Would you believe that callers might actually base their decision where to book based upon the conversations they have with your staff? That the conversation your agent has will potentially be the difference maker? Or even perhaps that a caller might be willing to pay a little more than they initially anticipated because they feel they connected with your agent, who created a personalized and unique vacation experience tailored to that caller’s wants and needs?
If you don’t believe these statements you are leaving money on the table—and lots of it. It’s imperative that you focus on driving the performance of your sales agents on a daily basis.
Here are three areas that can help transform your team from a staff of order-taking customer service agents into a squad of highly trained Reservation Sales Superstars:
- Creating the Right Culture (with a focus on sales and accountability)
- Call Handling Best Practices
- Outbound/Follow-up Best Practices
Creating the Right Culture
First off, what exactly is a sales culture environment? And do your agents even consider themselves to be sales agents?
A sales culture environment means that everyone in the organization (from top to bottom) has an impact on sales, is involved in business development efforts, and has an impact on the overall financial success of a company.
So there’s the concept, but how do we get there? In order to create the right culture, we all have to take a look in the mirror because it starts with us. It’s important to set the right tone from day one. Each time I started working with a brand new training class, I always opened the session with a quote from Vince Lombardi:
“Gentlemen (and ladies), we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence.”The key is setting the tone early and letting staff know that while you are not expected to be perfect, you are expected to be excellent. Excellence is an attainable goal that we will work towards every single day.
But let’s take a step back, because creating the right culture actually starts long before an agent’s first day. This really starts in the hiring process. Making sure that you are hiring for the right culture is absolutely essential to developing a successful team. I believe it was Peter Schutz (former President and CEO of Porsche) that said, “Hire for attitude and character, train for skill.”
Often reservation sales positions are filled with individuals that have previous hospitality and/or call center experience. While past experience can be valuable, it can also be a hindrance. Agents that have already developed “bad habits” might pose a bigger ongoing challenge than training someone from scratch that has a positive outlook, open mind, and the proper work ethic.
Once you have the right people in place, you can then implement an accountability roadmap that starts with training and then moves into expectation/goal setting followed by continued education, coaching, and an hopefully an increase in overall performance. Make sure that revenue and sales goals are the driving factor for how you are handling the above items and that your team has a daily focus on how the team is pacing.
Call Handling Best Practices
Now let’s talk about call flow and call handling best practices. In a recent study done on face-to-face communication (Dr. Albert Mehrabian, UCLA), it was determined that when a message is delivered, 55% of the receiver’s focus is on non-verbal cues, 38% on tone, and only 7% on the actual words themselves.
Since we don’t have the ability to use non-verbal cues to our advantage on phone calls (at least in the year 2015), it is absolutely imperative that your agents start the call with an amazing smile in their voices. That sets the tone for the entire call and not only can separate you from the competition, but can actually be the difference maker for a potential guest.
That’s right, whether or not you think it’s fair, some callers are going to judge their entire vacation experience based upon their conversations with us.
On top of tone, cadence is also key. Talking too fast or too slow can have the same consequence as lacking enthusiasm and positivity. Make sure to listen and coach for this. Having agents self-score or self-monitor areas like this will often further the culture of accountability. They need to understand what the expectations are and then own their performance.
While I won’t go into great detail into the call flow itself as there are many different ways to go about it, there are a few essentials that should be used that will increase both sales and guest loyalty.
- Interactive Dialogue: The key here is interactive. Make sure to ask open-ended qualifying questions about the guest’s wants and needs. Get them talking and help build excitement about their vacation. Make sure you are noting what’s most important to them (accommodation wise) and what they plan on doing during their stay.
- Personalization:Ask for and use the caller’s name conversationally during the call and look for opportunities to engage and connect. This is more of the “art” of what we do, and making sure you have a positive and friendly tone is an excellent way to start. Then look for ways to associate a caller’s responses with either your own or other guest’s experiences to shift focus towards overall vacation experience as opposed to just dates and rates.
- Tailored Recommendations:Now it’s time to put all of the info gathered during the personalization and interactive dialogue steps into action. When offering a property (and make sure not to offer more than 2 to 3 max initially, as offering more can actually cause confusion and foster indecision), make sure you are mentioning the reasons why you chose it for the caller…because it has x,y,z (which are all things the caller mentioned earlier on the call). To take a step further, don’t just mention the features (deck, pool, full kitchen, etc.), but rather the benefits of having those features, which we tie back to the caller’s desired experience. Focus on the experience as much as possible as this will help build value throughout the call and provide the caller with a much more personalized offer that truly meets all of their vacation needs.
- Asking for the Sale:This is the most often missed step and perhaps the most important. There is a reason that a potential customer called, and that is because they are ready to book a vacation. Once the recommendations are made and a price is quoted, asking for the reservation should follow shortly after. This not only needs to be done, but done without providing any “outs” as the caller will take those almost every time. For example, “Would you like me to reserve that for you…or would you like to hear about a couple of our other properties?” Once asked, if the caller declines, this provides an opportunity to overcome objections and ask additional questions that might not have been asked initially (“Did you have a budget in mind?”) to help identify additional needs and find an alternative property that would be a better fit.
So what’s left? What do you do with those callers that are on the fence but tell you they need to talk things over with the rest of their party prior to making a decision? The answer is call them back!
Outbound/Follow-up Best Practices
In reviewing our client data, we found that approximately 60 percent of callers that don’t book on the initial call don’t call you back. Without a regular and regimented outbound calling program you will miss out on that entire 60 percent....and that’s just for starters.
Focus initially on your hot leads/callers that are on the fence and offer to call them back. When doing this, offer to setup a follow-up appointment and ask if there is a time that might work best. The most difficult aspect of outbound calling is reaching a live caller, so locking in a time and setting the expectation as to when you will be calling back will increase the chances that your call gets answered. Most leads are hot for about 48 hours max, so the majority of your follow-up work should be done that very same day or the day after to maximize booking potential.
This helps to separate yourselves from your competition and build your brand. Imagine if you called five companies inquiring about a property for your vacation, and then just one of them called you back the following day and recapped your conversation, including the reasons why you were coming to the area. How would that make you feel as a consumer?
Finally, having outbound loyalty lists of past guests that haven’t yet booked their dates for this year’s vacations provides ways to keep agents busy generating revenue when inbound call volume levels dip. Also, if you have a system to track turndowns by date, you can launch outbound calling campaigns when groups fall out or cancellations occur, or also if you offer promos/discounts targeted to certain date ranges with low occupancy. This type of activity should be as much of a focus for your team as inbound call work.
To sum it all up, doing the things above will get you one step closer to becoming a Reservation Superstar. Focusing on culture and accountability, call flow best practices, and implementing a regular and thorough outbound calling program are three key areas that can help you and your team not only reach superstar status, but catch excellence…and incremental revenue along the way!