First Step In Maximizing Reservations Sales: Believe It’s Possible
By Doug Kennedy
As a hospitality industry sales/strainer, it’s extremely interesting to observe reactions of managers and decision makers to solicitations and proposals for reservations training services. Interestingly, the hotels & resorts that are already doing the most in-house training, and who already have the best internal programs in place, are always the most interested in anything that can help them achieve even results. Alternatively, those who need the most help typically respond “we’re not interested because do our own training here.”
Over years, I’ve at various times thought the best starting place for a hotel’s journey to reservations sales excellence was recruiting the right staff, setting goals, or jumping right into the sales basics training. Now I’ve come to realize that the truly most important first step in maximizing reservations sales success is finding visionary leaders who believe it is always possible to achieve more.
Funny how little regard some managers give for reservations agents who are often booking upwards of 40-60% of all hotel rooms. It’s one thing to under-value the reservations sales function at some types of properties, such as mid-scale hotels flying famous franchise flags where so many guests know what to expect and might have fewer questions beyond rate and location before booking.
Far more money is left on the table at upscale and luxury properties, where the average reservations inquiry can be much more valuable due to higher average rates, longer average stays, and higher average guest-spends. Let’s take an “average” resort, with a transient average rate of $200 per night and an average stay of 2.5 nights, when you add-in some f&b, spa services, and maybe a little golf or ski revenue it’s extremely conservative estimate that the revenue potential can easily exceed $1,000 per booking.
With agents at these properties fielding upwards of 50-75-100 calls per day, if they could close just one more sale per agent, per shift, they could easily bring in $5,000 more revenue per week and thus $200,000 more per agent, per year. Considering that “raw” call conversion at most resorts averages in the high twenties to low thirties, conversely meaning that upwards of 70% of calls are not converted, the actual potential revenue far exceeds even this lofty number.
So how do we encourage our hospitality industry professionals to believe their reservations agents can produce at far reater levels? A great starting place is to get them to listen firsthand to agents fielding real calls from real callers. It is important to emphasize real calls here, as opposed to recordings of mystery shopping calls, as all too many managers are misdirected by what they hear in test calls made by what are essentially actors trying to sound like real guests. An even greater challenge with test call recordings is that agents seem to always know when they are being shopped, which makes one wonder what you are actually measuring, and what (if any) impact it has when agents talk to your real customers and guests.
Instead, the best tool for raising management awareness about the potential of reservations is to listen to real calls. deally, this can be accomplished remotely either by listening-in to real calls in progress, or by reviewing calls that have been captured via an automated system. With the literal explosion of enabling technology for recording and logging incoming calls these days, there’s really no excuse anymore not to be monitoring what is essentially your “store front window.” Besides the option of call recording/logging, nearly every hotel’s existing PBX already has a “service observe” feature that allows one or more extensions to be designated as monitoring stations. Even in the absence of enabling technology, all managers really have to do is to sit right next to their agents and listen to them
in action. Some would say that this would bias the agent’s performance, since they would know they are being observed. Yet speaking from experience, even when agents are being observed firsthand by an outside trainer most will still reveal their true habits, whether good or bad. Once you start to listening to each agent’s real calls, it becomes obvious that everyone has areas in which they can improve. Even the so-called “top agent” in the office generally has some bad habits to overcome and some essential tactics they are still not using. Here are some examples:
* While doing in-person monitoring with a resort’s so-called “top producer,” I observed her routinely pushing indecisive callers back to the website to look at more options, thus moving on in search of the next “ready to book” caller.
* Another top agent handled a caller who had already found a room online and who was basically just calling to double-check the rate offer. After the hearing the rate matched what he saw online, the caller gave a strong buying signal by saying “So what do you need next from me to do this?” The agent then responded by saying “Do you want to put it on a ten day hold or pay the deposit now?” The caller responded enthusiastically “I can hold it for ten days without paying?” and went with that option, this giving himself another week and a half to second-guess himself and perhaps find another option.
* Yet another agent did absolutely everything correctly on several calls in a row, and would have received an “A+” score from our KTN ResSTAR© consultants other than at the end of each call, when his callers routinely thanked him generously, he invariably responded in the current vernacular “no problem.”
So the first step in increasing reservations sales effectiveness no longer seems to be implementing new training, a new incentive plan, or a new Q/A assessment method. Rather, the real key seems to be getting more executive level managers and department heads to take off their rose colored glasses and spend some time in the reservations office listening-in to what their agents are saying to real-world callers every day.
In doing so, they will be certain to see numerous opportunities to help agents continue their individual and ongoing journey to sales excellence. Even the top producers can achieve even higher levels of success, and with a little attention, each and every agent on the team can get at least one additional booking per shift, and likely far more.