News for the Hospitality Executive
Time To Move On From 1990’s Era Reservations Scripting
By Doug Kennedy
December 14, 2012
If you randomly place about 10 calls to various hotels and call centers these days you are just about assured to find o ne of three approaches. About 40% of the time you as a caller will experience what I call “Website Search Support.” Management at these hotels and call centers apparently has little regard for voice reservations as a sales department and believes voice is slowly dying as a distribution channel. Agents at these call centers do nothing more than get the caller’s dates and number of “people” (not even adults and children). They then click enter and read back the list of room types and rates that come up. When you consider that more than 85% of callers have been online prior to calling, it is easy to see this does little to advance the reservations sales processes.
In making live calls to these hotels during training workshops, I frequently hear my participants saying “Hello, I’m planning an important trip and I have a few questions…” and then I hear agents interrupt by saying “I need your dates before I can check anything.” When my participants persist and say “But I have a question first...” more than once I hear a click, then some rings, and we realize we have been transferred to the hotel front desk or concierge.
This is especially the case at the vast majority of big-box call centers representing major brands that have done everything possible to force their hotels to forward all of their reservations inquiries off site. Not that there is anything wrong with the concept of having exclusively off-site reservations, but if you are going with that model you need to invest in the resources to do it right. So about 40% of callers to hotels and call centers experience “website search support.”
About another 40% of the time callers experience a reservations sales process that was designed for the 1990’s era. Things were different back then. At that time our callers had very little information prior to dialing our number. Most found us through word-of-mouth, tourism bureau directories, the AAA Auto Tourbook, the Hotel & Travel Index, or they visited something called a “bookstore” which we used to have on every street corner, and purchased a tourism guide book. In summary, callers back then had very little info prior to calling.
Also, at the time hotels were introducing innovative new services that helped them stand out from the competition, such as complimentary continental breakfast, wireless Internet, and 24 hour fitness centers.
So back then it made a lot of sense to ask what I always called the “Key Transitional Question: Have You Stayed With Us Before?” If the guest had stayed, we knew it would be an easy sale or otherwise the guest would not call back. Just find them in guest history, quote a similar rate, and then offer to secure the reservation.
If the guest had not stayed before, we then launched into what my company at the time called a “Positioning Statement,” which provided an overview of the overall hotel experience. “As I’m checking availability, let me tell you a little about the hotel…” This was a chance to sell value over price; to let the caller know about the unique and innovative features our hotels were introducing back then.
Fast-forward 20+ years and now this process seems really outdated. The vast majority of today’s callers have been online prior to calling; most have done extensive research at websites like TripAdvisor, and have probably read conflicting reviews that have caused them to want to call directly for an opinion. Still others are all about getting the best rate, and they have researched numerous websites but are now calling direct to make sure they get the best deal. I call these ones “Rate Double-Checkers.”
Other callers tried to book online but ran into a problem or glitch with the system; or maybe they are “cyber-phobic” about putting in their credit card. Still other callers researched on a mobile device or tablet and are ready to book but did not want to complete the purchase on the device.
And yet despite how the calls have changed, 40% of the time as a caller you will still here something like… “Have you stayed with us before?” (No.) “Let me be the first to welcome you. We are a 200 room hotel with a restaurant, a bar, a pool, and complimentary breakfast with fresh hot waffles for your convenience. We have a deluxe room with an iron, ironing board, hair dryer, flat panel TV and pillow-top mattresses for your comfort.”
In doing training and consulting for call centers looking to update their sales process I have listened to literally hundreds of real-world call recordings from real-world callers in the past year alone. All the while I have yet to hear one caller say “Wow, you have wireless Internet?” or “Wow, waffles on the breakfast bar!” Instead, if the reservations agent is good at delivering their script, you hear polite indifference. If the agent sounds like they are not enjoying reading this script, you hear callers get annoyed and sometimes even interrupting to say “I just need a rate.”
So we take an over-informed caller with a special question or concern, or we take a caller who is simply wanting to call in a booking, and we force them to hear a “30 Second commercial” or “Elevator speech” that is nothing more than a laundry list of basic hotel features.
In the middle some where are the remaining 20% of the hotel reservations, front desk and call center agents who have received updated sales training circa 2013. They know that callers are calling for a reason and are able to save everyone’s time by quickly identifying those callers who are just calling to double-check a rate they saw online. Rather than just confirming the rate, they know to try to channel-convert the caller to a direct booking rather than letting them go back to some website.
They know that many callers are confused by having looked at too many choices online and are looking for someone to say “Based on your needs, I think this room/package is the best option for you.”
They are prepared for callers with specific questions about online guest reviews and are able to re-assure an indecisive caller that they are making a good choice.
When guests do have questions such as “Can you tell me about the hotel?” Or “What is this room like?” they have been trained to ask more questions such as “Is there something special you are looking for?” rather than just trying to answer an unclear question by listing features.
These front desk and reservations sales agents know how to provide hotel descriptions that are alluring and enticing in nature, rather than listing the same features that all the comp-set hotels also have.
They know that closing the sale benefits everyone and are able to overcome resistance to making the reservation, whether it is a price or process objection.
Management at these hotels and call centers frequently find ways to listen-in to real calls or to receive third party feedback from a qualified mystery shopping company. They hire the right people who have enthusiasm and an ability to communicate with all types of people. They train sales first before teaching new-hires the reservations system. They have the right incentive plan in place that only rewards agents for going above and beyond what is normal and expected, and is tied-in to increases in top-line revenues. These leaders know that while the voice reservations channel has changed, it is still an important and viable sales outlet and distribution channel. The phones might not be ringing as often these days but when it does there is a reason the person did not book online.
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