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Hotel Reservations SAILS Training 2012!

By Doug Kennedy
October 28, 2011

With all of the other priorities facing hoteliers today when it comes to managing voice reservations channels, it’s more than a fair question:  “Why do we need a new reservations sales process?” 
Yet when you listen to recordings of actual inquiries being fielded from real customers, it’s easy to identify that today’s callers have evolved faster than most training programs.  With the proliferation of technology for recording inbound reservations calls circa 2012, an increasing number of hotels and call centers of all sizes now have access to some type of call monitoring technology.  Here’s what they are finding when they take the time to listen-in to real calls:
  • Agents are fielding a much broader spectrum of sales scenarios than ever before, from callers ranging from ultra-informed to misinformed, having taken virtual tours, read conflicting online guest reviews and social media postings.
  • Callers are surfing through too many choices.  It wasn’t long ago that callers were looking through directors such as the AAA Auto Tour book, Fodor’s Guides, and the Hotel & Travel Index.  They then had to invest  time to check rates by phone different hotels, thus limiting the number of options they would consider.  Now in just minutes, prospects are but a few clicks away from literally dozens of options.  Many find this confusing if not overwhelming.  
  • Callers are multi-tasking while on the phone.  Whether driving, calling from work, feeding the dog, or washing the dishes, background noise is indicative of today’s over-scheduled lifestyle.
As a veteran hotel industry reservations sales trainer I couldn’t be more excited from an instructional design standpoint.  Now that it’s possible to hear how real callers react to reservations sales techniques, one thing is clear: scripted and robotic processes are out.  Today’s callers want personalized sales experiences that more conversational and less transactional.  So it’s the perfect time to not only find a new way to spell SAILS but also a new way to approach how we train, measure, and incentivize reservations SAILS success.  So welcome aboard!
Situational Sensitivity.
Alluring Descriptions.
Investigative Sales Approach.
Listen Interactively.
Secure the Reservation.
S in SAILS is for Situational Sensitivity. After opening the call with a cheerful and professional greeting, agents must quickly turn their attention towards understanding the circumstance, situation, or quandary which the caller is explaining during their opening remarks. 
Once understanding the situation, they can then personalize the sales process and customize the caller’s experience for the duration of the conversation.  Whether it’s working through a caller’s special lodging requirements, reassuring them the lowest rate has been quoted, or providing a needs-based recommendation, a focus on Situational Sensitivity helps chart the SAILS course.
A is for Alluring descriptions.  When I started training hotel reservations agents more than 20 years ago, we encouraged them to be more informative and to educate the caller on the overall “product.”  The key transitional question was always “Have you stayed with us before?”  For first time callers, agents were then asked to use a scripted “positioning statement” to provide an overview of the hotel experience.  Since the vast majority of today’s callers have been online prior to calling, we need to move beyond informing and notifying them about the same list of features they already read about.  Instead we need to provide descriptions that allure and entice callers and that make an emotional connection, which is the new focus of marketing across any product, service, or industry. 
In the hotel industry, we need to train our team to use visually and emotionally stimulating language that ties-in the descriptions back to the caller’s situation or story.  Here is an example:
“We have a 550 square foot Junior Suite that has  a sitting area, pillow top mattresses, a flat panel TV and a balcony” versus
“Since you’re bringing the baby, the Junior Suite would be a good choice, as it has lots of extra space for your pack-n-play.  The beds are amazing and our guests always rave about how comfy they are… And while the baby is napping you can catch some great views from the balcony.”
Another easy way allure callers is to use needs-based recommendations and endorsements that once again tie back into their situation such as:
  • “Since you mentioned it was a special occasion, our luxury rooms would be a great choice because...”
  • “If you’re traveling on business and flying out early, we really are the perfect location for you then.”
  • “Based on what you’ve told me I think you’ve made a very good choice.”
I is for an Investigative Selling Approach.  If you compare most hotel reservations sales training to date, agents are taught to take callers through “steps” or “processes” which are linear in design, with a pre-determined path for giving and receiving information.  In this model callers are viewed as being static and predictable.  Yet when you listen to calls its easy to see that callers don’t react well to being asked pre-set list of “probing” questions, especially when they’ve given the information already in their opening remarks. 
Instead, SAILS training today should be caller-focused, and should allow agents some degree of flexibility in seeking out the best and most direct pathway to getting the caller’s booking before any they make any more clicks or calls.
The key for successful investigative selling is to use ad-hoc probing questions, which are best developed “mid-stream” while the call is in progress.  While it is still necessary to ask traditional question such as “Have you stayed with us before?”  and “May I ask what brings you to the area?” agents need go on to use situation-specific questions during the conversation such as:
  • “As I’m waiting for the rates to pull up, are there any questions I can answer for you about our location or the hotel itself?”
  • “Is this a special occasion?”
  • “Is there something special you’re looking for that I’ve not mentioned yet?”
L is for Listening Interactively.  In keeping with the philosophy of investigative sales approach, listening interactively means to use the information gained by asking investigative questions to change-up what is said next.  Also, by paraphrasing and re-stating the caller’s remarks, agents show that they are tuning in to the customer’s individual needs, versus treating them like “caller 29” of the day.  
S is for Securing the Reservation. In the end the goal of all sales training is the same; to secure the sale right here and now while we have our best chance to do so.  While it is helpful to train your agents on various closing techniques, the most important part is to help them understand that everyone benefits when we close the sale, including the caller.  Anyone who’s ever fielded a call-back from someone who finds the inventory sold out or that the rates have gone up, knows that it’s in the caller’s best interest to book it now.  After convincing your team that closing the sale benefits everyone, and covering various polite ways of asking for the sale, it is also important to train them what to do when their efforts to close are initially declined. 
Tactics include creating urgency by mentioning “That special rate could sell out” or “We are already showing limited availability for your dates.”  Other tactics include removing barriers to booking now.  Methods for removing barriers vary according to your hotel’s guarantee, deposit, and cancellation policies but could include:  “We can secure that for you now to lock-in the rate; if plans change you can always cancel up until…” or “We can place it on a courtesy hold while you check with your husband, so we can grab this suite while it is still available.”
If you are looking to move your staff to the next level of reservations sales effectiveness, along the way increasing call conversions and increasing average rates by upselling, the time is right for your organization to not only find a new way to spell SAILS but also to find a new approach for encouraging your team to engage callers in real conversations by using techniques such as these. 

