One key ingredient of a successful hotel reservations sales program is to train your team on the contemporary sales tactics needed to covert today’s over-informed, channel-surfing callers. Yet there are other essential components for continuous success on the endless journey to reservations sales excellence.
by Doug Kennedy
The most important sales tactics are to ask the right questions to find out where they are at in their buying decision, such as “As I’m checking those dates, what questions can I answer for you about our location or amenities?” and then to provide alluring descriptions that “narrate the pictures they have seen online.”
Yet too often managers only implement the sale training component, and then if they measure the results at all, they do so exclusively through mystery shopping test calls. Being in the mystery shopping business I certainly think that is important, but if you are looking to keep your team on the continuous journey to reservations sales excellence here are some other components for long term success.
- Know when they are calling. Despite the availability of better technology at lower price points these days, too many reservations offices still lack proper call tracking available from their phone system and/or from their inbound 800 long distance provider: Call activity by hour, day, week and month; Dropped calls by hour, day, week, and month and percentage of dropped calls; Average hold time; and Average talk time per agent.
- Right-sized staffing. Make sure your reservations office has enough agents to realistically field the call activity you are receiving, which is why the staring place is to have the data from the above reports. Excessive budget cuts in this department only hurt bottom-line profits not help. Instead of looking at reservations with a “cost control” paradigm, look at it as a revenue-generating department.
- Cross-train other staff to field reservations calls during bottle-neck periods. Move the reservations function from being just a person or department into being an important function that others such as sales assistants, front desk staff, and even housekeeping or room service operators can cover when necessary.
- Streamline side-work. Make sure agents aren’t asked to toggle back and forth between selling on the phone and being a data entry clerk for rooming lists or extranet reservations. Otherwise, agents might rush callers in an attempt to clean-up their stack of side-work.
- Measure, measure, measure! In the reservations department as in life, you get what you measure. Again too many reservations departments only look at certain key metrics, preventing them to see an overall comprehensive picture of how agents are really doing. For example, some only look at total reservations booked or total revenue sold, thinking that the agent who sells the most is automatically their best producer. While this often proves to be the case, when you start to look at call conversion, you sometimes find that the top agent in terms of revenue/room nights is really just a call-grabber who rushes the indecisive callers or pushes them back to the website, moving on to the next caller who is ready to book. Make sure you are measuring: Total revenue sold by agent and by department; Total number of bookings by agent and by department; Total calls received by agent and by department.; Call conversion ratio (number of calls vs. bookings) on at least a “raw” basis (looking at all calls and all bookings.); and Average revenue per booking. Over time, this will indicate whether agents are taking the time to upsell to higher rated accommodations and packages.
- Implement a proper recognition and incentive plan. Many managers don’t want to offer an incentive because they argue “that’s what we pay them to do anyway.” Yet few managers make this same argument for their traditional hotel sales department. Still, it is true that employees should not receive an incentive for doing their job, which is to help the hotel achieve its expected transient revenue goal each month. That’s why the best incentive is to set a monthly goal about 10 days before the start of the month, based on the most updated forecast. When the goal is achieved, a celebration (i.e. pizza or ice cream party) can be held. Yet when the goal is exceeded, a percentage of the additional revenue can be shared with the team.
The true measuring stick for an effective incentive is how enthusiastic managers are about paying it out. If it is properly structured, you should be emphatic when agents receive large bonuses.
Indeed, implementing contemporary reservations sales training is a key ingredient of any recipe of reservations sales success, as are ongoing mystery shopping assessments. Yet other essential components such as those listed above will provide your team with the roadmap for continuous success on the endless journey to reservations sales excellence.
Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry.