News for the Hospitality Executive
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:
Investigative Sales Approach.
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:
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:
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.
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