News for the Hospitality Executive
"Is That the Best Rate You Have?"
How to Train Your Voice Reservations Agents
To Handle Today’s Deal-Seekers
|by Doug Kennedy
February 25, 2009
How interesting it has been as an industry veteran to see the Internet website emerge as a major distribution channel over the last decade. For years we saw website bookings increase dramatically while reservations call volume declined, leading some to wonder if the hotel of the future would still need a reservations department. We then watched as these trends balanced out as the growth in online bookings has slowed while declining call volume has leveled off. According to most lodging experts, for most full service hotels it’s safe to say that there are at least two “lookers” for every “booker” at their website. My personal prediction is that given today’s economic conditions and the proliferation of news stories about hotel and travel deals being there for the asking, voice reservations agents will be more important than ever before for revenue optimization as we move ahead.
It is of course difficult if not impossible to completely and accurately track this interplay of web and voice, as we cannot always identify whether a caller has first been online unless they tell us; nor can we tell whether those who book online have first placed a call, or if the do so after booking but prior to arrival. Even when a different 800 number is placed on the website, website visitors often dial the main local or 800 number used to track voice calls vs. the one we want them to dial.
The real story is told when you actually listen-in on the reservations calls you are receiving every day from real callers (not mystery shoppers). As a hotel trainer and consultant I’ve frequently had this always enlightening opportunity. In just the last few months I’ve listened in on reservations inquiry calls to all types of hotels and lodging facilities ranging from mid-market/economy through boutique, five-diamond, and ultra-luxury. Whether it’s a call to a top-tier casino resort in Las Vegas, a historic beach and golf resort in Palm Beach, a 90 room boutique hotel in Manhattan, or a traditional mid-market franchised hotel in any city, there are definitely some common themes to be heard in what callers are asking these days.
My regular readers have heard me talk about today’s over-informed callers who have way too many choices online and who are multi-tasking while they are on the phone, and these trends still continue to emerge with the explosive growth in online guest reviews, consumer generated media and social media.
Yet in listening to real calls circa Q4 of 2008, there also appears to be a new trend emerging which is certain to have an impact in 2009 and beyond: The growth in rate-conscious deal-seekers who are increasingly aggressive and well rehearsed.
From what I’ve observed, the most common caller behavior is to simply give the agent their dates, not mentioning they’ve already seen an online quote, just to see how prices compare. If the rate turns out to be the same many of them say next, “That’s the same rate I see online. Should I book that with you or through the website?” Other callers respond to whatever rate is quoted initially by saying “Is that the best rate you have?” or “Don’t you have any specials at that time?” Many callers more aggressive in negotiating and refer to competitors by name who are offering lower rates. Some even say things like “Are you sure that’s the best you can do? It’s out of my price and if it’s not occupied you won’t make anything.”
It is a true story that I recently met a business traveler in a bar at LaGuardia airport in NYC who told me whenever he has to visit a new city he goes online to find the name of a major corporation in the area; he then calls local hotels directly to ask for and book his “special corporate rate.” He added that he’s been doing this for years and has never once been asked for a business card or ID. (By the way, his attire and successful business demeanor indicated that he didn’t need to work that hard to save the money!)
If you’re looking to give your frontline reservations agents the tools they need to handle today’s over-informed, multi-tasking callers who are more rate and value conscious than ever before, here are some points to review at your next meeting:
In addition to reviewing these tips with your team, take time to listen
to them talk through the issues they’re dealing with these days.
Even better, spend 30 minutes each week listening to your agents in action
either in person or via remote technology. Remember the reservations
inquiry call is your potential guest’s first glance into your hotel’s “storefront
window” to all the “hotel shoppers” who are still out there.
Doug Kennedy, President
|Also See:||First Step In New Sales: Believe It Is Possible! / Doug Kennedy / January 2009|
|Good News Formula For RevPar in 2009 / Doug Kennedy / January 2009|
|Alluring Descriptions Are Key To Converting Hotel Reservation Callers / Doug Kennedy / November 2008|
|Bringing Out The Best from Our Most Negative Hotel Guests - Brings Out The Best In Ourselves / Doug Kennedy / October 2008|
|Profit Optimization Is Everyone's Job / Doug Kennedy / August 2008|
|Hotel Lessons Learned Growing Up In Kennedy Craft Shop / Doug Kennedy / July 2008|
|Personalized Hospitality Excellence Still A Deliverable! / Doug Kennedy / June 2008|
|Real Conversations vs Rigid Scripting Increases Reservations Productivity / Doug Kennedy / May 2008|
|Hotel Lessons Learned From A Five-Star School Principal / Doug Kennedy / April 2008|
|Road Warrior Shares Tips On How Hotel Guests Can Minimize Environmental Impact / Doug Kennedy / March 2008|
|Right-Sized Staffing Ensures Front Desk Sales & Service Success / Doug Kennedy / December 2007|