Industry Update
Opinion Article 8 August 2006

Training Front-desk Staff To Skillfully Handle Reservation Inquiries Yields Dividends

By Doug Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Training Network

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It's a fact of life at most midscale and economy lodging properties that the front-desk staff has to shoulder the responsibility for fielding the majority of reservations inquiries.

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Yet even at full service and luxury hotels with a dedicated on-premise reservations staff backed up by a brand or third-party central reservations office, it seems inevitable that some calls still end up coming into the front desk. Even more inevitable is that these calls seem to come in at the most inopportune times, such as when the last three check-ins of the shift have all shown up at once, and when the mid-shift "extra" has just been sent home early since it was slow the whole shift so far.

One has to pause to wonder why consumers would choose to place a long-distance toll call directly to a hotel, versus calling 800 numbers going directly to reservations. But then again if you've ever read articles in USA Today, Consumer Reports and other popular consumer news resources it should come as no surprise, since these articles always advocate calling the hotel front desk directly to double-check that this is the lowest rate.

Smart hoteliers have learned to make this trend work in their favor, by training front desk staff to "channel convert" these callers into direct bookings, especially when the caller states that they are at a third party site (such as Expedia, Travelocity, or even the hotel brand Web site) so that they can save transaction costs.

At other hotels where this subject has never been addressed, when the guests says "can I book that with you directly?" the front desk staff instead tells them to just book it online, essentially forfeiting 10% to 30% of the top line profits to cover transaction fees and/or commissions.

Not to mention that with this passive, reactive approach we are left to but hope that the caller will in fact follow through and actually book with us, and not find what they think is a better option elsewhere when they go back online.

Why does the front-desk staff miss this opportunity? Are they unwilling to do so? Are they too busy with more important priorities? Or perhaps it is just that they are not aware of what significant revenue optimization opportunities these calls afford a hotel these days.

By informing your staff on the tremendous upsides of fielding these calls, and by providing them with the strategies and tactics for doing so successfully, you can ensure that your hotel is prepared to capitalize on these opportunities encountered daily.

Step One

Train your staff on the various distribution channels in place at your hotel, and the associated costs of each channel.

Chances are that most are unaware that reservations booked through third-party Web sites cost the hotel money, even if it is booked through the "brand" Web site, which in most cases charge a transaction fee or percentage for each reservation.

Help them understand that any time we can convince a caller who has found us via a third party Web site or channel to book with the hotel directly we are cutting costs significantly.

Step Two

Acknowledge what a challenge it can be for a front desk associate trained only in check-in, check-out, and other operational duties to successfully field reservations calls, especially when the desk is busy.

Here are some training tips and tactics for converting calls at the front desk that you can use at your next meeting:

  • Let callers know you are at the front desk.
    In today's world of outsourced and off-premise reservations departments, most callers will be more than pleased to learn they have reached someone actually at the hotel who has specifics on the property and the area.
  • Explain delays without making excuses
    It seems inevitable that reservations calls come in during periodic "bottlenecks" that occur on even the slowest days. Rather than rushing the caller through to get off the phone and back to the guest on the other side of the front desk waiting to check-in, simply inform the caller and ask for their understanding.
  • "You have reached the front desk and I would be delighted to assist you with that reservation; however, I'm assisting another guest. If it's convenient, may I phone you back in a few moments? Or would you prefer to hold a moment?"
  • Transfer the call off the desk (if possible).
    In situations where two or more associates are working the front desk, it is best to transfer the call to a back office extension so that it can be fielded without distraction, and so that guests who are waiting in person don't feel slighted or overlooked.
  • Offer insider tips And "locals'" recommendations.
    Guests who have taken the time to track down a local number versus calling a more convenient and less expensive 800 number should be rewarded with tidbits of information and nuggets of recommendations from "the locals" perspective.
  • Provide "needs-based recommendations and endorsements."
    Most of today's callers have looked at an overwhelming number of choices online, and have usually seen thumbnail pictures or virtual tours of the hotel and its rooms. What they really need most are recommendations of the best lodging options for them, or sometimes just endorsements of the room they already decided upon before calling. Be sure to tie-in recommendations and endorsements to the caller's stated needs, wants, and preferences with statements such as:
    • "Since you are bringing the family, I would definitely recommend the suite."
    • "That's a perfect room for an anniversary couple."
    • "If you are here primarily for golf (or ski), this room is the best choice since it is located close to...."

By investing in training your front desk staff to property field reservations inquires, you can help them overcome the challenges of selling reservations over the phone when you are staring at waiting guests across the desk.

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.

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