For most hotels, online bookings have grown significantly in recent years, while voice reservations bookings have declined. However Voice reservations still have a significant contribution to hotel’s top line & brand image. They have the power to convert the “channel surfers” that search the net and call direct to direct bookings without commissions. There is nothing like an employee that has an vested interest in the property selling the features directly to the guest and providing exceptional customer service. The OTA’s do not have this ability as it is all online generated and the guest has to read descriptions with no conversation.
How many of your reservations staff have had any sales training? How many are aware of the structure of OTA’s and whilst there is undeniable benefit do reservations understand the commission structures and the impact on top line revenue. Do they understand how the more direct bookings they convert without letting or “suggesting” the customer books online can have significant RevPAR growth?
In an article from Doug Kennedy he states that Prospective guests are calling because they are:
- confused by conflicting online guest reviews and social media postings;
- overwhelmed by the number of room types and packages they have viewed online;
- verifying that the rate online is in fact the lowest rate and/or that it is the “final” price, inclusive of all taxes and hidden fees; and/or
- multitasking (such as driving) while on the phone and not wanting to use their thumbs to complete the booking on a smartphone.
Voice is an especially important channel for certain properties, such as hotels with a diversity of accommodation types (suites, villas, concierge floors), or a multitude of packages and rate options. In short, the more choices guests have to make and the more money and time they are investing, the more likely they will pick up the phone for advice.
Also, while calls might have declined, today’s front desk and reservations agents are fielding much more challenging call scenarios than ever before. When it comes to information, the balance of power has shifted to the caller’s side of the equation. Whereas in the past, callers had very little information prior to dialing, such as a listing in a hotel directory or a tourism guidebook, today’s guests often spend hours researching online.
In the meantime, most hotel revenue and distribution managers spend a disproportionate amount of time focusing on electronic channels, inadvertently neglecting voice. If you are concerned that your executive team has fallen victim to this trend, consider these questions:
- When reviewing your schedule for the last four weeks, how much time did you spend in meetings or conference calls about managing voice versus electronic channels?
- In looking at the last three brands, association or other industry conferences you attended, how many sessions focused on voice versus online channels?
- If you have in-house reservations agents, what are their names? How much time and resources have you invested in training the voice team as compared with channel management?
- If you send all calls to an offsite call center, when is the last time you conducted familiarisation training?
Tip to Consider
Here are some training tips to refocus your transient sales-and-marketing efforts on voice as an important distribution channel:
- Spend one hour each month listening to real calls from real callers. You can simply sit with your in-house agents or ask your off-site call center to provide call recordings.
- Ask agents to list the most challenging objections they receive, such as those regarding price, product and/or processes. Then, help them find new ways to overcome these objections.
- Review your reservations sales process checklist. Has it been updated for today’s highly informed callers? Are you having agents ask the most important question circa 2014? For example: “As I’m checking those dates, are there any questions I can answer for you about our location or amenities and services?”
- Have you provided your team with training for the questions asked by today’s highly informed callers who have viewed pictures online, such as how to “narrate the pictures” and how to reassure callers who have read conflicting reviews that they are making a good choice?
- Do you know offhand your call conversion rate? What is your average revenue per booking for an in-house reservation versus online? If not, take time to measure and calculate these metrics.
- How many of your reservation agents “ask for the sale” and have been trained in how to close a sale?
- How many reservation departments are views as “switchboard” and not a sales team?
- How many reservations team members understand what RM is trying to achieve and have a selling strategy in place to support this?