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 To Get More Bookings - Work With – Not Against
Your Central Reservations Providers
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by Doug Kennedy 
May 5, 2009

As a member of the revenue management team, you are no doubt aware of the impact that your central reservations office or independent 800 voice representation service has on your property’s bottom-line profits.  Depending on your market mix, the contribution from central reservations offices (CRO’s) might be anywhere from 10% to more than 35% of your overall transient business.  So it only makes sense to give them every available tool for maximizing call conversions.

Unfortunately, all too many hoteliers provide minimal resources and attention to this important distribution channel.  This might be a result of the continuous and significant growth in online bookings each year garnering more attention and resources.  Interestingly, the latest trend is for today’s value-driven deal-seekers to check both channels; first they look online and then they call to make sure they get the lowest available rate.  So working with your CenRes provider is perhaps now more important than ever before.  

Too many CenRes agents directors only receive calls from their client-hotels when there is a problem or complaint.  A better approach is to establish a pro-active, positive relationship that perpetually views CenRes as being an invaluable partner. 

In today’s economy, where each and every booking is of vial importance, it is essential to give your CenRes Partners every available advantage to represent you well.  (Depending on your reservation system, chances are good that the information available for CenRes agents is also the same information seen by travel agents in the GDS system; which is another important but neglected market segment.)

If you’re looking to maximize the number of bookings you receive from your CenRes provider, here are some talking points to consider at your next eCommerce or Revenue Management meeting.  

(Note: Given a wide variety of business models for central reservations offices, including some specific to a brand, others that are a “cluster” reservations office for a collection of hotels; and still others that are third-party providers, the suggestions below may apply to a greater or lesser degree.)

Use Descriptions That Allure and Entice.  Make sure the descriptions of your hotel and its accommodations go beyond lists of standardized features that common to all hotels in your segment.  Instead, use words that allure and entice vs. inform and notify.  Use visually descriptive language that agents can use to paint pictures in the minds of callers.  Use emotionally descriptive words that appeal to the guest’s senses and help them imagine how they might experience the hotel.   For most hotels, this copy has already been written and updated for their website or brochures; it just needs to be adapted for the CenRes system. 

Update Your Property Information:  Put it on your to-do list to check and update your property’s information fields at least every six months.  Take out any information that is no longer relevant or correct.  Besides covering features and amenities, remember to also talk about the wonderful hospitality and service guests will enjoy. Remember also that your location/destination is a key component of your hotel’s overall “product,” so help CenRes agents better provide this information by displaying it in an easy to read bulleted format.

Make sure all major attractions, office complexes, business parks, and entertainment venues are referenced.  Consider adding information regarding local events and festivals, such as marathons, air shows, sporting events, that might be of interest to guests. 

Review and update your room descriptions.  Print out the copy from your hotel’s room descriptions and have a colleague from another hotel take a look and then try to describe them for you.  Then have a 5th grader take a look only at the pictures at your website; see who can paint the most visual and alluring descriptions.   This exercise won’t say if you’re smarter than a 5th grader, but it might tell you that the room descriptions in place need some updating.  

  • Start with a detailed description of standard/minimum room category; mention the overall amenities and services included in all room categories. 
  • Then use a bullet format to help agents differentiate what’s better about the upgraded room categories such as:  “In addition to all the features of the standard room, this room also has….” 
  • Reconsider the number of room types in your system; if you cannot differentiate a difference for the purpose of writing a room description, it might be time to reconsider if the two room categories should be blended into one. 
  • Be as specific as you can about room features that will be included. Remember that CenRes agents cannot mention features that callers might receive.  So if some (but not all) of the rooms in a category will have a view, for example, consider breaking out the inventory into rooms that definitely will have that view as a separate category.   
  • Focus attention also on descriptions for “minimum” room categories too.  Often, selling these rooms (or not) will make the difference between “sold out” and a “perfect sell.”  It’s okay to point out any obvious shortcomings -  such as obstructed view.  Just be sure to add language such as “these rooms offer a great value for guests to experience the hotel.”  
  • Invest extra time in writing specialty suite descriptions, including the décor, ambiance, media players, and details on any special features such as original artwork, high thread-count sheets, specialty bath tubs, dual vanity sinks, etc… that are often typical of suites.  
  • It’s okay to list square footage so it’s available for callers who ask; add words like “spacious” or “cozy” for CenRes agents to use to paint an accurate picture for those who aren’t realtors or interior designers and thus can’t picture square footage.  
Keep Room Inventories Loaded And Updated. Of course every reservations system and hotel operation is different in terms of how rates are loaded, updated, and marketed.  Generally speaking, it is a good idea to make as many rates as possible open to your CenRes provider.  This is especially true for hotels that use their CenRes provider for “over-flow” calls during normal business hours; when guests have dialed a local, toll number during the day and instead reach an off-site reservations office; they really don’t want to hear that they need to call back for in-house reservations to book the rate they are seeking.  

