“Industry experts” have predicted for decades that the voice channel is dead. First, they said that the voice channel would be replaced by the GDS channel. That proved to be pure rubbish. Then, they predicted complete disintegration by third-party distribution channels like Expedia and Hotwire. And don’t forget the predictions that brand websites would entirely replace call centers as it was cheaper and more efficient despite the fact that website and online marketing costs are never-ending and significant to maintain.

Retailers like Zappos didn’t believe that the voice channel was dead. They have shown the retail industry what can happen when a single shoe sale is complimented with both their website and the human element (voice channel): They get double the sales per call center customer as compared to their competitors with no real call center sales efforts.

The fact is that all distribution channels must work together providing different approaches, strategies and value ultimately to capture new customers, optimize revenue per call and build long-term loyalty. Your mix of channels in addition to how you compliment and leverage them is what gives you the competitive advantage and the customer capture you need.

Today’s Reality

Humans are connectors and, at times like these, they want to talk, contribute, and connect more than ever. Your customers want to hear that you and your brand have a plan and that they can depend on you to do what is right. They want you to share with clarity what they can expect.

The best way to increase customer connection and confidence is to increase your voice-to-voice communication while delivering on your brand promise and value proposition. This approach has not changed. It is the how (the process) and the words (the scripting) that need to be rethought and retrained.

Aspire has spent years teaming up with clients around the globe to help them drive conversion, ensure quality assurance, and improve ancillary spend-capture through the optimization of the voice channel and the training and retraining of their greatest resource: their people. Our research team has studied how best to retrain team members so that they are confident in presenting your messaging, ensuring that your brand is protected in the process.

Today, your customers are calling because they want to talk—because they need to talk. The voice channel offers them the platform to find confidence in your brand’s commitment to their

safety, share what they can expect with a sense of authority, and explore how they can continue to get the value you offer with all of its new creativity and operational efficiencies.

Here are a few of our research findings and recommendations to consider when reinventing your reservations or sales call-center efforts and re-onboarding your people:

1. Don’t ignore or minimize the obvious. Lead by decreasing the fear and inherent objections due to the pandemic. This will change with time and for the next 60 to 90 days. You must share the reasons they don’t have to be concerned. Your guests want to know what to expect around your pandemic safety conditions, how check-in now works, what the cleaning protocols are, what amenities and experiences you are offering and how they are now being executed in the responsible commitment to social distancing. Your reservations call-center teams need more product knowledge and operational protocol information now more than ever.

2. Clarity of your value proposition(s) is critical. The way to ensure you are not diluting your brand, your service quality, and the unique experiences you offer is to make sure you have clarity and scripting for your agents/sales people around what your value proposition is and how it is now going to be delivered.

3. USA occupancy estimates are forecasted to be between 24 to 35% annualized. Of course, it is imperative for you to do your competitive research and study your marketplace. With a decrease in demand comes the high likelihood of price dilution even at the cost of the brand’s positioning. Communicating and providing more value is a far better strategy.

4. Reward length of stay. Offer value enhancements especially around unique experiences that enhance the magic of your brand. Upgrade guests wherever you can. Communicate your gratitude for them staying.

5. Revamp your selling process to align with handling safety concerns and your value proposition. Based on these changes be sure to align your shop call quality assurance criteria. Be sure to integrate key scripting into this new criteria.

6. Scripting is very important over the next 4 months. We have never been big on scripting for your agents or sales people and at this time it helps to build clean communication confidence. There has to be a balance between legal and operational realities around delivery and the sales process.

7. Your people must be re-trained in advance of picking up the phone. No practicing on your customers as it is too risky.

8. Watch TripAdvisor and have a daily plan with clear accountability regarding guest follow up. Operationally follow through on how to respond to both positive and negative feedback. TripAdvisor will be a louder voice than ever before. Even if you have a five-star Forbes rating, a TripAdvisor comment that says you are not on your game will do more damage. One bad Trip Advisor review referencing safety, social distancing or any pandemic concerns is going to have more impact than ever before.

9. Think of virtual learning as Drip Learning™. This entails 30- to 40-minute intervals that must be interactive with remote agent training and coaching. Coaching support is critical. Inspect what you expect. Our prototype model indicates 3 interactive sessions per person, and you are on your way.

10. Call volume will have a moderate 5-10% increase as customers want to know your protocols for fighting COVID, general health safety measures, and what bargains and offerings you are providing.

11. Give your agents/sales people an empowerment tool box—things they can offer to close the sale on the call.

12. Operations and call-center agents must have alignment as the promises made by voice must be delivered and experienced onsite. Be sure your agents/sales people have the answers they need.

13. Decreasing emotional tension to increase reservation focus is a key skill that must be taught to your agents. It is imperative for gaining customer engagement which is key to your conversion.

14. Start your re-onboarding training prior to opening your doors. This is applicable to all positions.

15. Re-engage team members with your culture. A culture campaign that emotionally engages them and creates pride is imperative. Your culture is not what is on paper. It is what your team members communicate it to be to your customers. How your customers experience your brand is through your service culture delivery.

The One MUST

Most of all, you must inspect what you expect. Shop your agents/sales people and listen to calls to ensure they are effective and focusing on the value proposition, quality and communication expectations and decreasing customer fears while increasing conversion.

Your reservations call center and sales teams are your pre-arrival voice. Ensure that they are knowledgeable, confident and proud. The rest will grow from there.

For more tips on how to drive the voice channel in today’s new normal, don’t forget to sign up below.

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