Reservation agents who are more engaging with callers and knowledgeable about a hotel’s location and amenities can be better equipped to improve the voice reservations channel.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—While most hotel companies and individual properties have embraced online booking, traditional call centers and reservation agents are still making a difference in guest bookings, according to sources.
During a recent webinar titled “Maximizing production via the voice reservations channel in 2018,” Doug Kennedy, president of Kennedy Training Network, discussed the importance of voice reservations and outlined several training tips for improving sales agents’ calls with customers.
Kennedy said the hotel industry’s shift to direct-booking campaigns has been a positive step, but beyond encouraging guests to book directly online, companies and properties should encourage voice calls.
“The higher the rate, the more important the trip, the more complicated the plans are. In other words, when you have grandparents, or children, or pets, or special needs, the more emotionally invested you are in the trip, the more likely you are to call,” Kennedy said, adding that voice reservations “aren’t going away anytime soon.”
Better customer service and conversion rates begin with proper training, Kennedy said, including training reservation agents to build rapport with callers and give enough background on a destination or property to sound like they’re in-house experts.
“We find that a lot of people in-house if they’ve not been trained and their leaders are not pushing voice, they sound like website search support,” he said. “What I mean by that is, they do nothing more than what a caller could have done themselves at your website. … Most of today’s callers have searched extensively online. They won’t be impressed if we just tell them rates, or give them scripted features they already know about.”
Instead, reservation agents should first engage callers on their reason for traveling.
“We want to be excited about their story, we want to do more than what they could have done themselves, because if all we do is website search support, we as an industry, there will be no more reservation agents,” Kennedy said.
Peter Hopgood, VP of sales and marketing at Puerto Rico-based International Hospitality Enterprises, said callers are looking for specific information when they finally decide to call.
“Many consumers are calling directly to the hotel to validate information about the destination, inquire about tours and restaurants and ask for our personal advice,” Hopgood said via email. “Travelers are seeking localized experiences, therefore calling our staff to provide them with the local insight and intelligence.”
Cara Goodrich, VP of sales and revenue development at Honolulu-based Castle Resorts & Hotels, said guests frequently reach out to the company’s call center if they’re repeat customers.
“From a qualitative standpoint, we see consumers continuing to call the individual properties, especially if they are repeat guests of Castle or of the specific property,” Goodrich said via email.
She added having engaging sales agents goes a long way toward improving the calling experience.
“We also see guests wanting to have the reservation sales experience to be less cumbersome and they do not mind calling, but the reservation sales agent on the other end needs to be responsive and knowledgeable,” Goodrich said.
Once a reservation agent has learned a bit more about a caller, the next priority is to “build the narrative” of the property or destination, Kennedy said, and that means going beyond what’s available on the website.
“Today we have a caller that has already seen the pictures,” he said. “That’s why we want to say, ‘As I’m checking availability, do you have any questions about our location or amenities?’ They’ll ask you about what they’ve seen; they will ask you about online reviews. Rather than painting the pictures, we have to narrate the pictures.”
A common trap for sales agents is using words like “beautiful,” “great,” or “centrally located,” Kennedy warned.
“What we want to do is go outside of comfort words, crutch words,” he said. “Instead we want to use colorful adjectives and adverbs to help them imagine what it is we’re describing. Rather than painting the picture, let’s tell the story.”