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.  Visit KTN at:   Read his travel blog at ontheroad.kennedytrainingnetwork
or email him directly: 

Doug Kennedy
Kennedy Training Network, Inc.
1926 Hollywood Boulevard, Suite 203
Hollywood, FL  33020
Office: 954.981.7689
Mobile: 954.558.4777


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Also See: Front Desk Upsell Training Can Increase RevPAR / Doug Kennedy / October 2011

Hotel Training Budget Reflects Belief Systems / Doug Kennedy / September 2011

Hotel Voice Reservations: The Forgotten Channel / Doug Kennedy / August 2011

It's Time For Today's Technology-Focused Hotel Salespeople To "Go Old School" / Doug Kennedy / July 2011

Don’t Let A Culture Of Profitable Mediocrity Infiltrate Your Hotel / Doug Kennedy / June 2011

Hospitality Examples Observed From TSA Airline Security Staff / Doug Kennedy / May 2011

The Hotel Front Desk Is a Distribution Channel / Doug Kennedy / April 2011

Train Your Sales Agents To Execute Your Hotel’s Rate Strategies / Doug Kennedy / March 2011

Savvy Hoteliers Still Make Voice Channels A Priority / Doug Kennedy / February 2011

True Hotel Sales Superstars Love “Clueless” Callers! / Doug Kennedy / January 2011

What If A Hotel Brand Could Ask The Same Question Southwest Airlines Asks In Their New Ad? / Doug Kennedy / December 2010

Hoteliers Should Utilize New Tools For Measuring Hospitality and Guest Service Efficiency / Doug Kennedy / November 2010

Training Your Team To Master “Channel Conversion” Techniques / Doug Kennedy / November 2010

Upselling Strategies For Your Front Desk and Reservation Teams / Doug Kennedy / September 2010

Training Is Key To Turning “Desk Clerks” Into Front Desk Salespersons / March 2007

It’s Time To Give Hotel Guests What They REALLY Need and Want Daily! Key Basics Some Hotels Still Fall Short On / Doug Kennedy / September 2006

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