As the hospitality industry faces unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of hotel reservations and airline bookings are being cancelled or postponed. It’s daunting to imagine that each caller wants to talk to a live person to ensure their transaction is handled correctly. This extraordinary call volume puts unparalleled stress on industry call center operations and your brand at risk. If calls are handled well, you have the chance to minimize revenue loss and grow customer loyalty. If not – you not only lose the short-term booking, but the lifetime value of the guest.
In today’s environment, your call center agents must be stronger than ever to face the wave of anxious callers who are nervous about their reservations – and in some cases just plain scared. As hospitality professionals, it’s our job to comfort guests so they feel safe – and it starts with your voice agents. It can be hard to do when your agents are feeling insecure about their jobs, the industry, or the health of their families.
It’s important to keep a strong first line of communication with your guests. That means having a reliable, expert call center operation that is prepared and ready to take guest calls under any circumstance.
Here are some tips to ensure high-performance CROs during the crisis we face today with the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Provide a Safe Environment
To perform well, your agents need to feel they are in a healthy, safe environment. Operations should communicate and facilitate CDC guidelines for personal hygiene – from handwashing policies to social distancing in bullpen environments. Make sure onsite teams have the supplies needed to maintain a healthy workplace and strictly enforce guidelines for staying home when agents feel sick, have been around someone that is sick, or in any other way have been exposed. In many cases, this will mean having agents work from home.
- Engage Work from Home Policies
With advanced software, secure WiFi and portable workstations, we have the technology for work at home agents – and we have for a long time. Up to 30% of agents are already based from home offices or share workspaces. It provides the ability to flex staffing based on the dynamic market and essentially maintain a quarantined workforce.
- Staff to Your Call Volume
Nothing is more frustrating than being on hold – especially in times of stress. And with the recent crush of calls into hotel call centers, guest can be on hold for extended periods of time. Anxiety grows. Tempers flare. And you have a bad exchange on the phone. Plan ahead to be able to staff to your call volume during crisis periods. Use Workforce management tools to forecast peak call periods and engage more of your at-home agents during this period.
- Reinforce a Positive Attitude for Callers
You might think that it should go without saying but let’s just say it. These times call for kid gloves with your callers. Stress is high. Make sure your agents are being overly considerate and empathetic to people calling into your contact center. More than “I understand how you feel” or “we know you’re frustrated” – those canned answers can fuel the tension. Just be honest. Be genuine. Tell callers you are here to help, and you will do the best you can to make it right for them. That’s what they want to hear.
- Aim to Rebook vs Cancel
The first inclination by callers will be to cancel. They’re panicked. Train your agents to let callers express their needs then offer them the ability to reschedule for future dates at a better rate or offer a credit for a length of time into the future. Try to save the booking before offering a cancellation with refund.
- Take Precautions against Agent Fatigue
Protect your agents. Handling these types of high-emotion calls is exhausting and stressful. If you don’t help your team manage their stress, you will experience higher attrition and leave of absence. Take care of your agents with a special focus on the issues they are facing during the Coronavirus crisis:
- Offer a work from home as a temporary or flex option.
- Make accommodations for daycare in cases where agents have kids at home due to schools and/or daycare closing that have occurred to prevent community spread.
- Keep them fresh and fed with frequent breaks, free meals during shifts and snacks throughout the day.
If your agents are happy, you will have a better call outcome for you and your guests.
- Offer wellness support for your agents.
Consider having a psychological councilor available through your employee wellness program when any of the call center staff want to talk with someone about the strain and anxiety that they are feeling.
- Get Outside Help When You Need It
During this time, many hotel reservations offices are experiencing financial difficulties or don’t have the ability to pivot to work from home environment to support their call volume. If that is the case, make sure to get help from an experienced hospitality call center service provider that can scale to support your demand quickly and cost effectively. Look for a partner that is dedicated to hospitality, has a flexible workforce and can adjust to your volume during the pandemic crisis and into the recovery.
With a solid plan for getting through this disruption, your hotel reservation operation can emerge strong from the downturn when the rebound begins. The key to surviving in today’s environment is to staff to the times, have empathy with your callers, and ensure your agents are safe and well cared for. Following these guidelines will enable a hotel reservation center to be prepared for growth with a foundation of brand loyalty consumers.