To think that the days of traditional reservations agents are dead is both exactly right and exactly wrong.
Technology may be moving at break-neck speed, but the trusted voice channel is still alive and well. The phones still ring—a lot. Over half of reservations are still booked via the phone, but it’s all more efficient now that travelers do much of their research online (much of it via a mobile device) before calling. Travelers are also keen on mobile click-to-call capabilities with 52% reporting they will call directly from a search to make a hotel reservation, 50% saying they will call to inquire about promotions via click-to-call, and 65% reporting they will use it to make changes to their reservation (The Role of Click-to-Call in the Path to Purchase).
The role of the reservations agent is still essential, but it needs to change. It seems to have been disregarded for many years, as hotels and vacation rentals shifted their focus to digital marketing and web bookings. Reservations agents have been tucked away in the basement answering “inquiries,” while group sales managers have been upstairs handling lucrative “sales leads.” The necessary evolution of the reservations agent is to become a sales person.
Transient leisure travel is up and expected to reach record levels in 2016 and 2017, “Bleisure” is more common, and many corporate travelers and groups are going around their corporate booking mechanisms to book directly. The point is: the reservations that funnel through agents are a giant piece of the pie and should be treated accordingly.
To do so, properties must transition to a new culture, a sales culture. One where reservations agents are treated as sales people, where they are inspired and incentivized to close business. This is a culture where inquiries, whether via phone or email, are treated as sales leads.
When we shift from looking at phone calls and emails as inquiries—with the agent as the receiver, the order taker—to looking at inquiries as leads, the agent’s role becomes proactive. She queries and gathers information to make a sale. Just learning to ask the prospective guest for the reservation, a sales skill, increases close rates from 30-50%. To make this shift requires rethinking compensation with commissions and incentives (which are more than covered by incremental booking revenue, so there is no hit to the bottom line) as well as revamping company culture to support it. If the proof is in the pudding, look at Vacation Myrtle Beach’s call center, called Shine Studios, which was designed to inspire, train, and reward reservations agents. In just one year of outbound sales, in which reservation agents follow up with guests who have inquired but gone un-booked, the team generated $1,000,000 in incremental revenue.
This is to say that the results are substantial when this shift in thinking is embraced. Conversions on existing demand increase, nightly rate grows, and outbound sales programs bring in revenue that was completely untapped before. All the while reservations agents have less downtime and are more productive with their calls. In our experience, topline revenue generated by reservations teams increases 30% when the culture shifts to support them as sales people.
For more a more detailed look at how a sales culture pays off and tips on how to make the transition, download our fresh-off-the-press ebook, Transforming Reservation Inquiries into Profitable Sales. Inside you’ll find sample call scripts, interview questions, and more.