For hotels today, there is so much focus on online conversions that the traditional voice channel is in danger of being overlooked. But call inquiries are still a key direct sales channel, especially as travelers rely more and more on mobile devices. A Google study found that 58% of mobile searchers would be very likely to call a hotel if click-to-call functionality was available in smartphone search.
In this digital era of OTAs and online bookings, front desk agents can’t be blamed for assuming that customers who pick up the phone and call have already done their research online — in many cases this assumption is correct. However, not all customers who call are ready to make a booking; they may have questions about amenities, policies or rates and want to be reassured they are making the right choice. Furthermore, customers are asking tougher questions, armed with more knowledge than ever gleaned from a multitude of online sources.
Even in our digital-oriented world, answering phone calls is not just about taking reservations; it’s about making them. A phone call from a potential guest is a prime opportunity to make a direct booking and a valuable chance to grow the customer relationship, so front desk staff need to be prepared to handle phone enquiries with finesse.
Here are some tips for making the most of every phone call to increase conversions…
- Display your property’s phone number prominently on your website to encourage direct bookings.
When a property’s phone number is easily accessible, website viewers are more inclined to call with any questions they may have (or to make a booking), rather than continue their search elsewhere. Make sure both toll-free and local numbers are on every page of the website — not just on the “Contact Us” page — and online booking process, readily available to customers at every stage of their planning, from browsing to booking. The click-to-call feature is popular on mobile sites as Google research shows.
- Empower front desk staff.
Knowledge inspires confidence, so keep the front desk team up to speed with policies, rate restrictions and tiers, packages and specials — and, equally importantly, the reasons behind them. This article by Doug Kennedy of the Kennedy Training Network offers excellent advice about how to quote rates effectively, including some tips for handling rate objections.
- Brush up on basic sales tactics.
Proven reservation sales techniques turn reservation takers into reservation makers.
- Receive callers with a professional, friendly greeting. Note or ask for the caller’s name and use it during the conversation to establish rapport. Look the customer up in your property management system or CRM so that you are able to welcome back repeat customers.
- Listen to the caller’s request. If they ask for information about the property or location, describe features enthusiastically — don’t just list off amenities.
- Try to find out the purpose of their trip or their specific needs by politely asking questions like: “May I ask what brings you to New York?” or “Is there something special you are looking for?” This information helps reservation clerks to promote relevant amenities and packages. For example, if the caller is traveling with kids, they would probably like to know about your indoor water slide, free breakfast or family package deals. Customer details that come up during the conversation, like interests, preferred amenities, anniversaries, etc., should be recorded in guest profiles too, to aid in personalizing the guest experience and future marketing campaigns.
- When callers resist booking, try to find out why. If they object to the price, reiterating the value of what’s included (parking, Wi-Fi, breakfast etc.) or offering a cheaper room can help. If the caller is looking for a specific amenity your property doesn’t have, like an outdoor pool, promote alternatives and highlight the benefits of what you do have. For example, “We don’t have a pool, but we are an easy stroll from the beach and provide free beach towels.”
- Ask for the booking. A sense of urgency can be created by letting the customer know the discount is only available for a short time, or rooms are filling up fast. Offer to secure the reservation and lock in the rate by booking them in now. Customers are likely to book if they are aware that the cancellation policy allows them to cancel free of charge within a certain time frame.
- Tone of voice is important too. Phone inquiries are often the first personal touchpoint a customer has with a property, and as such are a golden opportunity to make the potential guest feel welcome. A clear, friendly voice suggests much better customer service than an indifferent or inconvenienced one.
- Prepare for difficult questions.
Ask front desk staff about the kinds of questions they are fielding, both common and challenging, and review answers with them. Brainstorm possible responses together and draft up a list of best responses for reference. It may help to role play phone enquiries too. This is another way to empower staff with the confidence to handle challenging phone sales.
- Record customer details.
Even if a customer does not go through with a booking, consider recording their information (name, contact details and any relevant notes) in a customer profile within your property management system or CRM. That way, if they call back at a later date, you can look them up in the system and personalize customer service by welcoming them back and finding a solution that meets their needs more efficiently. Offering to put callers on a wait list if no availability matched their dates, or to let them know of future deals and discounts, may encourage them to give you their email address.
- Evaluate and reward.
Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes and making a reservation yourself (or asking a friend to) is a great way to evaluate your property’s reservation process. Share feedback with your team, discuss concerns and implement goals. Good performance should be rewarded with positive feedback. Consider staff pizza nights or extra time off to show appreciation and provide incentive.
While online bookings are central to hotel sales today, the voice channel has the potential to deliver your highest conversion rates and should not be overlooked. A call inquiry is often the first truly personal touchpoint between the customer and the property. As such, every phone call should be treated as a critical opportunity to establish a positive customer relationship that results in a booking and, ultimately, a repeat guest.