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Training Your Team To Master 'Channel Conversion' Techniques.
By Doug Kennedy
Monday, 8th November 2010
 

Although most hotel revenue and distribution managers I encounter these days are highly focused on how and when to best utilize their third party distribution channels, it is also important for revenue and reservations managers to help make sure that the front desk and reservations agents are trained to use channel conversion techniques. 

Most hoteliers already know that channel conversion in this sense is: convincing callers who have seen your hotel on third party websites, but who have also chosen to call the hotel directly, to book the hotel directly, and preferably right here right now! 

Depending on the scope and size of the lodging operation, training your team can be as easy as sitting-in on the monthly guest services staff meeting or stopping by the reservations department.  For others, it might mean making sure that off-premise agents understand this concept and know how to respond when the opportunities present themselves during real calls.  Regardless, here are some key points to share with your reservations and front desk representatives.

Make Sure Everyone Understands The Concept of Channel Conversion. 

It’s essential that everyone understands the often complex marketing relationship between your hotel and its distribution channels, such as Online Travel Agencies (OTA’s).  Most frontline staff I meet in my training workshops these days are shocked to find out the commissions and fees which their hotel pays for reservations booked through OTA’s and other online channels.
 
When meeting with managers when I ask if the staff is aware of the distribution costs of OTA bookings the answer is yes, but when I ask the question when training frontline staff, “How do you respond when the caller says , ‘Should I book that online or with you?’” all too frequently they say “Whichever you prefer.” A few even are confused and think that they are not supposed to encourage these guests to book directly. 

Update The Team on Any Exclusive Offers That Should Not Be Matched.

Certainly many hotels, especially those in highly competitive markets, have successfully worked out exclusive rate offers with certain OTA partnerships; in some of these agreements the hotel representatives are not supposed to match the exclusive rate offer.  However unless it is somehow restricted in your agreement, once a potential guest dials directly they become a direct prospect.  So this article is not to suggest that hotels should by any means try to work around special agreements for exclusive offerings. 

Keep Frontline Staff Updated On What’s Available Online.

Make sure that your frontline team has access to the rates the callers are seeing online, so that they can verify the rate the caller claims to be seeing is an actual rate being offered. 

Help The Team Understand Why Some Guests Prefer To Book Directly  Besides being a hotel industry trainer, as a business traveler myself t has been interesting to recently notice the utilization of OTA’s by those I meet on planes and at the airports. 

More than once I’ve been told by seatmates about how they first check for the best deals on certain popular OTA’s, but then they routinely place a call directly to the hotel’s local number to see if they will match the rate.  It is important to remind the team of the many reasons someone might call directly:

  • Easier payment terms, versus pre-payment. 
  • Fewer restrictions on changes/cancellation.
  • Had a problem with a third party reservation in the past. 
One complaint I also here from other travelers I have also experienced myself is that more often than not when I book through an OTA I end up with a less desirable room option, such as restricted views, noisy locations, and generally a lower-tier accommodation. 

Perhaps though the biggest reason visitors to OTA’s call is simply to double check the rate offer.  Although recent RevPAR performance seems to be trending upward and telling RM’s to raise rates, consumers still have the perception that there’s a deal to be made with any purchase, especially “intangible” products like a night in a hotel.  As a result, even many of those who are loyal OTA clients sometimes call directly to see if they can get a better deal.  Even if the agent cannot provide a lower rate, they can still capture that sale directly.  

Understand Why We Should Not Let The Caller Go Back Online, Period!   For most hotel properties there will be a fee even for a website reservation if the caller goes back online to book, and these numbers can add up vs. the cost of just taking the voice reservation.  Yet even more importantly, even if the cost of a website booking is minimal compared to your voice cost, it is essential to convert that caller right now before you let them go.  Once the call ends and they go back online, we cannot control which website they will visit next or which lodging option they will click on.

Here are some other general ideas for training your staff in channel conversion techniques: 

  • When fielding reservations inquiries from callers who are simultaneously looking online and questioning special offers, besides matching the rate if you can, offer to help make it easy to get this off their to-do list.  “If you’d like Mr. Perez I can take care of this personally for you right now so you don’t have to go back online…”
  • Upon arrival, welcome these “new” guests, and acknowledge in a positive way that they have booked via a third party site.  Personalize the relationship and build rapport with a welcome gesture, amenity, upgrade, or preferential room location. (Rather than the currently too-common practice of treating these guests who have booked through OTA’s as “steerage” class upon arrival.)  Yet during the same conversation invite them to book directly next time.  (This is especially important for corporate hotels that regularly have frequent guests.) 
  • Capitalize on opportunities to secure return reservations from your guests while they are still in-house by making it easy for them to make a return reservation.  Although many guests do use express checkout, still others like to stop by for a copy of their bill during their stay or a zero balance folio copy at checkout.  If your hotel is in a market that receives frequent guests, such as corporate hotels and certain leisure properties such as those near medical facilities, conference centers, industrial plazas and corporate office parks, be sure your front desk associates are offering to make return reservations upon departure.  Consider offering return reservations forms or express re-booking options with express checkout receipts. 
As a member of the revenue management team at your lodging operation, you can help your operational managers and frontline associates recognize the opportunities they have to use channel conversion techniques. 

When you stop to add-up the potential cost savings by reducing OTA commissions and fees when the guests call directly, plus the additional revenue lost from callers who went back online but clicked on a competitor, the numbers are significant.

Founded in 2006, Kennedy Training Network (KTN) is the lodging industry’s best source for training programs and services in the topic areas of reservations sales, hospitality and guest service, and front desk revenue optimization. Services including customized, on-site training workshops, private, individual hotel team webinars, and reservations/front desk mystery shopping assessment and coaching reports.

Additionally, KTN is also a resource for conference keynote and break-out sessions for management companies, brands, and associations.

For more information, visit www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com for details or e-mail doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com

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