The Telephone Is Your Hotel's 'Storefront Window.'
By Doug Kennedy
Thursday, 15th April 2010
As anyone who has ever worked in the retail profession knows, having an appealing and enticing "storefront window" is crucial for getting those passing by to come inside to shop. 

Having grown up working in my family's small business, The Kennedy Craft Shop, I can still hear my mom Barbara's voice echoing in my mind with one of her favorite customer service mantras "Son, if  they customer's don't like what they see from the storefront when they pass by, then they are not going to want to come inside to shop!" 

Because of this we spent hours each month re-decorating and updating the display.  We also took great care to make sure everything immediately visible from that window – such as the check-out counter - looked orderly and inviting. 

Although much of the same can be said about a hotel's "curb appeal," especially for hotels which receive walk-in inquiries, if a hotel does not present a positive impression over the telephone for inquiry callers, many guests will decide to just call elsewhere. Here are some other reasons why a hotels should focus on zero-defect telephone hospitality:
  • Hotels typically have many important "customers" who never visit – their only personal experience is over the telephone.  This includes Travel Agents, meeting planners, administrative assistants from local corporate accounts.
  • Family, friends and colleagues of your in-house guests who call during their stay will form first impressions from how they their calls were handled.  
  • Even guests who have booked online – but who later call with a question or special request – form first impressions from their telephone experiences.  If the impression is not good, they may very well decide to cancel.
Therefore, it is important that your switchboard operator or front desk associate who answers calls recognizes each ringing line as an opportunity to represent your hotel in a positive way.  For full service hotels, this concept also applies to those answering the calls within each department, such as reservations, group sales, catering sales, and the executive office. 

Unfortunately, too many others hotel associates still seem to view the incoming calls as an interruption.  Their attitude comes across as "If it wasn't for all of you callers interrupting us, we could get so much more done here in the hospitality industry." 

If you haven't already done so recently, maybe it is time to schedule an in-house training session to review "best practices" such as these for creating hospitality excellence over the phone lines. 

Answer the "knock at the door" of a ringing phone line with a proper greeting to include the following:
  • Greeting of the day, such as "Good  Afternoon," or a similar inviting phrase such as "Welcome to the  (hotel name)." 
  • Next, we want to identify the hotel or department name.  With today's potential guests looking at so many choices online in a single click, it is entirely possible they might even forget where they called.  Either way, stating your hotel  name will only help to reinforce the "brand name." If answering calls at a department that were forwarded from the switchboard, it is equally important to state your department name to reassure them they have reached the department they were targeting.
  • Offer your name.  Using one's name when answering not only builds rapport, but helps us to gain credibility from the caller's perspective.  Alternatively, if no name is given the caller will seem less confident with the information about to be provided.
Many telephone hospitality experts advocate that we should complete a proper greeting by offering a name.  They say that anything said afterwards is going to "erase" the name.  Others argue that offering assistance by adding "How may I assist you?" shows a willing help.  Either approach is fine; the most important part is that it is spoken sincerely.

