With continuing pressure from online travel agencies, there’s the tendency to discount the value of phone calls in capturing more direct bookings. Don’t.
As hoteliers continue to bemoan distribution costs and blame online travel agencies for eating into top-line revenues, all too many still overlook how easy it is to capture more direct bookings from the calls that are already being placed to hotels.
Let’s explore five tips to consider when working to increase more direct bookings by a voice channel.
1. Cater to multitaskers
As I wrote in a previous column, the voice channel is not dissipating anytime soon. Many hotels have even experienced a resurgence as a result of the “click-to-call” option most of us have on our smartphones. It is easier to call when you are multitasking. Just ask those who answer how often the person on the other end of the call is driving, walking down a street, or cooking dinner. Try assigning a unique 800 number to display on your mobile website and allow for tracking of mobile calls.
2. Be easily accessible
Post your phone number prominently on your website. Encourage direct voice bookings, which for most hotels are going to yield higher average daily rate and lower acquisition costs. Whereas most hotels seem to hide their phone numbers, make sure yours displays prominently, especially on mobile devices. Again, use a unique 800 number for your website. Although this seems like such an obvious suggestion, too many hotels and even resorts are not doing so. Don’t assume that those who do not call are going to book online; instead, they might book elsewhere, even through another, more expensive channel.
Furthermore, if you have in-house reservations, make sure your website says so. Just ask your staff how often it is that callers specifically ask for in-house reservations.
3. Be cautious with third-party centers
If you use a third-party call center, make sure you have one that trains its agents on sales, not just order-taking. If you use sites like Brand.com, make sure you have them mystery-shopped on a regular basis. Join other hoteliers in your brand to advocate for the voice reservations channel, which based on my experience has devolved in recent years to the point where there is little emphasis on sales and most are not even using telephone hospitality skills.
4. Offer small incentives
Provide a per-booking incentive. Even if you transfer calls off-site to a brand or private call center, many callers insist on speaking with someone directly on-site. For smaller properties, this ends up being a front-desk colleague or even the night auditor. Too often, these staffers view the inquiry as an interruption. Try providing a small incentive (maybe $1 per booking) to see if you can motivate them to secure more sales. That’s far less than you would pay for an OTA commission or even a brand or call center booking fee.
5. Create extra engagement on calls
Train your team to ask the most important question of all: “As I’m checking the rates on those dates for you, are there any questions I can answer for you about our location or amenities?” This not only shows excellence in service, but also helps them “unmask the story” behind the call and to determine if the caller is ready to book, if they are a value-driven deal seeker, or if they have questions or concerns about something they read in an online guest review.
It’s also important to train your team to strongly reiterate that the rates they are quoting are (at least) as low as what the caller is going to find online, and therefore encourage the caller to secure the room night now to lock-in the rate.
Doug Kennedy is president of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of hotel sales, guest service, reservations and front desk training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Kennedy has been a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations for more than two decades. Since 1996, Kennedy’s monthly training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hospitality industry authorities. Visit KTN at www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the author of “So You REALLY Like Working With People? - Five Principles for Hospitality Excellence.”
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