As technology has evolved to allow virtually anyone to work from afar, remote agent models have become increasingly popular. With good reason. For some hotels, especially those in resort markets with smaller talent pools, an entire reservations team can work remotely. For others, remote agents (frequently via third-party) can handle overflow or after-hours calls to ensure complete coverage at a lower cost than round-the-clock, on-site staffing. The benefits are many: remote agent models increase productivity, reduce attrition, and because they are low overhead, reduce costs. Implementing a remote agent model may seem challenging, but with some best practices in hand, your entire team can be virtual, secure, PCI compliant, and driving revenue in no time.
Three key areas will make or break your success with a remote agent model:
3). Training & Management
With proper technology, a remote agent will seem as though she is working at the desk next door. A VPN (virtual private network) is a must-have for remote agents to access the same network as on-site staff, while a PCI Compliant technology platform ensures that all reservations are secure. (Compliance to credit card security measures, even with third-party technology, is the responsibility of the property rather than the vendor, so be sure that all reservation technology for on-site and off-site agents is PCI compliant.) Further security measures include training remote agents on security protocols, such as locking computers when stepping away and establishing a telework agreement.
NAVIS provides all agents’ technology tools (two headsets, backup batteries, tower, and monitors, etc.) and asks that agents have Internet access of no less than 7 megabytes/second download and 896 kilobytes/second upload. For properties in remote areas where Internet access can be spotty or go out, remote agents may prove to be more reliably available to handle leads.
Two other essential aspects of technology are communication and IT support. A successful remote agent program prioritizes communication as the foundation for making agents feel fully supported. We recommend, if at all possible, a short phone call or Skype conference (a free tool) every day, which can eliminate dozens of emails and make virtual agents feel more connected. Messenger tools for chatting can also be useful.
IT support should be available at the click of a button for everyone’s sake. For instance, if an agent has a headset problem, he isn’t taking calls while he’s trying to repair. Because these tools are so important, NAVIS recommends over-communication on the IT side. Make sure remote agents have easy access to the various numbers they need for IT support, and ask IT to check in with all agents periodically.
Remote Agent Profile
Not just anyone can be a successful remote reservation agent. They have a unique set of character traits. We look for agents who are:
- Self-disciplined. Remote agents must manage their own time and workload.
- Self-directed. They don’t require a lot of instruction.
- Decisive. Remote agents must know when to pivot or offer promotions.
- Strong communicators.
- Excellent with time management. (They must be efficient at call wrap up, for instance.)
- Glad to work alone.
NAVIS remote agents have the mentality that they are driving their own business. They look at the queue and feel ownership of the calls. This can be achieved through finding the right agents as well as through incentivizing them.
Remote agents also need a specific skill set, and hotels will do well to be choosy with their remote agents because it is an opportunity to expand your talent pool. Skills to look for include:
- Troubleshooting capabilities.
- Resourcefulness. (Can they track down answers to questions quickly, for instance?)
- Innovative and assertive.
- Technically competent.
- Solid typing skills. (This relates directly to your lead quality.)
- Math skills.
- Calm under pressure. (Timed tests can demonstrate whether a prospect is frazzled by a timed event.)
- Conversational skills, especially via phone. Someone may be perfectly pleasant in person but have a hard time communicating on the phone.
NAVIS has a three-phase hiring process to ensure the highest caliber remote agents. For more on the process and questions to ask, watch our Remote Agent Webinar.
Training & Management
The final component of establishing a successful remote agent program lies in training and follow up. Extensive training is a must. At NAVIS, we require three weeks of job training, with the fourth week taking live calls in the office. While virtual instruction can be a very effective tool, the training technology can be a hindrance if not properly vetted. Other tools for getting agents up to speed at a distance are online knowledge banks, where important information is stored and updated immediately, such as room codes. Learning Management Systems can be used for company policies and procedures so that everyone is receiving the same message.
When training in-house, managers should be sure that agents leave having had the experience of what their job will be like at home. Ask them to take calls in a quiet corner of the office. Role-playing can be helpful, such as tripod training where the trainee works with a caller and a coach. Before agents return home, they must be able to demonstrate the job by taking live calls in a training environment. If they begin their remote experience feeling fully prepared, everyone will be more successful. Once they have begun working virtually, use Narrowcast tools and reports to follow up on performance and discover where further training or coaching may be needed so that you are staying connected and consistent.
A remote agent team requires preparation and an expanded focus on communication and technology; however, the results are more than worth it. Well trained remote agents can ensure that time periods when calls may have forwarded to the busy front desk are not only answered but are converted at a much higher rate. Having an entirely virtual team can save on a host of office costs. When hired and trained properly, they can be a substantial revenue generating team with lower overhead. Win-win.
Click here for an expanded version of the “How to (Successfully) Structure and Manage a Remote Agent Team” Webinar with more details on the technology, recruiting, and training needed for a thriving remote program.