Train Your Reservations Sales Team To Offer More Than 'Website Inventory Search Support'.
By Doug Kennedy
Tuesday, 4th May 2010
As anyone who takes reservations inquiries for your hotel can tell you, the majority of today's first time callers have visited the website prior to calling. 

Many are even online while they are actually on the phone.  Given the proliferation of information available online to today's hotel guests, including the hotel website, online  travel reviews, and third party online  travel agencies, there is no doubt that those who do goonline prior to calling are well informed if not over-informed about what the hotel has to offer.  

So one does have to wonder "Why do they still call?"  One obvious reason in today's economy, is to double-check that the rate they see online is actually the lowest available,  thus doing exactly what they have been told to do by articles in the mass media. 

But beyond just double-checking the rate, today's callers want to hear more than just a laundry-list of the same features that they have seen online.  When you think about it, why would a guest who has just seen photos of the room and possibly taken a virtual  tour really want to hear a description such as "It is a 400 square foot room with a king size bed, iron, ironing board, coffee maker, hair dryer, and flat panel TV." 

And yet when you randomly call hotels from all market segments, the descriptions sound remarkably alike; if you closed your eyes and went only by the words provided you would be picturing the exact same room every time.  Similarly, if agents just laundry list the features of their hotel, it too will sound nearly identical to other hotels in the same market segment:  "We are a 200 room hotel with a restaurant, a bar, a business center,  a workout room, and wireless Internet." 

The good news is that there are many things that live voice agents can do for a guest that the web can never do.  This is why at the conclusion of calls today's agents should give themselves a quick self-assessment by asking: "What did I provide for the caller that they could not have found themselves online?"   Here are some ideas of what a voice reservations agent can do that even the best website cannot:

  • Use Investigative Questions.  Go beyond basic "inventory search" questions regarding the dates, number in the party, and bedding requirements to ask more about "the story" behind the call.  Examples include:  "May I ask what brings you to the area?" "Will you have much free time during your business trip to enjoy the hotel and area?" "Is this a special occasion?" and "Is there something special you are looking for?"   By asking these questions and learning more about "the story," agents can use descriptions that are alluring and enticing versus just informing and notifying them of features. 
  • Offer Needs-Based Suggestions and Recommendations. Although websites can inform, they cannot recommend that the hotel is a good choice for their plans or suggest a room type, package, or dining option.  The key is to base these on the needs of the caller with language such as "Since you mentioned you were traveling on business, I definitely suggest our mini-suites because…"  "Since this is a special occasion, I would recommend that you consider the package because…"  
  • Provide Endorsements To Reassure The Caller.  Given that today's callers have read online guest reviews which often appear to contradict one another, personalized endorsements can be very helpful in reassuring the caller they have made a good choice.
  • Create Urgency And Remove Barriers To Booking Now.   Although most hotel websites allow guests to book online, voice agents can also encourage those who are hesitant to make a commitment by creating urgency with statements such as: "Availability is limited at that time" or "That special rate could sell out."  Similarly, today's agents can remove barriers by reminding callers of options such as booking now to lock-in the space since they have options for changing or canceling if plans change.  
  • Make a human connection.  As appealing as most website are, they cannot make that emotional connection which is uniquely human.  The old adage "People like to do business with people they like" applies more than ever in today's high-tech, low-touch world.  Great voice agents know how they speak with real people all day, and not just an endless stream of callers waiting to be processed.  Take time to ask about the weather, comment on a person's home town, their local sport's team (only if they are having a winning season!), to ask about the pet you hear barking in the background, to offer congratulations or perhaps to send condolences.  
By encouraging your staff to use these and other tools for conversational reservations selling, you can ensure that callers who have visited your website prior to calling will be hearing  exactly what they want and need to hear to make a final commitment instead of hanging up and going  back online to look somewhere else.

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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