What a wild two months that hotel and resort reservations sales agents have endured, as agents were the first to feel the impact of the COVID19 pandemic, as suddenly a tsunami of cancellation calls and emails flooded the phone lines and inboxes. How painful it must have been to watch hard-fought bookings cancel and to see the flow of revenue change direction. Even more so, these staffers have endured difficult conversations about the fine print of cancellation terms, travel insurance, and the true implications of booking through third-party OTAs. Next, it was surely hard to watch as co-workers from operations were furloughed or laid off.
Here in May, most hotel reservations teams have seen call volume slow to a trickle and have entered the next phase of this crisis: an eerie period of quiet time.
So, what comes next? The most important time in voice reservations history! As the economy reopens and travel starts to rebound, reservations sales agents have a huge opportunity to become the superheroes of their hotel, resort, or lodging company.
Experts are predicting that leisure travel will rebound first, especially for drive-to destinations that allow for more social distancing. While that may be true, I am also guessing that there are some home-bound road warriors like me who are itching to get back to our business travel. Heck, right now I would even take the dreaded middle row seat on a 5:30am departure without complaining!
As travel resumes, I predict that the voice reservations channel will return with a vengeance, as potential guests will have questions and concerns that can only be addressed by human interactions. Some of these questions will be specific to the availability of services on-site or nearby. “Are the restaurants open?” or “Do you think there will be Ubers available?” or “Will the shuttle be running?” or “Will the parks (or beaches, malls, attractions, trails) be open?” Therefore, it will be important to keep your team updated with the latest local area information.
It is also essential for revenue and reservations leaders to use this relatively quiet period to prepare the reservations staff for the challenging questions they are going to get from what I predict will be a wave of “deal-seekers.”
The general public is well-aware that the travel industry is now a “buyer’s market,” and that there are deals to be had. Also, with actual availability showing online at everyone’s websites, guests will be in no major hurry to commit unless we nudge them along. Here are training tips to share with your frontline agents.
1) “Rate framing” is more important than ever. Mention higher-rates to position current rates as being a good value. Before quoting whatever rates are displaying in your system, always refer to a higher “normal” rate first to make the offer sound “already discounted.”
- If you know the actual high-demand rates, then specifically reference them. For example: “The normal rate is $X, but right now for your dates I can offer you a special rate of $Y.”
– If you do not know the actual high demand rates, just express surprise at the rates you are showing such as by saying: “Wow! Right now, I’m actually showing a really terrific rate of $X.”
2) Create an urgency to commit. Some callers may offer remarks such as: “I see online that you have plenty of space…”
- Use urgency statements that fit for each conversation. Examples: “All of a sudden we’re getting a lot more calls these days…” or “Yes, but things sure have seemed to pick-up lately.”
– Offer to “lock-in” their choices: “I definitely recommend that we lock-in this rate (or option) for you now while it is still open.”
– Remove the barriers to commitment: “This way, if things change, you can always cancel up until…”
3) Follow-up proactively. Times like these require us to be “sales hunters” like never before!
- Rather than asking if they want a follow-up email, ask in a way that assumes they do. For example: “Do you want me to send you a follow-up email?” vs. “Let me get your email address so I can send you a follow-up on our conversation along with my contact details.”
– After the conversation, enter any details you have discovered into your reservation lead tracking system, so you can later use it to personalize follow-up messaging. Examples: Who they are traveling with; specifics on why they are traveling, such as a special occasion; Is it their first time visiting? 3rd Time? 7th Time?
– It is perfectly fine to use an email template, but always start the first sentence of the email by recapping what you learned from the conversation. Example: “Hello Douglas. How excited to hear about your plans to surprise your wife with this vacation, now that your kids are all off to college!” Then use the template from there on!