Despite the predictions of its demise, the voice reservations channel is alive and well for all sectors of the lodging industry, especially for the vacation rental segment. For decades now, pundits have predicted the death of voice as a booking channel. First it was the emergence of online travel agencies (OTAs), then the birth of the smartphone, then the emergence of the concept of imaginary “generations” based on birth year, which supposedly have homogenous attitudes about technology versus people. And yet the phones still ring.
Surely, the number of voice bookings has decreased significantly over the years as online options grow, but smart leaders recognize that direct bookings are the most important of all.
Even though many vacation rental companies do a great job at promoting website-direct bookings, while also marking up rates on OTAs to cover commissions, a direct booking is still more valuable because the company “owns” the relationship. Plus, if agents let the caller hang up and go back online, they may simply pick another option from their search results. For rental companies that market commissionable activities, amenities, and add-on services, agents are in the best position to cross-sell amenities.
The decrease in voice bookings varies according to both location and inventory type. For example, guests booking short stays in condo buildings with basically the same amenities and services are more likely to book at the company’s website or OTA app without calling.
Alternatively, guests booking longer stays in larger rental homes are the most likely to call with questions. Geographical location is also a factor in that those booking fly-to destinations and offshore lodging may prefer to call before committing to expensive airline tickets.
Yet a prospective guest’s motivation for calling versus simply booking online is caused by more than location or brand.
Because we at KTN are in the business of providing remote call scoring of calls captured in whatever call recording platform used by our extremely diverse client list, we have the unique opportunity to identify why so many call to book or call with questions on the website. This has more to do with the travel situation than other factors. In other words, the higher the rate, the longer the stay, the more people traveling, and, most importantly, the more emotionally engaged they are with their travel plans, the more likely they are to call before booking online.
Following are a few tips:
Revenue, Distribution, and Marketing Leaders:
- Post your phone number prominently on your website, making it easy to find and click, at both the desktop and mobile versions. Embed Google’s call conversion tracking feature.
- Don’t annoy callers with on-hold messages directing them back online. It’s amazing how often we hear greetings that say something like “Did you know you can book directly on our website (or app)?” Where do callers get the reservations phone number in the first place, a phone book?
- Recognize the interplay of voice and online channels. Understand that many who book online called first. For evidence beyond Google call tracking, just pull about 20 website-direct bookings and then log in to your online 800 account and search for those phone numbers.
- Train your team that phone calls are opportunities, not interruptions. Most of today’s reservations agents are dealing with a sometimes overwhelming amount of administrative work, such as managing OTA bookings, sending and following up on rental agreements, processing card charges, and tasks related to arrival details. As a result, many sound annoyed when answering. Others simply find out the caller’s dates and then email the entire list of what’s available.
- Update your reservations criteria! When we onboard a new client, we ask to look at their existing call handling criteria standards. Many new clients either don’t have one or are using one that has been literally handed down for generations. Today’s callers are pre-informed. They don’t want to hear agents use scripted responses.
Reservations Sales Tips for Those Answering Calls
Realize that today’s hot voice lead is disguised as “I just have a quick question about …” No one is simply interested in details about parking, pet policy, or specific amenities unless they are also interested in booking the rental home. When callers say, “I just have a quick question about,” transition the conversation into a booking opportunity by asking: “Now that I’ve answered your question, are there any dates I can check for you?”
- Realize that with so many lodging options online, so accommodation types, and dozens of pictures for even the most basic home or condo, today’s callers are overwhelmed and confused by all the options. It is not our job to tell them what’s available; it is our job to help them decide.
- Use updated questions versus traditional ones. Rather than “Have you stayed before?”, ask “May I ask if you’ve stated before or if anything online caught your eye?” Many first-time guests have done extensive research, have a rental home in mind, and just need someone to reinforce their decision. Rather than asking “What brings you to the town?”, ask “Is there anything special I can help you plan during your stay?” This question is especially important for luxury vacation rental companies, which have opportunities to cross-sell and increase revenue per guest.
- Recommend, suggest, and endorse based on need. Once you’ve engaged callers with questions, you can then use these methods based on the caller’s stated needs. Example: “Since you mentioned you’re traveling for (situation/circumstance), I would definitely recommend this home. Based on what you’ve mentioned, this one sounds like the perfect choice for you.”
- Use a storytelling selling approach. Put another way, don’t sound generic! Rather than giving only quantitative descriptions such as square footage, number of bedrooms, and listing generic amenities like “a fully-equipped kitchen,” use visually and emotionally descriptive words that help them imagine what they will see, feel, and experience.
- Always ask for the sale. Remember, they called you, so don’t be shy to ask. If callers started by saying they don’t want to book, use this version. “Now I know you said you were just checking rates, but just to let you know availability is limited. I can lock that in now while you circle back to your travel companions.”
- Retarget voice leads. Especially for those booking higher-rated homes and/or longer stays, if the caller still hesitates, offer to send a follow-up email with your contact information and a short, personalized message.
Douglas Kennedy is the owner of Kennedy Training Network, which provides reservations sales and guest service excellence training specific to the vacation rental industry. Services include traditional, on-site training, private webinars, and telephone mystery shopping. Kennedy has been a fixture at VRMA conferences since 1996.