When conducting reservations sales audits for a diversity of hotels, resorts and lodging companies of all types I frequently am exposed to their existing mystery shopping criteria as part of the review. As a result I get to peek behind the scenes and see what their reservations, front desk and/or call center staff are being trained to do. What I often find is that most organizations are still using the same reservations call handling criteria as they did long ago.
Meantime, so much has changed on the caller’s side of the equation. When it comes to information, the “balance of power” has shifted to the caller’s side; many of done extensive online research by reading online guest reviews. Others have checked rates at a multitude of online travel partner websites. Still others are online at the website while they are on the phone. Yet many hotels are still training their agents the same way they did back in the ear of tourism guide books, printed travel directories, and rack brochures.
Still others have adopted uniform techniques that make agents sound generic and scripted. One such example is for agents to say to first-time callers “Let me be the first to welcome you.” When listening to actual recordings of real-world calls captured by various monitoring systems our clients use, I hear this being said when it is completely irrelevant. Here’s an example:
- Caller: “Hello, my boss is traveling to your city next week and I need to check the rates…”
- Agent: “Have you stayed with us before?”
- Caller: “No.”
- Agent: “Well then let me be the first to welcome you.”
Now this approach might be effective if the caller says they themselves are visiting, and if the agent sounds enthusiastic and genuine. However when the caller is checking rates for someone else it sounds scripted and when it is spoken in a monotone voice it depersonalizes the experience. Instead, agents should be using other methods to express interest in hosting the traveler such as “Has she (your boss) been a guest before? No? Well then I can assure you that our guest services team will make her feel most welcome upon her arrival.”
If you have not done so in a while, take a hard look at your criteria and then invest a little time sitting-in on some real-world calls that your agents are fielding every day at the front desk, in the reservations office, or at your call center. Besides checking to make sure the criteria is relevant for today’s web-savvy callers, be sure also that the criteria helps maximize the rooms and overall guest revenue. Here are some considerations:
- Does our criteria help determine where the caller is at with their quest to find accommodations? While it is still a good idea to ask the traditional question of “Have you stayed before” or “Are you familiar with our hotel?” it is vital to continue on to determine what questions they have and essentially, why they called versus booking online. A key question for today is “As I’m checking those dates, are there any questions I can answer for you about our location or amenities?”
- Does the criteria encourage agents to present relevant benefits and not just list common features? Back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s hotels were introducing nifty new features such as in-room coffee makers, irons and ironing boards in every room, and wireless internet. Since callers had little information prior to calling, it was important to provide a brief overview to of these features in order to convey value. In today’s world, most guests already know to expect these amenities. Instead, by asking what questions they have for us, as recommended above, agents can instead respond with personalized descriptions of relevant benefits rather than offering what we would today call a “30 second commercial.”
- Does the criteria encourage agents to go beyond listing features and to instead provide descriptions that are alluring and enticing? In our KTN reservations workshops we call this “narrating the pictures.” Since most callers have been online, they already have seen pictures and our bullet-points of amenities. Instead, your criteria should require your agents to describe what they have seen in the pictures and to allure and entice rather than listing, informing and notifying.
- Does the criteria focus mostly on “operational” concerns related to a confirmed reservation? In checking many of my clients’ criteria I find that they are basing it off of “hotel inspection” rating systems such as offered by many luxury brands, or by rating systems such as Forbes and AAA. If you look closer at these criteria you will find they typically focus mostly on the operational components that come into play after the caller says “Fine, I would like to reserve it.” These are typically separated in great detail so that you end up with 15 or more criteria that apply after a “Yes,” such as restating day and date, reconfirming the method of payment, offering transportation, mentioning a hotel service, asking for arrival time, etc… While these are important, they do nothing to increase your call conversion percentages. Instead, these criteria should be combined so as to simplify the criteria such as “Agent obtained and verified all of the reservations booking details.” Then there is room to add sales-related criteria such as described above.
- Does the criteria reinforce your revenue strategies? One common faux paus I hear on calls is that many agents ask callers right up front at the start of the call whether they qualify for any discounts such as AAA or AARP. This immediately makes the conversation all about rate. It potentially creates a rate objection for those who do not quality and also gives away discounts when it is not necessary to do so. The criteria should instead say “If caller objected to initial rate, did the agent help them qualify for discounts?” Another key criterion is to ensure that the agents are always offering a minimum of two or three accommodation categories, rather than just quoting the lowest rates, as is often the case in calls I monitor.
By taking time to compare your existing criteria with what you hear happening on real-world calls, you will be able to update it and thus ensure that your agents are being asked to use a sales process that is up to date and relevant in today’s real-world callers. If you would like me to review your criteria and provide feedback send me a copy to email@example.com
About Doug Kennedy
Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over two decades. Since 1996, Doug’s monthly hotel industry training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hotel industry training authors in the world. He is the author of Still On The Road to Sales and Guest Service Excellence. Visit KTN at: www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
Still On The Road To Sales and Guest Service Excellence
“Still On The Road To Sales and Guest Service Excellence” is a collection of monthly hotel training articles written by Kennedy from 1996 to 2012 and published worldwide in industry trade journals.
Doug's articles, which have inspired hoteliers worldwide, are presented chronologically, allowing the readers to see how training strategies and techniques have evolved over time. Read how emerging technologies, such as online distribution, online guest reviews, and CRM technology have impacted hospitality sales and service training over the years. Although technology changes, Doug's core recommendations starting from his very first article are still relevant today.
The book is available on Amazon.
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