surfing callers respond to. The first step is to move from “What brings you to the area?” to “As I’m searching rates, do you have any questions for me?”
 
To gain insight for this article, I conducted my own informal survey by calling the 800 numbers of four top-tier brands. I personally placed six calls to each, using two scenarios. One was a business trip to conduct interviews, the second being an anniversary weekend. To keep it simple, I tested each on four established sales fundaments. Here are my results and observations. 
 
Did the agent ask probing questions other than about the dates, number of people and bedding? (25%)
  • Most of the agents only wanted to know the basics needed to search inventory. The only other question was to determine the purpose of travel. However, none who asked this question used my detailed response to describe a relevant hotel benefit. 
 
Did the agent voluntarily provide any information other than the room type name and rate? (0%)
  • No agents voluntarily provided any information about amenities or services, nor detailed descriptions of accommodations quoted. 
 
When asked, did the agent recommend the hotel? (58%) 
  • When asked, most did their best to reassure such as, “It’s a very nice hotel.” Yet, only two gave any legitimate sounding reasons such as, “This is one of our most popular/highest-rated hotels.” 
 
Did the agent ask to close the sale? (83%)
  • Most offered to secure the room right after quoting rates. However, because these “big-box” agents are not engaging callers in conversations, nor creating value before quoting price, one has to wonder how effective it is to ask for the sale when you haven’t “sold” anything but price. 
 
If my informal survey is any indication, the major hotel brands tested are set up for “order taking,” not “order making.” They don’t appear to be focused on converting indecisive callers who are confused by having done too much distribution channel surfing. 
 
Then again, call centers’ ability to succeed at sales is also impacted by information made available in their reservations system by hoteliers. Here are some action steps to help your call centers succeed. 
 
  • Update all hotel information fields, maximizing character limits. Remember central reservation systems allow for more characters than the global distribution system, so don’t just reuse those. 
  • When writing copy for these fields, use language that allures and entices instead of just stating the facts such as the number of rooms, number of outlets, and square footage. 
  • Provide fully detailed descriptions of each room or suite category, to make it easy for the agent to answer the question: “What’s the difference?” 
  • Include an alluring and enticing “30-second commercial” for use when callers want general information. 
  • Frequently visit your call centers to train agents about your hotel. Make these presentations engaging by using training games. For example, announce in advance that you will be holding a trivia contest about the hotel’s unique benefits. 
  • If you cannot go in person, conduct virtual meetings using online Internet meeting tools. 
 
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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1 Comment

  • LBeacom May 30, 2014 3:52 AM

    Great article and insight into what res agents need to be doing. Considering that many call centers charge for every call, they need to do a better job converting those calls! I, too, teach a class for Front Desk "Sales" Agents (as I call them), and your tips on how to uncover buying factors is exactly what I focus on. Additionally, I consistently work with GM's to ensure content-rich information on brand websites, and correct information on OTA websites. The message must be compelling enough to get the buyer to pick up the phone (or click through and purchase online), and when they do, the Front Desk team needs to be able to close the sale. This, of course, requires multiple skills, such as knowing your competitive points of difference, and understanding what benefits the hotel's features offer to which market segments. When training the FD, one of the first questions I ask is, "What does your job consist of?". As expected, most answer something like "to check people in and out". No - their job is to sell rooms. It is EVERYONE'S job to sell the hotel through whatever capacity their job requirements or functions allow them to, even if that is simply smiling and saying hello. Thank you - I enjoy reading your articles! Leslie Beacom VP of Operations

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