Doug Kennedy’s Train The Trainer – Ideas for Reservation Managers
Although the webcasts that TNS/Track so generously sponsor usually focus on sales training tips directly for the frontline reservations staff, this month I took a little different approach and focused on train-the-trainer ideas for managers. The format was sort of a “challenge/solution,” and here are some highlights of what I shared during the live webcast.
Challenge: Reservations Agents May See Inquiries As Interruptions!
When you stop to look at the daily task list of most reservations agents, you will quickly recognize that the most important task of all – selling! – is probably what they spend the least amount of time on. This varies by the size of the team and the nature of the lodging operation. For smaller companies, it is likely that those covering reservations are also assisting to some degree with operations. At medium size companies, agents spend much of their day processing (or at least reviewing) OTA bookings, fielding questions that come in the form of IM’s within apps like Booking, Expedia, VRBO or even AirBnB, or responding to email inquiries. Those working at resorts also have to deal with rooming lists and bookings from wholesale tour operators. Even at call centers where reservations is a dedicated, full-time job, agents receive many “service” calls are after booking, but prior to arrival.
Solution: Train Your Team To See Inquiries As Opportunities.
Make it fun by borrowing a theme we at KTN use during our on-site training workshops and private webcam training which is to tell agents that whenever they hear the phones go “Ring, ring!” they need to always think “Cha-ching!”
First, calculate your “average revenue per booking” opportunity on a year-round basis by dividing the total revenue received for a 12-month period by the total number of bookings made.
Then ask them to calculate the potential revenue they can generate if each gets just 1 more booking per workday. (Average revenue per booking x 250 workdays per year.) Finally, multiply this by the number of agents. (Okay, if you are highly seasonal, then cut the revenue in half or even by 1/3.) The point is that there is a huge potential for the team to generate additional revenue.
Finally, discuss that another word for money is “currency,” which is also a word for electrical current. Explain that the “currency” they bring in provides the energy that powers your resort or VR company. Ask them to think about where that currency flows. Payroll for their co-workers in operations. Pays for insurance, the mortgage on the resort – or flows to the vacation home owners to pay their own mortgages. Part of the currency funds the local and regional taxes, which support the community services. In the end, the handful of agents who work in reservations are responsible for the currency that powers the entire business and community.
Challenge: Reservations agents May Not Relate To The Life Experiences Of Prospective Guests
In order for agents to sell to the unique needs and wants of prospective guests, they first need to develop empathy and an understanding of what guests are looking for. Ironically, the guests who have the most unique “travel stories” are the most likely to engage with an agent vs. booking “self-service” style online.
If your agent has never experienced the same life cycle events guests are going through, it will be hard for them to understand the special needs that person might have.
Solution: Train Your Team To Think About “The Story” Behind The Call
First, have your staff brainstorm a list of the “call stories” playing out behind the guest room doors on sold-out nights. Birthdays, anniversaries, grandparents traveling for the first time with grandkids, the mom of a new-borne baby taking a first trip, single parent vacations, wedding guests, those attending funerals, people celebrating life events such as 5 years cancer free or having completing chemotherapy. Family reunions, baby showers, anniversary parties and – well yes – even divorce parties!
Next, assign each agent to pick a “story” that reflects something they have not themselves experienced. You may even select photos in advance to represent the traveling party. The agent should spend time coming up with a detailed story their imaginary vacation.
Then assign each agent to contact a resort or VR company in a faraway destination, one that is similar to your own but that the agent is not likely to be familiar with so they can experience what it is like to truly need someone’s help. They agent should then research options online, make a phone call or two, send an email inquiry as well.
Finally, they report back on their experiences. Did the agents they spoke to and corresponded with care about their “story?” Or did the person just provide the same basic info on rates and availability that they could have found themselves online? Ultimately, if they really were planning such a trip, would they book with that agent?
Challenge: Reservations Agents May Not See Their Hometown As Some Else’s Dream Vacation Destination!
For most of us, we never fully come to appreciate the uniqueness of our own hometown until we move away for a while. What for us might be an everyday opportunity might be for an outsider part of the trip of a lifetime opportunity to:
- Stroll on the beach at sunset collecting shells and feeling the sand between your toes.
- Gazing up at the Milky Way Galaxy on a starry night.
- Breathing in the fresh mountain air.
- Walking into a theme park for the first time.
- Experiencing the lights and sounds of a city-center on a busy day.
Solution: Encourage Reservations Agents To See Through The Eyes Of An Outsider
Do all you can to foster a sense of place for those who know no other. Keep an eye out for any online reviews or comments that guests share about how they perceived your destination. Ask those from out of town, such as your family and friends, to speak to your agents about their perspective. Arrange tours and excursions with local area businesses, restaurants and attractions so that your staff can experience what the tourists do for fun. Create fun trivia contests about FAQ’s that callers and guests might ask about.
In summary, all too often the only training at that reservations agents receive is focused around using whatever property management system and other distribution apps / tech they need to use to do the “administrative” parts of their job. Be sure to start new agents out with the right perspective by first talking about sales basics such as “know your customer,” “know your product,” and selling to the customer’s “wants” not just their “needs.” By doing so, you’ll help your team grow your direct booking channels an outsell the costly third-party apps that try to syphon-off guest loyalty.