Direct channel bookings in recent years have become synonymous with online bookings for many hotels, but a closer look at direct booking data shows that for many hotels only 10-15% are web reservations and as much as 75% are voice channel. The outstanding growth in mobile search and planning has, rather than co-opting the voice channel, actually expanded it with click-to-call functionalities driving voice bookings. In 2013,Wyndham Hotel Group reported that for every booking via its mobile website, three are converted after a voice call.
Hotels are seeing their allocated spend per booking increasing at the same rate as revenue per booking, with substantial dollars going toward marketing and OTA fees. This is essentially a no-win scenario. However, there are ways to better utilize budget, increasing revenue from the direct channel and, ideally, decreasing marketing spend—and it starts with reservation “sales” staff.
In 2013, NAVIS was brought on board to launch a call center for Vacation Myrtle Beach alongside resort professional Kelly Simmons. The innovative approach increased revenue by $1M in just the first 10 months. Reinventing reservations takes a savvy combination of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Fundamentally, however, it starts with viewing reservations as a vital part of the sales team responsible for property revenue. Reservations “sales” agents are much more than minimum-wage order takers. Then add in a mixture of the right people in the right environment with supporting technology and motivating incentives, syncing up intrinsic and extrinsic criteria. While it sounds like a lot of change management, the pay-off is substantial.
This is the “who” of the new approach to reservations. In the past hotels have generally considered reservations a rudimentary position both in compensation and in duties, and as such haven’t thoroughly considered the type of person who succeeds in the role. Looking at reservations as “high-performance rockstars” (as Simmons calls them) and re-envisioning the job, it becomes clear that the right person should be social by nature and have an affinity for connecting with other people. Additionally, they should possess exceptional communication skills: remember that words are only 7% of communication while tone of voice, on the other hand, is 55%.
Also necessary are motivation, the desire to learn, and a willingness to be coached. Reservation agents have higher conversion ratios and higher customer satisfaction scores when they are professionally trained in communication and closing skills. And when technology is added to the equation, hotels can bank on even better conversion rates. Reservation agents who are eager to improve—and comfortable with transparency—can be evaluated using a call-scoring feature, such as that in NAVIS Narrowcast. Managers are able to review each agent’s actual conversion rates and offer targeted coaching based on quality criteria (we call this the 7 Non-Negotiables), such as whether or not the agent creates a dialogue, asks for the reservation, and so forth.
Clearly staffing choices can be limited by hourly wages, but there are several ways to balance this out. Among them is creating the right environment—one that is attractive to potential employees is a setting where it’s clear they will have future opportunities and where they want to come to work. In the case of Wyndham, Simmons designed a colorful, energized environment with a casual dress code and built a culture that attracted great people, people with ownership and pride in their company.
There still remains the salary gap, which may be closed by performance bonuses and incentives that not only appeal to the individuals but also get reservation staff invested in the entire hotel’s success. These incentives may include personal, team, and property objectives. The capability to share individual real-time agent conversion rates and revenue earned is a powerful tool toward reaching agent goals, while publicly sharing team performance can help motivate agents toward team goals.
Additionally, consider providing agents with incentives for outbound sales. For instance, with NAVIS technology caller data can be captured by the system and the agent can capture the status of the reservation.
Reservation sales agents are able to search leads by value to the hotel that didn’t book and review based on actual data about the potential revenue of the booking, so an incentivized sales agent is motivated to call back (assuming they asked permission to do so in their first conversation with the guest) based on the most lucrative business. Incentivizing this type of outreach is a win-win when the business was most likely lost otherwise.
The bottom line is that, as with any customer-centric business, the staff is integral to the guest experience and that experience begins with reservation sales agents. Viewing agents as essential to the guest experience and substantial contributors to revenue, will reframe the way we approach the lucrative voice channel.