Over my career in lodging industry sales and service training, I have designed numerous reservations training programs with names like 7-Steps for Reservations Sales Enhancement, Cooking UP New Reservations Sales and Reservations SAILS Training. Then, after recognizing that so much had changed on the caller’s side of a reservations phone call, I designed our newest KTN program and titled it Reservations Sales QUEST. In doing so, I threw out all my preconceptions, locked myself in my office for a few days and spent time listening to call recordings of real conversations captured through various call recording tools. As I analyzed dozens of calls from all types of lodging operations, it occurred to me that QUEST would be the perfect name for the following reasons.
First, each day reservations sales agents need to be on a QUEST for more reservations bookings to keep “currency” flowing in to power our companies. Certainly, all guest contact colleagues are important to the success of vacation rental operation, but reservations agents play an especially essential role as they are the intake receptacle for currency from the most profitable source, which is of course voice-direct bookings. On top of that, many guests who book online also call before or after doing so. This vital flow of currency creates jobs for all the other stakeholders from accounting to operations staff.
Secondly, reservations callers themselves are on a QUEST for a place to stay for their vacation or other travel experience. Because “they” called “us,” we are helping them end their QUEST for the right accommodation.
Finally, as I listened to what real-world callers are saying, it occurred to me that the key to sales success these days was not about using scripted messaging. With so much information available prior to calling, and with most callers having been online prior to calling, the most important sales tactic is to ask more and better QUESTions to find out who they are, why they are traveling, where they are in their buying decision and what it is they still need to hear to determine that this is the best choice and now is the best time.
For years now, I and others in the field have trained agents to ask traditional questions such as to determine familiarity: “Have you stayed with us before?"; the reason for travel: “May I ask brings you to town?”; or, “Are you celebrating anything special during your visit?” Also if the caller has a particular home in mind. While these are still essential, the most important question right now is: “As I’m checking rates, are there any questions I can answer for you about the location or the home’s amenities and services?”
This additional question prompts callers to reveal more about where they are at in their decision. Are they concerned about something they read in an online review? Are they overwhelmed with all the options they have seen online at your website and others? Or are they a value-driven deal seeker who is pretty much committed, but just wanting to double-check to ensure they are getting the lowest rate? You might even find that they have no questions at all, but just decided to use the “click-to-call” option on a mobile search and are ready to book. At a minimum, even if they do not have any questions, you will be extending a helpful gesture of hospitality and creating a positive first impression.
By asking this new question you will also create an opportunity to talk about the overall experience before you put a price tag on their stay. Thus, positioning value before price.
Beyond this new recommended question, it is sometimes necessary to ask additional investigative QUESTions in response to vague questions that callers ask to clarify what they need to hear. For example, callers might ask, “What is there to do besides the beach (or golf or skiing)?” Rather than reading down a random list, it is better to respond by asking, “What types of activities are you interested in?” (Such as spa, dining, shopping, or sightseeing.) Another example is when callers ask, “Where is this one you located?” Rather than restating what they likely already know from their search, instead ask “How familiar are you with this area?” A third example is when callers ask, “Are there any restaurants in the area?” Rather than listing several by name, respond with, “Sure, may I ask if you are looking for any particular type of dining?” (Such as fine dining, local’s favorites, seafood, or themed restaurants.)
Some leaders are concerned that asking extra questions such as these might create unnecessary talk time. The reality is that by asking more and better questions, you can take control of the call and lead the caller through the conversation versus a reactive approach of letting them drive.