Today’s reservations agents need specialized training for conveying complex rate structures to educated consumers

by Doug Kennedy

Due to the advances in revenue management philosophies, processes and technology systems, those in charge of pricing and distribution have found evermore creative ways to “fence” rates such as by the booking window, distribution channel, length of stay, stay pattern, market segment, room type restrictions, membership affiliation, or by requiring special terms such as advance purchase / non-refundable.

At the same time, today’s callers are armed with more information than ever before caused by the transparency resulting from online distribution channels.

Therefore, today’s agents are required to convey (and often to defend) the most complex rate structures and availability restrictions in the history of the lodging industry to the most educated callers our industry has ever faced.

Yet at the same time, most revenue and marketing managers are spending the majority of their time focusing on online distribution channels, making “voice” reservations the forgotten channel. The result is that today’s agents struggle along on their own and do their best to defend some very direct and often harsh lines of questioning such as:

  • Why is the rate higher this time?
  • Why is the rate lower than my group’s (or company’s) special contracted rate?
  • Why does the rate change during my stay?
  • What do you mean I can’t cancel the reservation?
  • Why do I have to stay two nights?
  • Why do I have to say over on a Tuesday? (Or Saturday?)
  • Why did my traveling companion who booked after me and got a lower rate than I’m paying?
  • Why didn’t you quote that lower rate to me in the first place?
  • I see that same rate online, guess I’ll just book it there.
  • What does that rate include?
  • Your competitor has a lower rate, can you match it?
  • $50 A night just to park? $19 For just to go on the Internet? That doesn’t even include breakfast?
  • Why is there a hotel fee? I’m not going to use any of that.
  • What do you mean that rate does not guarantee what I’m requesting?

Most marketing and RM professionals only look at the final channel by which a guest books a reservation. They fail to see the interplay between online and voice channels. In other words, some guests book online and then call with questions such as these. Others look online and then call. Still others look online while calling! The higher the rate paid, the longer the stay, the more important the trip is to the guest, and overall, the more emotionally invested they are in the experience, the more likely they are to pick up the phone somewhere in the process. Looking just at the contribution margins by each channel does not tell the true story of how the overall booking cycle.

If you’ve not yet done so, now is a wonderful time to have a meeting with those who are fielding your hotel’s reservations calls. For larger hotels, this might be meeting with your reservations team; for smaller properties this might be the front desk crew. Even if your hotel has outsourced reservations to a call center, chances are people call daily asking specifically for “in-house reservations” and therefore it is your phone operators or front desk staff that have to field these calls. (It is also a good idea to meet with your CRO agents.)

Here is an agenda for such a meeting:

  • Provide an overview of the various rate tiers, categories and their respective restrictions and fences; present the “why’s” behind the “what’s.”
  • Review the list of questions above. Ask the team which they are hearing daily. What other challenging questions do they field?
  • After making a list, brainstorm possible responses to each question one at a time. Summarize into a list of bullet points for how to respond.
  • Conduct role playing exercises whereby agents have to practice using the recommended responses to each scenario they might encounter.

By helping your team prepare for questions such as these you will be providing them with the tools they need to convert more calls into bookings, whether the booking ends up arriving via voice or online channels.

If you are looking for ideas on how to respond to tough questions such as these, stay tuned to this publication for future articles in this series wherein I will provide specific ideas for responding such as those we offer with KTN’s new Advanced Reservations Sales Training on-site workshop and private, live webinars.