Despite the advances in training methodology that have been made in recent years, it still amazes me how many hotels still end up with a highly transactional reservations sales process. Few agents these days go beyond asking the ‘mandatory’ or ‘inventory search’ questions and then giving very basic room descriptions, usually based on the bedding and view. Even those agents that do attempt to provide a description of the hotel and room accommodations all too often fall back to ‘feature dumping’, listing only basic features found in virtually every hotel room these days: ‘We have an iron, ironing board, hair dryer, coffee maker, high speed Internet, ergo chairs and flat panel TV’s.’
What’s really amazing about this is that numerous surveys are showing that as many as 60%-75% of today’s reservations callers have visited the hotel website before dialing and therefore likely already know all this. With most websites featuring extensive photo galleries and virtual tours these days, along with real-time availability and rate parity, one has to wonder why people still call at all.
Yet interestingly enough, for callers who have not stayed before, all of this information (and misinformation) available online has only caused more questions, concerns, and uncertainties, and thus given them a reason to call directly for opinions and answers. And with all the multitude of choices that a potential guest will be looking at with just a few clicks online, the caller’s are more confused than ever.
What the don’t need to hear is to have a reservations agent spew out the same facts and features they have seen online. Instead, they are looking for that personalized, customized reservations experience that will assure them they’re making the best choice.
This is why today’s reservations agents need to be selling to emotion, not intellect. Rather than informing, notifying, and listing information, today’s callers need to allure and entice the caller’s with information that appeals to their feelings and emotions. Let’s face it, with the kind of rates most upscale and luxury hotels command these days, the decision to pay the rates we’re charging isn’t a logical one, considering the number of hours a guest spends awake in their room. This is especially true with so many economy lodging options out there too for clean, comfortable accommodations.
Here are several ideas for your next monthly meeting or training workhshop:
Develop A Working Vocabulary of Visually Descriptive Adjectives and Adverbs. Agents need help in expanding their vocabulary to include words that evoke mental imagery. Just as the chef from a fine dining restaurant works with the waitstaff each night at the pre-shift meeting to expand their ability to describe ‘tonight’s specials’ in a way that can make mouths water from words alone, our reservation staff needs help in expanding their descriptive vocabulary too. Pass out copies of brochures, hotel reviews, website copy, and other marketing collateral that has been written by professionals. Ask agents to identify words they are comfortable with and that they could use conversationally in describing features or benefits. Have your sales team conduct FAM tours so they can be exposed to new descriptions.
Use A ‘Just for you’ Selling Approach. Advertising copy writers know well they importance of including ‘you’ the reader, ‘you’ the watcher, ‘you’ the listener in order to draw you in and hold your attention. This is why ‘you’ is used so often in slogans, such as UPS ‘What can Brown do for you?’ Enterprise Rental Car ‘We’ll pick you up!’ Home Depot: ‘You can do it, we can help’ and even the Loews hotel chain: ‘You are here.’ Likewise, our reservations staff can help caller’s take ‘psychological possession’ by saying:
- ‘Since you’re traveling on business, you’ll find our location to be just perfect because…’ (Versus ‘we have a good location.’)
- ‘Since you’re bringing your children, you’ll definitely want to take advantage of our kid’s camp program. (Versus ‘we have a kids camp.’
- ‘Since it’s your anniversary, you and your wife can enjoy a romantic dinner right here at…’
Offer Needs-based recommendations and suggestions. A third way to allure and entice callers is to offer needs-based recommendations and suggestions. It is clear that today’s callers are looking for opinions, especially when they have connected with the agent personally. Most agents report frequently being directly asked for their opinions. Train your staff to offer needs-based recommendations in a pro-active way, even before they are asked to do so:
- ‘Since you mentioned it’s a special occasion, I would definitely recommend our (suite, romance package, specialty restaurant.)
- ‘If you’re looking for a great place to just get away from it all for the weekend, our hotel would be an excellent choice.’
- ‘Since you said your meeting is at _____, our location would be perfect for you.’
- ‘If you’re here on business, I’d definitely say this would be the most centralized location for holding the interviews…’
Helping Your Team Provide Local Area ‘Insider Tips.’ It is also clear that today’s callers want to receive local area information from someone who really knows, which is why most agents report being often asked ‘Are you actually at the hotel?’ It is unreasonable to expect the reservations staff to automatically be up to date on local attractions, special events, and fine arts calendars. Use your concierge or guest services staff to update the reservations team. Conduct trivia contests regarding standardized information of interest to guests. Provide written information from local newspapers and tourism publications regarding upcoming events and attractions.
By providing training and development in these topic areas for your reservations sales team, you’ll be giving them the ingredients they need to convert today’s over-informed, multi-tasking callers who are overwhelmed with choices only one click away. Not only will your agents convert more reservations, but they’ll also be providing a positive first impression of their overall hotel experience, and set a tone for their trip that carries through to arrival and check-in.
By Doug Kennedy
Copyright 2008 – Kennedy Training Network
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 the HSMAI Marketing Review, eHotelier, 4hoteliers, Hotel News Resource, Hotel Online, Human Assets – Dubai and Hong Kong, Hsyndicate worldwide, BAHA Times – U.K., Hospitality – Maldives, and the Hotel Expert Magazine Hong Kong.
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