Also, it makes no sense to offer non-exclusive rates on third party channels – which charge significant commissions – and not have those same rates available in the CenRes system.   Not only does this waste unnecessary commission fees, but also is annoying for the caller who would more often than not prefer to book by phone.

Keep The Lines of Communication Open.  While it is important to stay actively in touch with your CenRes provider, be sure not to over-communicate by sending e-mails every time an issue, question, or concern arises, unless it really is time sensitive.  Instead, make a list of discussion points and schedule regular conference calls to review in an organized manner. 

If possible, visit your CenRes office and meet the agents who represent your hotel.  If travel is prohibitive, use an online meeting tool such as WebEX or GoToMeeting to conduct remote property-familiarization training. 

These FAM meetings are most often conducted by a traditional hotel salesperson.  Make sure they tailor their message for those selling to the transient market, versus talking too much about meeting space, catering options, specialty suites, etc… 

Most importantly, provide a mechanism for your CenRes representatives to contact someone with immediate questions, special requests, or other “out of the box” concerns.  In this way, CenRes agents can place callers on hold, or offer them the option of receiving a call back, while your CenRes agent researches their answer.  

Use A Professional Mystery Shopping Service For Assessment Purposes.   Most managers seem to know it’s a good idea to have a process for assessing the sales effectiveness of your call center representatives.  Even though most well-run call centers already have an internal call monitoring assessment program in place, it’s always a good idea to receive a sampling of call reports from an unbiased, external third party.  Here are some reminders: 

  • Use a professional mystery shopping service with experience in this area. 
  • Review carefully the criteria being used; make sure it is customized according to your needs and preferences of your hotel’s service style and standards. 
  • Also make sure the criteria is realistic and actionable in the real-world of a call center and doesn’t require agents to repeat scripted statements that make them sound robotic. 
  • Use a criteria and scoring process that allows a more flexible, caller-focused and conversational interaction.  Avoid a criteria and scoring process that requires tightly scripted statements throughout the call.  
  • Make sure you are receiving an audio recording, which will provide more insight into true agent performance and also ensure accurate scoring. 
  • Present mystery shopping as a tool for improving over time.  Don’t overreact to any particular call report that comes in; but instead look at trends on a monthly basis. 
By working with and not against your CenRes provider, you can ensure that the frontline agents who represent your hotel through this channel have the tools they need to capture each and every inquiry call.  
 
 
Doug Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Training Network, has been a fixture on the hospitality and tourism industry conference circuit since 1989, having presented over 1,000 conference keynote sessions, educational break-out seminars, or customized, on-premise training workshops for diverse audiences representing every segment of the lodging industry. Ee-mail Doug at: doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com
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Contact:

Doug Kennedy, President
Kennedy Training Network
www.KennedyTrainingNetwork.com
Phone: (954)981.7689

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Also See: Generate More Revenue By Making Training Everyone’s Job / Doug Kennedy / April 2009
Hotel Reservations Sales Training Tips - Circa 2009 / Doug Kennedy / March 2009
Is That the Best Rate You Have? - How to Train Your Voice Reservations Agents To Handle Today's Deal-Seekers / Doug Kennedy / February 2009
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
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