Hotel Reservations SAILS Training 2006!
By Doug Kennedy
Friday, 20th October 2006
With all of the other priorities facing hoteliers today when it comes to managing transient distribution channels - it's more than a fair question: "Why do we need a new reservations sales process?"

Yet when you listen to recordings of actual inquiries being fielded from real customers, it's easy to identify that today's callers have evolved faster than most training programs.  With the proliferation of technology for recording inbound reservations calls circa 2006, an increasing number of hotels and call centers of all sizes and markets now have access to some type of call monitoring technology.  Here's what they are finding when they take the time to listen-in to their own callers:

  • Agents are fielding a much broader spectrum of sales scenarios than ever before, from callers ranging from ultra-informed to misinformed, having taken virtual tours and read TripAdvisory postings.
  • Callers are facing too many choices.  It wasn't long ago that callers had to spend at least 15 minutes to check rates by phone at 3 different hotels.  Now in that same 15 minutes they can check rates and even pictures at dozens of options.  Many find this confusing if not overwhelming, especially when they've been on one to many websites. 
  • Callers are multi-tasking while on the phone.  Whether checking e-mail, feeding the dog, or washing the dishes (you hope!), that noise in the background is demonstrative of today's over-scheduled lifestyle.  
As a veteran hotel industry sales trainer I couldn't be more excited from an instructional design standpoint.  Over the past several months I've been listening to recordings of reservations inquires across all market segments.

Now that it's possible to hear how real callers react to reservations sales techniques, one thing is clear: sales steps and processes are out.  Today's callers want personalized and customized sales experiences, so it's the perfect time to launch Reservations SAILS Training 2006!©    Welcome aboard.

Situational sensitivity.
Alluring descriptions.
Investigative sales approach.
Listen interactively.
Secure the reservation.

S in SAILS is for Situational Sensitivity.

After opening the call with a cheerful and professional greeting, which goes without saying, agents must quickly turn their attention towards understanding the circumstance, situation, or quandary which the caller is explaining during their opening remarks. 

Once understanding the situation, they can then personalize the sales process and customize the caller's experience for the duration of the transaction.  Whether it's working through a caller's special lodging requirements, reassuring them the lowest rate has been quoted, or providing a personal opinion, a focus on Situational Sensitivity helps chart the course.

A is for Alluring descriptions. 

When I started training hotel reservations agents 10-15 years ago, we encouraged them to be more informative and to educate the caller on the product.  While this is still sometimes necessary, it seems most callers are well-informed about the rooms, facilities, and amenities.  They've seen thumbnail pictures if not virtual tours, and might have even read about your hotel on IgoUgo2.  What's more essential nowadays is to be alluring, which is to be enticing, tempting, and to make the product attractive for the caller.

To help make your property sound more alluring to callers, your agents still have to know the product and to be able to provide "insider tips."  Even more important is to help them expand their vocabulary of adjectives and adverbs so they can put it in their own words.  (One technique is to encourage the team to continuously read your local visitor's and tourism brochures, magazines, and websites.)

Probably the best and easiest way to become more alluring is to use needs-based recommendations and endorsements.  Rather than saying "I recommend this for you…," better to bring the caller into the equation:

  • "Since you mentioned it was a special occasion, our deluxe accommodation would definitely be the one I'd suggest." 
  • "If you're traveling on business and flying out early, we really are the perfect location for you then." 
  • "Based on what you've told me I think you've made a very good choice."
I is for Investigative Selling Approach

If you compare most hotel reservations sales training to date, agents are taught to take callers through "steps" or "processes" which are linear in design, with a pre-determined path for giving and receiving information.  In this model callers are viewed as being static and predictable.  Yet when you listen to calls its easy to see that callers don't react well to being asked pre-set list of "probing" questions, especially when they've given the information already in their opening remarks, and they don't like to hear agents feature-dumping to try to hook them or asking for the sale inappropriately, before even describing the accommodation.

Instead, SAILS training today should be customer-focused, and should allow agents some degree of flexibility in seeking out the best and most direct pathway to getting the caller's booking before any they make any more clicks or calls.

The key for successful investigative selling is to use ad-hoc probing questions, which are best developed "mid-stream" while the call is in progress.  While it is still often necessary to ask traditional question such as "What brings you to the area?" and "Have you stayed with us before?" agents usually also need to use situation-specific questions such as:

  • "May I ask what website you saw that on?"
  • "Is there anything specific you are looking for?
  • "May I ask which of these requests is the most important to you?"
L is for Listening interactively

In keeping with the philosophy of investigative sales approach, listening interactively means to use the information gained by hearing to change-up our next steps and approaches.  Also, by paraphrasing and re-stating the caller's scenario at times, agents show that they are tuning in to the customer's individual needs, versus treating them like "caller 39" of the day.  

S is for Securing the reservation.

In the end the goal of all sales training is the same; to secure the sale right here and now while we have our best chance to do so.  While it is helpful to train your agents on tactics and techniques, the most important part is to help them understand that everyone benefits when we close the sale, including the caller.  Anyone who's ever fielded a call-back from a caller who had checked earlier and is calling back ready to book, but who finds the inventory sold out or that the rates have gone up, knows that it is in the caller's best interest to book it now.

All too many calls these days start with "Hello, I went online and I just have a question…." and a few minutes later end with the agent suggesting, "So if you'll just go online to ourhotelname-dot-com, you can just book it there when you are ready, okay?"  Afterwards, one can only hope the caller doesn't go to theirhotelname-dot-com instead.

If you are looking to move your staff to the next level of reservations sales effectiveness, why not register yourself and your team to attend one of my four remaining area-wide Reservations SAILS Training 2006!© seminars this fall? Aspen, CO (Nov. 15), Orlando, FL (Dec. 1), New York, NY (Dec 11), and Las Vegas, NV (Dec 14).   If you'd like a workshop flyer and outline for these seminars, or if you want details regarding scheduling me for an on-premise program in your area, simply e-mail me at: Doug@KennedyTrainingNetwork.com 

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