The properties are magnificent. The brochures are spectacular. The service experience promises to be one of the best ever. The guest is ready and dials the number for reservations. Filled with excitement and anticipation for a specific location, thanks especially to the hotel marketing efforts, the guest begins to inquire about all the things that are important to them and that are property specific. On the other line, a nice reservations center employee tries to respond. However, having never been to the property, the questions are difficult and the employee can not respond directly, even when reviewing the property description (which barely differs from the information already publicly available to the caller). Call volume is high, and the employee simply wants to get the necessary information, make the reservation, and take the next call. In many respects, the caller is still a statistic –not yet a guest.
The prospective guest hangs up, frustrated and confused. The employee hangs up, frustrated and confused. This is not what the online or printed marketing efforts had promised. The call was processed, but was the experience? What happened?
When calling hotels and other hospitality organizations about making reservations, guests are often switched over to central reservations. Call centers become essential to managing call volume and efficiently plugging guests in to the appropriate locations. However, without proper training and information, that’s where the disconnection can begin. How do off property call centers maintain the service connection and ensure a seamless introduction to the experience which guests’ expect? If, as they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression, what training and direction towards the quality of that impression at the reservations center level can be most important ?
Reservation agents must have a solid understanding of their role in the overall experience of the prospective guest. They are not simply taking a reservation. They play the critical first role in creating that caller’s ultimate guest experience. They are not simply answering the phone and managing reservation details. They are responding to initial expectations and managing that caller’s first point of contact. That employee’s voice, their tone, their pace and their knowledge will all begin shaping a memory and a lasting…or blasting impression.
Guests may presume that reservation calls are routed somewhere other than the hotel, but they certainly do not expect that to be an excuse for lack of knowledge or service. It also may be challenging for one employee to be able to respond to the “multiple personalities” and rates of the properties they are representing. How does an agent transition from an $89.00, 3 star room reservation at an interstate traveler’s property off I-95, to a $450.00, 5 star room reservation in the heart of New York City? Guests want a seamless experience and they want to believe they are calling only one organization, not one that has hired another. Guests want to feel like the person they are talking to will be their guide and expert in planning the right ingredients for their trip.
To ensure guests do not have reservations about making reservations with your organization, consider the following in setting up any call center operation:
- The call center may be the first LIVE step in creating a guest’s experience. Potential guests may have been online, seen brochures, heard reviews or referrals but now they are talking to YOU! Make sure each employee understands the power of those few little minutes on the phone and train them in their role as a critical touch point for guest impressions.
- Do whatever it takes to give employees the tools and understanding to properly represent any location. Show them videos, explain room set ups, orient them to the areas, walk through each detail of brochures. Give them a feel for the ambiance and personality of each area to which they will respond. Make sure they have access to the property website.
- Consider segmenting call center employee expertise. Evaluate who may have living or travel experiences in certain areas. Provide lists to each employee of those who are “experts” in certain areas or with certain properties so if a caller wants more, they have someone to refer to easily and quickly.
- Have supervisors or managers constantly on duty and available for difficult questions or guests who want more attention, and encourage agents to provide answers rather than to merely complete calls as the first priority.
- Forbid statements like: “I am not on that property so cannot answer your question” or “I am new so do not know the answer” or “we do not have that information at this location “or “I don’t have access to the website”.
- Define service excellence standards which outline how service can be delivered at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of each call—Attempt to meet caller expectations as if they were calling the property directly, or at least speaking with the most knowledgeable agent for the property. Train agents as to their “first impression” role in the guest experience.
- Inspect what is expected. Training is only good if constant, consistent and persistent. So is service. Regularly “shop” your reservations agents.
- Outline “what if “scenarios and have them as resource sheets and also as part of training. During down times, employees can review these and add any new ones they encounter.
- Ask employees for feedback and what they believe enhances or distracts from a call. Get feedback also from front desk personnel –they often get the strongest dose of negative feedback about central reservations.
- If a caller wants more “visual” information, know how to direct them to online photos or other colorful resources.
- Understand how important empathy is for both the guest caller…and the employee on the receiving end. Explore what tools and techniques will make the calls go smoother for both.
Don’t let your reservations center operations misdirect this stage setting opportunity for guest experiences. Center the calls on service, and the numbers will follow.