For hotels and resorts looking to reduce the cost of customer acquisition and cut down on fees for third party bookings, investing in software that allows reservations agents to track and manage call and email inquiries makes a great deal of sense.
Although the contribution of the OTA channels will undoubtedly be strong for the foreseeable future, there are plenty of guests who call and email the hotel to double check the rates they see online; others inquire about special needs and requests that they are more comfortable making directly. If reservations agents simply quote rates, answer questions and maintain an “order-taking” paradigm they will miss out on opportunities to not only reduce distribution costs, but also to increase revenues by ensuring that callers do not select another option off of the list they see online at an OTA.
In recent years new enabling software and technology systems have emerged to allow reservations agents to more pro-actively sell to, and to enable leaders to better manage, the stream of incoming voice and email leads. Rather than just quoting rates, these systems allow agents to conclude voice inquiry calls (for which they have not been able to secure the sale) by sending follow-up emails, and then to trace the lead on a task list so that they can contact the caller again in a few days. Similarly, such systems help agents track, respond to and follow-up on email rate and availability inquiries.
Originally there was only one legacy company that offered this type of software system and it was therefore exorbitantly priced. Now however there are several companies in the marketplace and the increased competition has made this more affordable than ever before. (For a list of some of the companies that offer this type of service contact me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Having a proactive lead management system is especially important for lodging companies that have higher average rates, longer average stays, and high “revenue per guest” opportunities, such as resorts, boutique hotels, extended stay properties, and vacation rental companies.
The larger the operation the more such automation is necessary. For smaller properties with fewer staff and fewer inquiries, it is possible for agents to track every incoming call manually. They can then obtain the caller’s email address, and when it is not possible to secure the sale on the first try, they can send a follow-up email, then put it on a manual “to do” list to reach out again by phone and by email to try to convince the caller to book. Similarly, they can track and manage email inquiries.
However for larger reservations teams where multiple agents are fielding multiple emails from the same sender, and where the call volume makes a manual system too cumbersome, automation certainly makes sense. Such systems also allow for managers to:
- Track “actual” conversion. Agents can enter a disposition code at the end of each call so that “service only” calls can be accounted for in the conversion formula.
- Listen to, monitor and score agent sales and service efficiency.
- Identify and track each agent’s sales activities to ensure that they are complying with standards for follow-up action steps.
- Organize all inbound and outbound email correspondence with each potential guest.
- As a byproduct, most of these systems also provide a great deal of marketing intelligence such as allowing for the assignment and tracking of unique 800 numbers to various campaigns and also by providing call handling / efficiency reporting that is often not otherwise available.
Just having such a system in place does not alone ensure sales success of course, and it is definitely important to maximize the effectiveness of any system whether manual, automated or a hybrid model. Having both consulted with and conducted training for a diversity of clients on this subject over the years here are a few reminders:
- Make sure reservations agents try to secure the sale during the first inquiry. I have definitely noticed that when these systems are in place some agents jump ahead too quickly to saying “Let me send you a list of the options we have open for your dates.” Instead, agents need to help the person commit during the inquiry when possible, or at least narrow down their options.
- If your deposit policy allows, allow agents to use a “courtesy hold” option on one of the accommodation types to build commitment. (Again, this should only be used after trying for a fully committed booking.)
- Have agents ask for the contact information such as the email address and call-back number during the conversation, not at the very start of the call. Some software system providers encourage agents to start calls by asking for these details which makes the call sound more “transactional” and less “conversational.”
- When sending follow-up correspondence after phone calls, or in response to email inquiries, encourage agents to paraphrase and re-state some of the key details the caller has mentioned to make it personalized. They should also make it a point to use needs-based recommendations in reference to the accommodations and/or packages.
- When following-up on phone calls and emails, agents should first call the prospect and if they do not pick-up they should leave a polite and personalized voicemail, again restarting key details to personalize it. (They should not just keep dialing back repeatedly as some guests might be annoyed with receiving too many missed calls.)
- If the first voicemail is not received, agents should follow-up the next day with a personalized email note, then a day or two later another voicemail.
By giving your reservations agents the best available technology you will be providing with the tools they need to maximize call conversion from today’s over-informed, distribution channel surfing travelers. If you have additional questions on available systems or on how to set-up your own manual processes feel free to contact me directly. Doug@Kennedytrainingnetwork.com
- By Doug Kennedy
- August 2015
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: email@example.com
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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