Have you listened to what your hotel sales and reservations agents are saying?
By Doug Kennedy
Wednesday, 30th May 2007
In an effort to increase the effectiveness of their hotel sales & reservations staff and general managers traditionally have looked to outside "mystery shopping" companies to place test calls and then complete checklists that "score" an agent on their sales/service skills.

Indeed, many hotels have benefited from such programs and increased their sales and service levels to new heights, especially when the mystery shopping is tied-in to an overall training and development plan. Yet having myself once been in the mystery shopping business, I can tell you it has never been easy and the service itself presents inherent challenges that are difficult if not impossible to overcome:

  • Inability to reach every agent every month.
  • Recognition of the voice of the mystery callers.
  • Caller ID from same area codes.
  • Shop calls placed primarily during business hours.
  • Mystery shopping callers being perceived as being too lenient or difficult vs. "regular" callers.
  • Callers never give a credit card, or if they do, always give the same one.
The best mystery-shopping companies will work with their clients to overcome challenges such as these. Yet these days, mystery-shopping companies face new challenges that are perhaps insurmountable in that today's agents are fielding a far broader spectrum of call scenarios than ever before. The reality is that when you pick up a reservations call, whether at the front desk, reservations department, or in a call center environment, the range of potential questions, concerns and needs is far greater than even just five years ago.

In the past, test callers could get away with general questions such as "Can you tell me about your hotel?" or "Do you have a pool?" or "I'm thinking of traveling to your city…"

Nowadays, callers range from ultra- to misinformed, having been on one too many virtual tours and read too much user-driven content at places like TripAdvisor.com and elsewhere. Today's callers have specific questions that will impact their final decision, and more than anything want a recommendation or endorsement or just to get the comfort level of talking with a real live person which can never be replaced.

From the hoteliers I talk to, it seems their agents almost always know instantly when they are being test called. From there, it's only natural that sales agents would perform differently than when fielding a "real" call, thus biasing the results and minimizing the value of the data.

Up until now, most hotels and resorts have had no better options as the ability to monitor and record calls for training and QA purposes was limited to a call center environment, and even there, expensive peripheral telephony equipment was required.

Things have changed rapidly, however, and it's easier than ever for managers of properties of all sizes and staffing levels to find some way to record at least a sampling of inbound calls for training and QA purposes. A little time Googling the subject will yield numerous options and a wide range of technology solutions. Depending on the type of telecommunications system you are utilizing, there's new technology for call recording/logging including systems at lower price points for smaller call centers with as few as 10 seats. There's also a cutting-edge company that can provide external monitoring assessment by using their own equipment, and yet another company that can record all inbound 800 calls for you and post them on the web for you to hear.

If all those solutions sound too complicated or costly, you can keep it simple by purchasing a digital call recording device that hooks onto the handset (or headset) cord of any single or multi-line phone. When I Googled the subject I found many options, including one model for under $100 that will hold 32 hours of digital recording time. (As a formality, just be sure to program and activate a pre-announce into your PBX or ACD system to properly notify your callers if required, regardless of which method you use to record the calls).

Today's general managers should find a way—any way—to allow their management team to listen to recordings of sales inquiry calls from real-world guests and third-party decision makers. Once able to do so, a whole new level of insight can be gained. One obvious benefit is that once you have access to recordings of real-world calls, your managers and supervisors can:

  • Coach agents on how they perform in the real-world (vs. how they sound when they know it is a test call.)
  • Evaluate agent performance based on numerous calls each month, vs. a handful of outside mystery shopping reports.
  • Ensure each agent is evaluated equally on a consistent number of calls per month. (vs. They got shopped once this month but 4 times last month.)
  • Listen to and evaluate how callers respond when agents employ your sales call strategies/standards; determine if they require any updating.
  • More accurately assess and meet the training needs including at the individual agent level.
Interestingly, another unexpected upside of having access to real-world calls is that your revenue management team can periodically evaluate a reasonable sample of calls to determine actual closing ratios, rate denials/regrets, and other insight that can be useful in setting and adjusting future revenue optimization strategies.

But the best part of having access to real-world calls fielded by your staff is that you can keep an eye on your "store front window display," which is a great analogy for how your callers see it when they dial your hotel's telephone number.

Doug Kennedy, president of the Kennedy Training Network, has been a fixture on the hospitality and tourism industry conference circuit since 1989, having presented over 1,000 conference keynote sessions, educational seminars, and on-premise training workshops for diverse audiences representing every segment of the lodging industry. His articles have also appeared worldwide in more than 17 prominent international publications including 4Hoteliers.

Since 1996 Doug has been a regular contributor to the lodging industry's number one rated publication, www.hotelmotel.com, where he has been a regular monthly columnist since 2001. Visit www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com for details or e-mail him at: doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com
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