VRMA

    Vacation Rental Reservations Agents: It's Not Our Job to Help Find What's Available, But Rather to Help Them Decide Which to Book


    Besides providing reservations sales training and telephone mystery shopping for the vacation rental industry, many companies have hired me to do consulting regarding their overall sales and service levels. In this case, I often place calls directly to the reservations rental sales agents.

    Almost universally these days, it seems that reservations agents view it as their job to take bookings or to provide callers with a list of available properties for their requested dates and building or development. The calls usually flow like this:

    Caller (me in this case): “Hello, I was online and I needed some help in planning my vacation.” 
    Agent: “Sure, I can assist you. What are your dates?” and “What property (or building/development) are you looking for?”
    Caller: “Well I was looking for help in booking a two bedroom for our family vacation…”
    Agent: “Okay, we have over X number of privately owned rental properties. Each is decorated completely differently. If you visit our website, you can see pictures of the actual properties and then give us a call back if you have any questions.”

    Most continue on to then provide the website address and politely explain the steps necessary to search availability.   

    A few companies take a slightly different approach that is not much better. Rather than re-directing the caller back to the website, they ask for the caller’s email address and then say they will email over a list what’s available. When such lists arrive they typically include several properties.

    This is exactly the wrong approach for many reasons.
    • Most callers visit the company website before calling; sending them back online does nothing to assist with their decision making.
    • When going back online, they might visit a different company’s website and book with them.
    • Those who found the company through a third-party website might go back there to select another property from a different company or owner. Or go to an OTA website costing us a hefty commission.
    • Emailing over a list does not help either; it simply provides the same list that they probably already viewed themselves or could have pulled up on their own.
    I call this “website search support” mode, as it is much like treating a vacation rental reservations inquiry as if it was a tech support call to your cable TV provider.

    Rather than sending the callers back to the same website or just giving them a list of available properties they could have found themselves, today’s agents need to realize their job is to help Customers have a high degree of emotional investment in the vacation planning process, especially when plans are being made for other family members and friends. Vacation time is precious to us and having just the right rental accommodation is a core component. So those who do call tend to be planning trips that are more complex, such as for larger parties that require multiple rentals in a close proximity, for multi-generational parties, or for families with special needs such as pets, health concerns or mobility restrictions. 

    Also, consumers in general these days are facing what many refer to as the Choice Overwhelm Problem. Noted authors, such as psychologists Dr. Barry Schwartz and Dr. Sheena Lyengar, have written books and articles on this phenomenon and many have Ted Talks available online that highlight the challenges that we, as consumers, face with the seemingly infinite number of choices we have to make daily. 

    I realize that many agents are hesitant to recommend or suggest a specific property for several reasons: They do not want to play favorites to one owner’s property over another and realize they instead need to equally advocate for all owners. Also, because each guest has their own preferences, tastes and desires; what one guest might love, another might despise. That is all well and good, but these are not excuses not to do our jobs as salespersons.

    Before you start recommending properties, ask if they are near a computer so they can go online while you are on the phone. Consider using a free online meeting tool such as join.me, which will allow you to share your screen (or to have them share their screen) so you can guide them through their search.

    The next step is to engage the caller in a conversation and investigate “the story” behind their vacation plans. Sales these days is all about asking the right questions. Besides just getting the dates, the number in the party and bedding preferences, we need to be determining familiarity and if there is a reason or special occasion for vacationing. Most importantly, engage them with the following question: “As I’m checking availability, what questions can I answer for you about the location or amenities?”

    Callers might have a specific question, and if they don’t, you will have planted the seed that you are there to help them decide, not just to help them find what’s open.

    Once you have engaged callers with investigative questions, you can then offer needs-based recommendations and endorsements in a way that neither discriminates nor plays favorites about any one property. Try using phrases like: “Based on what you told me, this would be an excellent location,” or “There are three properties in that location that I can recommend, all of which are great choices.”
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