Does Your Reservations Call Scoring Criteria Need to Be Updated?
When our KTN team onboards clients for either traditional mystery shopping or for call scoring of actual recordings (as captured in our clients’ various cloud-based platforms), part of our process is reviewing their existing call criteria.
As a result, I get to peek behind the scenes and see what their reservations, guest experience, and/or contact center staff are being trained to say. What I find is that most vacation rental companies are still using the same reservations call handling criteria as they did long ago even though so much has changed on the caller’s side of the conversation.
When it comes to information, the “balance of power” has shifted to the caller’s side. Most have done online research by reading guest reviews and searching rates at OTAs. Many callers are online while on the phone. Yet the staff is still being trained on criteria from the era when callers only saw rudimentary websites with few images.
Another huge challenge is that, in many cases, the original call criteria have been modified over time so that the original intention may not be what is being scored. Often, when we review the documentation that is in place at a lot of companies, the concepts are redundant, in that the same call standards are listed in several scoring “line items.” Also, the actual definitions are often vague, causing agents to be confused by what exactly it is they are supposed to say or do. Having vaguely defined criteria also leads to inconsistency in scoring.
Of course, when providing mystery shopping or call scoring for our clients, we ultimately leave it up to each client to determine what criteria work best for them, so if they prefer not to change, we can still work with them.
However, I hope this article encourages you to think about all the changes your callers are experiencing on the other side of the phone conversations and consider the issues raised herein.
In the past, callers had very little information. Even as late as the 2010s, most websites had a very limited photo gallery, and online guest reviews were still a novelty. Today, most vacation rental company websites have an extensive gallery. As a result, today’s callers are picking up the phone because they are confused and overwhelmed with choices.
What they don’t want to hear is scripted phrasing used by an agent who is so nervous about hitting vague standards that they end up sounding disingenuous. They don’t want to hear a list of “benefits” or to be told standard property attributes, such as square footage and generic features, because they have already viewed pictures online.
To truly give callers the experiences they want and need, the most important call criteria is to encourage agents to ask the right questions to “unmask the story” behind the caller’s plans and to discover where they are in their decision-making process. Unfortunately, the criteria used by a lot of companies have a strict requirement to use “open-ended” questions, so agents obsess on that rather than on the discovery process.
Many of today’s reservations leads are disguised as “service” calls. Callers often start by asking “Hi, I just have a quick question about …” They present themselves as “just” having a question about rates, booking or cleaning fees, check-in time, parking, or the difference between property classifications.
Perhaps the most important update to your criteria is to require that after answering these “quick questions,” you encourage agents to ask:
- “Now that I’ve answered your questions, are there any dates I can check for you?” If they say they are already shopping online, add “What website are you looking at?”
- “Are there any questions I can answer for you about the locations or amenities?”
- “Have you stayed with us before, or were there any homes online that caught your attention?”
- “What brings you to (destination name)? Is there anything special we can help you plan?”
By asking more and better questions, your agents can engage callers in real conversations that help them feel comfortable that they are booking with the right company and selecting the best accommodation, and encourage them to book now instead of continuing to shop online.
In responding to those questions, most criteria simply require the mention of a specific number of benefits, which results in scripted lists of quantitative facts. Instead, agents should be trained to use a storytelling selling approach, which is reflected in criteria that measure:
- Did the agent describe features that were relevant to the caller’s story?
- Did they use a “just for you” style when describing benefits? (Descriptions that begin with “You can enjoy” versus “We offer” or “It has …”)
- Did they use language that was visually and emotionally descriptive to narrate the pictures the caller has seen online?
- Did they offer needs-based recommendations and suggestions based on what they have learned by asking questions and listening attentively? If the caller had a home in mind, did they endorse their choice?
Of course, some traditional criteria are still relevant such as requiring staff to ask to secure the reservation. But again, these may also need to be updated. For example, avoid forcing agents to always use specific wording such as an “Assumptive close” (“Which of those can I secure for you?”) Instead, criteria should be updated to give agents the flexibility to phrase the closing attempt in a way that fits the scenario.
One final thought: Be sure your call scoring criteria allow the evaluator to score criteria as “not applicable,” in which case the score should be thrown out, not artificially inflating the agents’ score by awarding the points and certainly not focusing the grader to select “no” and thus deflating their scores. This is because many callers preempt the use of certain criteria in their opening remarks, for example by saying it is their first time visiting (the purpose of their visit), thus negating the need to ask certain questions.
In summary, the objective of this article is to encourage you to take a step back and truly evaluate your call criteria to ensure that it is helping your reservations and guest services staff meet the needs of and capture more bookings from today’s real-world callers.