By Doug Kennedy
Are you ready to help your reservations team maximize the contribution of the voice booking channel in 2022? If so, it is not going to be easy. As we look ahead to the coming year nothing is certain. Well, actually one thing is certain: there will be continued disruption in the lodging industry!
One small but important sales habit you can do now to help in your reservations team’s QUEST to be the BEST in 2022 is to update your list of QUESTions that should be asked as part of your sales “flow” criteria.
Why do lodging industry reservations sales agents need to update the questioning process? Today’s callers are pre-informed. They already know the rates. They’ve seen multiple images of each room or suite online and perhaps even used 360° or virtual tours. In fact, they book a room themselves by using the smart phone they’re calling from.
To put it bluntly, the reality is that those who are calling no longer need us. And yet, while the lodging industry pundits have been predicting the demise of the voice booking channel for decades now, still they call. In fact, most lodging companies experienced a strong growth in voice inquiries during the pandemic era that continues as of this writing.
What can reservations sales agents do that no website, computer-generated IVR voice or chatbot do? Through the magic of satellites and transmission towers, we can touch the hearts of strangers. Have you ever had that warm, fuzzy feeling around your heart area after having an especially heartfelt conversation reservations caller? Guess what, they are feeling it too.
By asking the right questions, we can start conversations that enable these uniquely human engagements.
Chances are that your hotel, resort or call center already has a list of call standards in place that includes a few traditional questions. At KTN we call these call standards the “call flow” model. Following are five new and/or updated QUESTions we should be asking as part of our QUEST to be the BEST!
Instead of this: Have you stayed with us before?
Ask this: Have you stayed with us before or did anything online catch your eye?
This question helps you obtain two important details. When callers have stayed before you can probably look them up in your guest history, and in all likelihood they will want to rebook the same accommodation. If they have not stayed, you will know they need help in selecting. Additionally, by asking if anything online caught their eye, you will determine where they are in their decision making process. Perhaps they have seen something online but have a question or they just need some reassurance. Perhaps the option they want is sold-out and they need alternatives. Or perhaps they are simply overwhelmed by the number of choices.
Instead of this: What brings you to the area?
Ask this: “Is there anything special I can help you plan during your visit?”
The first example listed above is the traditional way we have always determined purpose of travel, which is important for hotels that are holding blocks of rooms for groups and events, but it also helped determine what features to describe and sell.
The new version is a better conversation starter that positions yourself as being a helpful travel planner who can do more than some OTA website, chatbot, or a generic call center agent reading a script. Plus, if a special occasion is mentioned, it may prompt you to upsell to a higher-rated accommodation type.
Finally, if you work at a hotel or resort that offers amenities and services for add-on fees, this will help open the door for you to discuss and therefore cross-sell those services. Examples might include transportation, dining options, golf or ski packages, or in-room amenities upon arrival.
Ask this: “May I ask what website you’re on?”
This question will only apply during some conversations, such as when the caller self-reveals that they have been shopping online or when they mention the rates they see online are lower or different.
If the rates are the same, you can then cover the benefits of booking directly, the most obvious of which is that you can complete the booking right now, directly into the reservations system, noting any special requests. You may also want to point out the benefits of booking directly vs. with a third party, which may include less restrictive deposit and cancellation terms. If they are seeing a lower rate, you may want to ask if they are looking at the same booking terms (advance purchase vs. flex) or accommodation type, or if they maybe just need to click to the next step where it will show the total with taxes and fees.
Ask this: As I’m checking rates, what questions can I answer for you about the location or amenities?
There are several advantages to asking this question. First, it establishes a “conversational” as opposed to “transactional” engagement style. It positions you as someone who is knowledgeable about the accommodations, amenities and local area. Finally, it moves the conversation away from price long enough for you to talk about the benefits and therefore establish value before you quote a rate.
Instead of this: “Do you want to book it?”
Ask this: “Let me secure this for you right now while it’s still showing available…”
By phrasing your closing technique this way, you leave the “burden of action” with you the seller, versus them the buyer. For example, if you say “Do you want to book it?” they essentially have to make an either/or decision, but if you say “May I secure it for you?” it is easier to just say yes. Also, by adding the new extension to this traditional closing question “…while it’s still showing available…” you are creating urgency for them to book now before the option sells out or the rate changes. While it is always important to create urgency, it is even more so now because smart revenue managers are constantly raising the rates when it is possible to do so.
By training your team to use these new and updated questions in 2022, you will ensure that your hotel’s budget goals will be reached, but you will also be building the best sales habits that will sustain the value of the voice reservations booking channel for years to come. Note: Originally published at www.tnsinc.com