By Doug Kennedy
Besides providing reservations sales training and telephone mystery shopping for the lodging industry, many companies have hired me to do consulting regarding their overall sales and service levels. In this case I often place calls myself directly to the reservations sales agents, which I find to be even more insightful than just listening to our KTN mystery shoppers here in the office doing so.
Almost universally these days, it seems that reservations agents view it as their job to take bookings or to provide callers with a list of available room types and rates for their requested dates. Most are polite in doing so, but this is not helping. The calls usually flow like this:
Caller (me in this case): “Hello, I was online and I needed some help in planning my vacation.”
Agent: “Sure, I can assist you. What are your dates?” and “What kind of room are you looking for?”
Caller: “Well I was looking for help in booking for our family vacation…”
Agent: “Okay, well we have over 5 different room types plus suites. Let me tell you what we have open.”
Most continue on to then provide a list of each room type and rate.
Some agents continue on and politely explain that “Our website has pictures of each room.” A few take a slightly different approach that is really not much better; they ask for the caller’s email address and then say they will email over a list of what’s available. When such lists arrive they typically include every room type that is open. This is exactly the wrong approach for several reasons.
- Most callers visit the resort website before calling; sending them back online does nothing to assist with their decision making.
- When going back online, they might visit a different hotel’s website and book with them.
- Those who found the resort through a third party website might go back there to select a different resort. Or go to an OTA website costing us a hefty commission.
- Emailing over a list does not help either; it simply provides the same list that they probably already viewed themselves or could have pulled up on their own.
This approach is like treating a vacation reservations inquiry as if it was a “tech support” call to your cable TV provider. I call this “Website search support” mode.
Instead, resort reservations sales agents need to understand what it’s like on the other end of that phone line. First of all, planning a vacation is one of the most important tasks human beings do every year. They have a high degree of emotional investment in the process, especially when plans are being made for other family members and friends. Our vacation time is precious to us and having just the right resort and accommodation is a core component. Secondly, those who do call tend to be planning trips that are more complex, such as for larger parties that require multiple rooms in a close proximity, for multi-generational parties, or for families with special needs such as pets, health concerns or mobility restrictions.
Also, consumers in general these days are facing what many refer to as the Choice Overwhelm Problem. Noted authors such as psychologists Dr. Barry Schwartz and also Dr. Sheena Lyengar both have written many books, articles on this phenomenon and both have Ted Talks available online that highlight the challenges that we as consumers face with the seemingly infinite number of choices we have to make daily.
Rather than sending the callers back to the same website they started at, or just giving them the same list of available rooms they could have found themselves online, today’s agents need to realize their job is to help callers decide and commit!
Now I realize that many agents are hesitant to recommend or suggest a room. They feel that each guest has their own preferences, tastes and desires, what one guest might love, another might despise. That is all well and good, but these are not excuses not to do our jobs as salespersons.
The key is to engage the caller in a conversation and investigate “the story” behind their vacation plans. In today’s world, callers have all of the information before calling. So rather than talking, sales these days is all about asking the right questions! (By the way, this is why KTN calls our program Hotel Reservations QUEST.) Besides just getting the dates, number in party, and bedding preferences, we need to be determining familiarity and if there is a reason or special occasion for which they are vacationing. Most importantly, engage them with the following question: “As I’m checking availability, what questions can I answer for you such as about the location, resort activities or amenities?”
For one, callers might have a specific question. Even if they don’t, you will have planted the seed that you are there to help them decide, not just to help them find what’s open.
By asking these (and other) investigative questions, you can find out more about what they are looking for and then make needs-based recommendations for both activities and for the accommodations. For example “Based on what you told me, our resort would be an excellent choice for your family getaway…” or “There are different accommodations properties which I can recommend, all of which are great choices.”
Finally, rather than sending callers back online, ask if they are near their computer that they can go online while you are on the phone. Especially for resorts with a multitude of different types of accommodations (such as suites, villas, private cottages or homes), consider using a free online meeting tool such as join.me, which will allow you to share your screen (or to have them share their screen) so you can guide them through their search.