Mastering Your Telephone Sales Mystery Shopping Program
By Doug Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Training Network
With most hotels and call centers seeing an increase in inquiry calls as demand rebounds in markets, it is more important than ever for your frontline sales representatives to maximize their call conversions and total revenue sold vs. goal. Depending on the type of lodging operation or call center, and of course your targeted market segments, this might include group sales managers, reservations agents, or even front desk staff.
Unfortunately too many mystery shopping programs fall short of actualizing their potential as an assessment and coaching tool and instead actually reinforce a culture of transactional selling in an effort to meet an outmoded checklist criteria. Often this is the result of the organizer of the mystery shopper, whether in-house training department or an outside service, fails to overcome the many challenges and potential pitfalls of this service. Below are training tips and suggestions I’ve learned, often the hard way, for overcoming some common obstacles in the hotel mystery shopping business:
“I just knew it was a mystery shop call.” Hotel sales and reservations agents often report that they were figured out they were field a test call while it was in progress. Interestingly, this comment often comes from the agents who are scoring very low on their call reports. As a manager the first reaction should be, “If you knew it was a shop call, why didn’t you try to perform more effectively?” (What we really want to say is “So, you wanted to get a low score then?”)
The reality is that it is more of a challenge than ever these days to avoid being detected as a mystery shopper. Over the years KTN and other mystery shopping providers have taken steps such as these to minimize this from happening:
- Use a variety of mystery shopping callers to avoid voice detection.
- Use mystery shopping callers of various ages, genders, and with a diversity of accents.
- Prepare in advance with caller profiles that match your market segment. For example, if you have primarily a drive market, mystery shoppers should most often indicate they are calling from nearby regions.
- Prepare call stories that match the real reasons guests travel to your hotel.
- Block caller ID if necessary.
Even with the best effort to avoid detection sometimes a good agent will still be able to figure it out before the call ends. This is especially true when shopping corporate hotel salespeople, who often ask for company names and check line while they are on the phone. In these cases when everything else has been done to minimize detection, just remind the salespeople that this is their chance to shine and to show how well they can use the sales strategies. Encourage them to view it as a role playing opportunity.
- “Real callers wouldn’t ask that.” Another frequent complaint of agents is that their real callers don’t ask questions; they don’t want all of that information; most of them just want the price.” Again this is often a legitimate issue, especially with untrained mystery callers who ask too many questions, or questions that are obviously ridiculous. Yet once again it seems the agents who score the lowest often raise this as an issue. On the other hand, I have frequently heard stories where a salesperson “just knew” they were being mystery shopped because someone was asking a lot of strange questions, but then it later turned out to be a real booking. To minimize this as a challenge, make sure your mystery shopping provider takes time to learn about what real callers are asking in today’s world of over-informed, multitasking callers who have more often than not researched online before calling.
It should be noted that many organizations are increasingly implementing call recording systems, which then solves the above two pitfalls and instead allows for real calls from real callers to be used for assessment and coaching purposes. Call centers have numerous systems such as NICE, WITNESS, and OAISYS, all of which are becoming more affordable as a capital investment, especially when they can also be used for guest honesty verification. Even individual hotels and resorts can now use inexpensive, web-based recording systems that require no additional equipment; instead calls are recorded directly from your inbound 800 numbers running through their systems. Hotels can secure it directly from providers such as Guest Direct or eStara
- “You didn’t reach all my agents.” Depending on the size of your staff and your telephone configurations, this is often the biggest “non controllable” mystery shoppers encounter. It’s a bit easier in a group sales or catering office, where salespeople cover set market segments or can even be asked for by name without sending out a red flag. However most reservations offices and call centers all the calls go into a random queue from the ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) system. Still you can help your mystery shopping provider by sending them updated schedules during which they have the greatest chance of reaching the agent being targeted. The fewer the number of sales agents on at one time, the better chance your provider will have at reaching everyone.
- “Please don’t shop my new people.” Mystery shopping companies frequently get this request from our clients, often because the manager is trying to avoid having the new person bring down their monthly overall score so they can achieve a departmental incentive or contest. Yet when you think about it, it’s these new agents that need the feedback from the mystery shopping reports the most in order to improve. A good middle ground we have found is to go ahead and shop the new agents as we do all others whom the guest might reach by dialing the number, but to later delete these reports (after they are sent) from the overall monthly departmental score.
- “Please only shop us on these certain days of week (or times of day) when we are slow.” Again this is a frequent request us mystery shopping companies receive, but to comply would skew the results and make the team look as if they are performing more effectively. It is more effective to have the mystery shopping calls made randomly throughout the day, just as the real calls arrive. When real-world callers have a sub-par experience they certainly don’t stop to think “well they must be busy right, I guess that’s why the service was so bad.”
- “I don’t want to tell the sales team in advance that they are being mystery shopped.” When launching a program, many managers prefer not to notify their staff in advance. This might be fine for one month, in order for managers to assess their overall operation. However it is generally best to notify the staff in advance that such a program is being launched as a pro-active, positive training tool for our sales team to use to get the additional business we really need right now. The worst thing that might happen is that salespeople treat every incoming call is if “this might be the one!”
“I don’t want to make the results public.” Many managers only show the results to each individual sales agent. Although it is not a good idea to embarrass anyone, especially when programs are just being launched, over time it is best that all mystery shopping scores are posted (or otherwise distributed) to everyone. This way the under-performers can see that others can and do achieve the criteria and those who want to learn can mirror the top-performers.
Besides the above considerations, it is important to properly use the reports to coach the agents. It is not enough just to hand them a checklist and expect improvements. Here are suggestions for coaching the agents:
- Schedule for the right location and time. Avoid coaching agents on the fly, as mystery shopping reports arrive randomly. Avoid coaching them at their own workspace. Instead, schedule regular blocks of times for coaching and let the agents know in advance. Conduct the coaching in an office or better yet a meeting room.
- Play the audio recording first before showing them the mystery shopping report. The experience of hearing one’s self on the phone will certainly raise their awareness of how they sound to callers. For example, if they need to speak with more enthusiasm, to speak more slowly or clearly.
- Ask them to complete a blank checklist to score their own call. Then present the official report.
- Discuss what was done well and what could have been done more effectively. Avoid language speaking to what was done wrong.
Finally, while it is a good idea to reward those who perform well on their mystery shopping reports with an incentive or prize, it is important that this not be the only incentive. Better to have the main incentive in place being based on other metrics, such as total revenue sold vs. goal, or where it can be measured empirically via technology, have the main incentive based on call conversion ratio. The mystery shopping program should be a secondary incentive or prize, reinforcing that it is simply a tool for helping our sales representatives achieve their revenue goals.
By working in partnership with your mystery shopping provider, whether internally or externally, you can ensure that your investment in telephone sales mystery shopping achieves a ROI many times over. You can also ensure that your sales staff will have every opportunity to learn and incorporate contemporary sales strategies and tactics for today’s confused, multi-tasking callers who have looked at too much information online.