By Doug Kennedy
Despite the predictions of its demise, the voice reservations channel is alive and well for all sectors of the lodging industry. For decades now, pundits have predicted the death of voice as a booking channel. First, it was the emergence of OTA’s, then the birth of the smartphone, then the emergence of the concept of imaginary “generations” based on birth year, which supposedly have homogenous attitudes about technology vs. people. And yet the phones still ring.
Surely, the number of voice bookings has decreased significantly over the years as online options grow, but smart leaders recognize that direct bookings are the most important of all. For hotels, direct bookings save costly OTA commissions, plus voice agents are in the best position to upsell accommodations and cross-sell amenities, services and activities. While some alternative lodging companies are able to mark up rates to cover OTA commissions, a direct booking is still more valuable because they will “own” the relationship. Most importantly, if we let the caller hang up and go back online, they may simply pick another option from the search results.
The decrease in voice bookings varies according to the lodging sector. For example, guests looking at branded hotels with standardized rooms, amenities and services, are more likely to book at a brand or OTA website or app. Alternatively, guests booking independent hotels and nontraditional lodging are the most likely to call with questions, even if they later book online. Geographical location is also a factor in that those booking fly-to destinations and off-shore lodging may prefer to call before committing to expensive airline tickets.
Yet a prospective guest’s motivation for calling vs. simply booking online is caused by more than location or brand.
Because we at KTN are in the business of providing remote call scoring of calls captured in whatever call recording platform used by our extremely diverse client list, we have the unique opportunity to identify why so many call to book or call with questions on the website. This has more to do with the travel situation than other factors. In other words, the higher the rate, the longer the stay, the more people traveling, and most importantly, the more emotionally engaged they are with their travel plans, the more likely they are to call before booking online.
Following are a few of the training tips from our KTN workshops and webcam training courses.
Revenue, Distribution, And Marketing Leaders:
• Post your phone number prominently on your website, making it easy to find and click, at both the desktop and mobile versions. Embed Google’s call conversion tracking feature.
• Don’t annoy callers with on-hold messages directing them back online. It’s amazing how often we hear greetings that say something like “Did you know you can book directly on our website (or app)?” (“Hey honey, guess what? The hotel we’re looking at has a website you can book on!”) One of the largest hotel brands offers to text the caller a link to book online. Do they really think callers are so stupid they can’t find the brand website? Where do callers get the reservations phone number in the first place, the Yellow Pages of a phone book?
• Recognize the interplay of voice and online channels. Understand that many who book online called first. For evidence beyond Google call tracking, just pull about 20 website-direct bookings and then log in to your online 800 account and search for those phone numbers.
• Train your team that phone calls are opportunities, not interruptions. Most of today’s reservations agents are dealing with a sometimes overwhelming amount of administrative work, such as managing OTA bookings, entering rooming lists, handling credit card disputes, processing charges, and tasks related to confirming online bookings. As a result, many sound annoyed when answering and subsequently redirect callers back online. Midscale hotels should consider offering front desk staff a “bucks for bookings” incentive, which pays for itself with savings from GDS and OTA costs.
• Update your reservations criteria! When KTN onboards a new client we ask to look at their existing call handling criteria standards. Many new clients either don’t have one or are using one that has been literally handed down for generations. Today’s callers are pre-informed. They don’t want to hear a scripted list of “three features, one personalized.”
Here Are Some of KTN’s Reservations Sales Training Tips For Those Answering Calls:
• Realize that today’s hot voice lead is disguised as “I just have a quick question about…” No one is simply interested in details about parking, pet policy, or specific amenities unless they are also interested in lodging itself!
When callers say “I just have a quick question about,” transition the conversation into a booking opportunity by asking: “Now that I’ve answered your question, are there any dates I can check for you?”
• Realize that with so many lodging options online, so many room types, and dozens of pictures for even the most basic lodging, today’s callers are overwhelmed and confused by all the options. It is not our job to tell them what’s available; it is our job to help them decide.
• Use updated questions vs. traditional ones. Rather than “Have you stayed before?” ask “May I ask if you’ve stated before or if anything online caught your eye?” Many first-time guests have done extensive research and just need someone to reinforce their decision.
Rather than asking “What brings you to the hotel?” ask “Is there anything special I can help you plan during your stay?” This question is especially important for full-service hotels, resorts, and luxury vacation rental companies which have opportunities to cross-sell and increase revenue per guest.
• Recommend, suggest, and endorse. Once you’ve engaged callers with questions, you can then use these methods based on the caller’s stated needs. Example: “Since you mentioned you’re traveling for (situation/circumstance), I would definitely recommend this room/suite/accommodation.” “Based on what you’ve mentioned, this one sounds like the perfect choice for you.”
• Use a storytelling selling approach. Put another way, don’t sound generic! Rather than giving only quantitative descriptions such as square footage, bed size and lists of in-room amenities, use emotionally descriptive words that help them imagine what they will experience. If you work at a resort or boutique hotel, also use visually descriptive words to describe the view and scenery.
• Always ask for the sale. Remember, they called you so don’t be shy to ask. If callers started by saying they don’t want to book, use this version. “Now I know you said you were just checking rates, but just to let you know availability is limited. I can lock that in now while you circle back to your travel companions.”
• Retarget voice leads. Especially for those booking higher-rated rooms and/or longer stays, if the caller still hesitates, offer to send a follow-up email with your contact information and a short personalized message.
Readers who want to learn more about this and other training topics related to reservations, hospitality & guest service excellence, and/or hotel group and event sales, check out my monthly training webcast series by visiting www.KTNwebcast.com.