If you have not done so recently, now is a terrific time to remind your front-line reservations sales agents of the importance of securing direct “voice channel” bookings. Although potential guests who are doing “distribution channel surfing” from their smartphone or computer have always called to double-check rates and to ask location-specific questions, with all of the uncertainties of traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are even more likely to do so these days.
Unfortunately, some marketing executives still seem to obsess solely on digital channels. They fail to see the interplay between voice and online— that many of those who book online called first, and many who call first then later book online.
Also, marketing leaders often fail to see the full benefits of direct channel bookings. Sure, they understand that third-party channels charge fees and commissions, but here are some of the often overlooked advantages of the voice channel:
- Reduces admin processing time for online travel agency (OTA) bookings, which is a hidden cost not often accounted or on a profit and loss statement. OTA bookings are more prone to cancellations than voice, and even with seamless integration, there is admin time to monitor these channels.
- Helps build brand awareness and loyalty.
- Allows for the collection of both email and physical addresses. (Yes, direct mail postcards are back! They can be impactful, especially if mailings are personalized.)
- Voice bookings make it easier to screen out house parties while in the planning stages.
- Voice bookings are less prone to negative guest reviews. Based on my anecdotal evidence, those brutal one-star reviews are more likely to be posted by those who book through random third parties.
What follows are training tips based on our menu of traditional and webcam training programs for the vacation rental industry.
1. Post Your Phone Number Prominently Online
Make sure that visitors can quickly and easily find your reservations phone number at both desktop and mobile versions of your website. Make it a “click to call” link. Add a callout message that lets website visitors know you have an in-house, on-site, or local area reservations team: “Call Now For In-House Reservations” or “Call Our Local Area Reservations Experts.”
2. Turn Those 'I'm Just Checking Rates' Questions Into Conversations
When our coaches listen in to call recordings of real-world calls as part of our remote call scoring service, we often hear callers present themselves by saying something like “I just have a quick question” or “I’m just double-checking the rates I see online.” If they have not been trained to do so, chances are that reservations agents see their job as being just to politely answer these questions.
First, make sure that everyone answers with enthusiasm—to set the “tone” for the conversation much as a choir director would do to get an a cappella singing group to open a song in harmony.
Train your team to “ask permission to ask” their questions by saying “May I ask …” before asking. This not only sounds super polite, but it also positions agents as being helpful travel consultants. When callers mention they are channel-surfing at OTAs, ask: “May I ask what website you are seeing that on?” and “Oh, OK, I’m glad you found us there. Now that you’ve reached us directly, may I ask are you familiar with our company?” This one is especially important for those in the vacation rental space. For example, when those searching on Vrbo click the “Host” tab and see that the host is a rental company, some will be smart enough to Google search that company and call. Be sure to sell the advantages of being an established, professionally managed company that has boots on the ground when needed.
3. Position Yourself as Being a Local Expert
It is often hard for locals to view their own destination in the eyes of the traveler, so it is important to help them develop a sense of place. In my years of training, I have often found that locals rarely eat at tourist restaurants, visit attractions, or engage in local excursions, as they are too busy working and probably commute back home a half hour away. Just because you have hired locals to answer calls, do not assume they are prepared to answer questions that guests ask. Conduct local area familiarization tours, engage with local vendors to speak to your team or offer free visits, hold trivial contests. Create a digital “bible” where agents can post answers to the latest questions that callers are asking. All of this empowers your agents to be prepared to voluntarily offer local insider’s tips that all tourists crave.
4. Explain The Benefits of Booking Directly Right Now
Train agents that once they answer the caller’s questions, they should immediately offer to secure the reservation right now and to let the caller know about the advantages of booking directly. These might include lower booking fees, more flexible advance deposit, and/or cancellation terms.
Provide agents with sample dialogue such as: “Since I have you on the line, I can easily book that for you directly into our system right now and make a note of that special request/requirement.” Have them practice saying this until it comes across naturally.
Training, Training, Training
By training your team on using these techniques to secure more direct bookings, vacation rental companies will save on both direct and indirect distribution costs, and your guests will benefit from the personalized service that is so sorely lacking when they call elsewhere and find themselves being told to go back online to buy.
Douglas Kennedy is the president of KTN and has been the lodging industry’s leading expert in hospitality sales and guest services training for over two decades. Over the years, he has conducted corporate-sponsored training for most of the major hotel brands. His monthly sales training articles inspire readers worldwide. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.