Does Your Reservations Call Scoring Criteria Need To Be Updated?

Call center agents - Source Doug Kennedy
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  Does Your Reservations Call Scoring Criteria Need To Be Updated?

Kennedy Training Network;

When our KTN team onboards clients for either traditional mystery shopping or for call scoring of actual recordings (as captured in our clients’ various cloud-based platforms), part of our process is reviewing their existing call criteria.

As a result, I get to peek behind the scenes and see what their reservations, front desk, and/or contact center staff are being trained to say. What I find is that most organizations are still using the same reservations call handling criteria as they did long ago, despite the fact that so much has changed on the caller’s side of the conversation.

When it comes to information, the “balance of power” has shifted to the caller’s side. Most have researched online by reading guest reviews and searching rates at OTAs. Many callers are online while on the phone. Yet reservations and front desk agents are still being trained on criteria from the era when callers only saw brochures and rudimentary hotel websites with few images before calling.

Another huge challenge exists for hotels that are forced to adopt outdated standards imposed by hotel brands and rating services that can result in generic, scripted conversations. The documentation for these standards is often redundant, in that the same concepts are listed in several line items and the actual definitions are vague, causing agents to be confused by what exactly it is they are supposed to say or do. Having vaguely defined criteria also leads to inconsistency in scoring.

Of course, when providing mystery shopping or call scoring for our clients, we ultimately leave it up to each client to determine what criteria works best, and we recognize that many clients simply have to live with ill-defined and vague standards imposed by a brand or rating service. We get it.

However, it is hoped that this article encourages you to think about all the changes on the other side of the phone conversation. It is hoped that leaders of hotel brands and rating services also consider the issues raised herein.

In the past, callers had very little information. Even as late as the 2010s, most websites had a very limited photo gallery and online guest reviews were still a novelty. Today, the Internet is filled with “real traveler” pics and most websites have an extensive “gallery” and at least a half-dozen or more pictures of room types. Rates are displayed transparently on multiple channels. As a result, today’s callers are picking up the phone because they are confused and overwhelmed with choices.

What they don’t want to hear is scripted phrasing used by an agent who is so nervous about hitting vague standards that they end up sounding disingenuous. They don’t want to hear a list of “benefits” or told standard room attributes, such as square footage and generic features, because they have already viewed pictures online. They also don’t want to be sold a membership in a brand loyalty program or a timeshare offer before they have even accomplished their first objective, which is to find a place to stay.

To truly give callers the experiences they want and need, the most important call criteria is to encourage agents to ask the right questions to “unmask the story” behind the caller’s plans and to discover where they are in their decision-making process. Unfortunately, the criteria used by luxury rating services require few if any questions. Similarly, the criteria being used at most hotel brands and call centers are limited to traditional questions such as “Have you stayed with us before?” and “What brings you to the hotel?” Sure, these are still important, but the key is to train your staff to ask additional follow-up questions that are specific to the situation or circumstance.

Many of today’s reservations leads are actually disguised as “service” calls. Callers often start by asking “Hi, I just have a quick question about…” They present themselves as “just” having a question about rates, hotel fees, check-in time, parking, or the difference between room categories. After answering the question, your criteria should be updated to encourage agents to ask:

  • “Now that I’ve answered your questions, are there any dates I can check for you?” If they say they are already shopping online, add “What website are you looking at?”
  • “Are there any questions I can answer for you about our location or amenities?”
  • “Have you stayed with us before or were there any rooms online that caught your attention?”
  • “What brings you to the hotel? Is there anything special we can help you plan?”

By asking more and better questions, your agents can engage callers in real conversations that help them feel comfortable that they are booking the right hotel and selecting the best accommodation, and encourage them to book now instead of continuing to shop online.

In responding to those questions, most criteria simply require the mention of a specific number of hotel benefits, which results in scripted lists of “quantitative” facts such as the number of restaurants, square footage of rooms, and hours of operations. Instead, agents should be trained to use a “storytelling selling” approach which is reflected in criteria that measure:

  • Did the agent describe features that were relevant to the caller’s story?
  • Did they use a “just for you” style when describing benefits? (Descriptions that begin with “You can enjoy” vs. “We offer” or “It has…”)
  • Did they use language that was visually and emotionally descriptive to “narrate the pictures” the caller has seen online?”
  • Did they offer recommendations and suggestions, based on what they have learned by asking questions and listening attentively?

Of course, there are some traditional criteria that are still relevant such as requiring staff to ask to secure the reservation. But again, these may also need to be updated. For example, avoid forcing agents to always use specific wording such as an “Assumptive close” (“Which of those can I secure for you?”) Instead, criteria should be updated to give agents the flexibility to phrase the closing attempt in a way that fits the scenario.

One final thought… be sure your call scoring criteria allows the evaluator to score criteria as “not applicable,” in which case the score should be thrown out, not artificially inflating the agents’ score by awarding the points and certainly not forcing the grader to select “no” and thus deflating their scores. This is because many callers pre-empt the use of certain criteria in their opening remarks, for example by saying it is their first time visiting and the purpose of their visit, thus negating the need to ask certain questions.

In summary, the objective of this article is to encourage you to take a step back and truly evaluate your call criteria to ensure that it is helping your reservations and front desk agents meet the needs of and capture more bookings from today’s real-world callers. If you would like to have our KTN leadership team and I take a look at your existing call criteria, or if you would like to receive a few complimentary mystery shops based on KTN’s “core” criteria, just shoot me over an email and I will set up a time to collaborate with you personally. doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com

About Doug Kennedy

Doug Kennedy

Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of hotel sales, guest service, reservations, and front desk training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over two decades. Since 1996, Doug’s monthly training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hospitality industry authorities. Visit KTN at www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com.

Doug is the author of So You REALLY Like Working With People? – Five Principles for Hospitality Excellence.

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