Also, make sure your GM or marketing director who writes the script for answering tests the new script by saying it themselves for about 10 times in a row.  Be careful not too give the staff too long of a greeting.  Here's an anonymous version of a too-wordy script I have heard used many times:
  • "Good afternoon and happy holidays, welcome to the Brand  X Hotel, number one Brand  X hotel in our region for 2010, this is Doug, how may I direct your call?"
    If the designated script for answering is too long, the associate will likely rush saying the script, and some callers might even interrupt them.
  • Speak slowly and clearly.  Many people think that the rate of speech at which we speak is dictated by the geographic location where we live.  For example, those living in the Northeast USA are reputed to be fast talkers, while those in the Deep South speak much more slowly.  The truth is the biggest factor impacting rate of speech is stress! Most of us speak much more quickly when under pressure.  Remind the team that speaking too fast makes the caller feel rushed and pressured, not to mention that it might cause them to say "What did you say?"
  • Pay attention to inflection.  We can change the entire meaning of a sentence just by changing the inflection.  Typically, this means ending the sentence on a higher octave. 
  • Convey energy and enthusiasm.  If we sound bored or indifferent when speaking, it conveys a negative impression of our willingness to help and accommodate.  Yet enthusiasm shows pride and excitement about the hotel.
  • Ask for the caller's name, if not provided.  According to my observations, approximately 1/3 of all typical hotel callers provide their name.  Train your staff to take note of the name and to use it conversationally throughout the call.
    Just be sure not to ask for the name in the opening greeting.  It seems many hotels have gone to this procedure, perhaps to ensure they will hit some AAA or  Mobile standard.   "Good afternoon, front desk, this is Doug, may I have your name please?"  This will sometimes put the caller on the defensive and they will respond with comments such as "Oh, I'm not ready to book yet, I just needed some rates."  
    Instead, use something similar to the recommended opening greeting above, then let the caller speak next.  If they do not provide their name, this is the time to politely say "Certainly, I would be delighted to assist you with that.  May I have your name please?"  
  • When it is necessary to place callers on hold, use proper procedures for a positive impression.
    Ask permission to place the call on hold; politely explaining why it is necessary, for example:
    "Certainly, let me check on that for you.  May I place you on hold momentarily?"
    Wait for a response.  If asked politely, most will respond with approval.  However if a caller states they cannot hold, and if it is absolutely necessary to place them on hold, then offer to phone them back as an option.  (In this even most callers will then agree to holding.
    Thank callers for holding and apologize for the delay, especially if the time was significant.
  • Use the "transfer button" judiciously.   Do your best to "own" the request or question if possible.   When  it is necessary to transfer, here are some reminders.
    Indicate why you need to transfer the call without making excuses for not being able to help them yourselves.  For example:  "Certainly Mr. Perez.  We are delighted to assist you in finding 12 rooms for the meeting.   We have a sales manager dedicated to assisting groups such as yours.  Her name is Jane, and I will transfer you right now."
    Supervisor the transfer.  Introduce the caller being transferred to the individual you are transferring to.  Continuing the above example we would  stay on the line until Jane answers and then saying "Hi Jane,  this is Doug at the front desk.  I have Mr. Perez on the line and he is looking for 12 rooms for a meeting."  The person receiving the call  can then say, "Hello Mr. Perez.  This is Jane in the sales department. We're excited to hear you are considering us for your meeting.  I understand you need 12 rooms.  How may I assist you?"   
    On a related note, if there is no answer at the department or staff member's line, then notify the caller, giving them options.  "Hi again Mr. Smith.   It seems Wendy has stepped away.  Do you want to leave her a voicemail or would you like me to take a paper message and deliver it to her?"  Most callers these days will opt for the voice mail, but it is a very nice gesture to have to choice. 
  • When fielding incoming calls for others, such as managers and hotel sales staff, use "call announcing" and avoid ever using "call screening."  Call screening usually goes like this:
    Caller: "Hello I am calling for Ms. Chen your General Manager."   
    Screener:  "May I ask who's calling?"
    To the caller this says that Ms. Chen may or may not be there, depending on how important you are.
  • Instead, by using call announcing, we can create a positive first impression from the storefront window:
    Caller: "Hello I am calling for Ms. Chen, your General Manager."
    Screener: "Certainly.  I am happy to transfer you. May I tell her who is calling?"
    Caller:  Anton Wells
    Then Ms. Chen can answer "Hello Mr. Wells.   This is Naomi Chen,  how may I assist you?"
  • End the call correctly.  Just as a positive first impression starts the call off on a good tone,  ending the call correctly will leave a memorable lasting impression as well.
    Offer additional assistance.  "Is there anything else I can assist you with today Mr. Wells?" 
    Express interest in their call back or in hosting their stay.  For example:
    "We hope to hear you again soon." Or "We look forward to hosting your meeting."
    Thank the caller.  "Thanks again for calling and have a delightful day."
Even if your staff has received this training in the past, such as during new employee orientation, it is always a good idea to review these techniques to reinforce this vital function.  Remember: the reputation of your hotel is only as good as the impression of the last caller who dialed your main number.  

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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