Create a frictionless user experience
In principle, booking a hotel room is relatively easy. There’s usually a limited amount of information to fill out, and most hotel websites don’t require upfront payment. However, hotels can do even more by focusing on a guest user experience, as highlighted by Graham Charlton, editor in chief at SalesCycle:
“Even though much abandonment is inevitable because people take time to research, there’s still a lot that travel sites can do to minimize the problem. Great user experience always helps, as it makes it easier for travel shoppers to find the information they need, and to complete bookings with a minimum of friction.”
A frictionless user experience can certainly help hotel websites drive direct bookings. But there’s another point to consider: if over 84% of people abandon a booking on a hotel website, it makes sense to move them to the voice channel to close the sale.
The power of the voice channel
The phone remains the number one tool hotel guests use to get things done fast. If a potential customer can’t find relevant information on your website, or they need help with a complex booking, it’s vital they have the option to call your property for assistance. And the option to call should be highly visible.
For instance, your website could include a prominent pop-up with a click-to-call link. This would encourage someone to reconsider abandoning the booking, which could save your hotel a serious amount of lost business. However, having a clearly signposted click-to-call link is just one part of the abandonment puzzle. A much larger problem is that hotels can’t often field all incoming calls in the first place.
The cost of unanswered calls
A huge 80% of all business communications take place over the phone. Extrapolating this to the hospitality industry, it’s easy to see how a hotel might lose tens of thousands (even hundreds of thousands) of dollars a year in booking revenue.
There are other long-lasting side effects of all these missed calls, including:
- Creates a bad reputation with customers
- Produces leads that don’t convert to business
- Decreases customer lifetime value
- Costs your hotel its best employees
- Generates negative word-of-mouth advertising
Why do calls go unanswered?
According to John Smallwood, CEO of Travel Outlook, there are often numerous reasons;
“Hotels are frequently overwhelmed with work and just don’t have enough staff to handle the overload. They might be dealing with a hectic front desk, focusing on digital communications, or trying to handle any number of other customer service issues. It’s very hard to consistently pick up the phone when your staff are faced with so many other priorities.”
Smallwood also notes that the problem can be down to technology, “A hotel might not have the right tools in place to handle an influx of calls. And if a customer is put in a long call queue, they might just get bored and hang up. Equally, some hotels rely on voicemail, but sometimes voicemail can kick in too soon, so the hotel staff don’t have chance to catch the call.”
Given all of these potential issues, hotels need a better way to answer, and close, more incoming sales leads. This is where a voice reservation team can play a vital role.
Overcoming abandonment over the phone
Abandonment isn’t just about someone hanging up after an unreasonable hold time. Once a customer gets through to your hotel’s voice agents, there are numerous things that need to be done well to secure the booking, including:
Making it Personal: An expert voice reservation team should seek to understand the specific needs of each potential guest. By asking the right questions, they can understand the caller’s “story”, identify where they are in their travel journey, and address their needs in a personalized way.
Building rapport: Adopting a conversational style is a great way to build rapport with guests. Customers don’t want to feel like they’re being read a sales script, so the more natural and fluent a voice reservation agent sounds, the more likely it is they’ll form a genuine connection with the customer, thus incentivizing them to book.
Promoting relevant benefits: When a voice agent gets to know more about a caller’s needs (through intelligent questioning), they can promote the specific perks and benefits that will help convince them to book. This could be related to the hotel, but it could also involve selling the destination, for instance, telling a parent about all the family-friendly attractions in the local area.
Steps to Address the Unanswered Call Problems
Are you unhappy with the amount of abandoned calls you receive? Beyond lost revenue, a lost call can have a negative impact on guest satisfaction, loyalty, and more.
The first step is to have a comprehensive understanding of your voice channel’s KPI’s. Start by reviewing KPI’s like Total Number of Abandoned Calls, Average Wait Time, Average Call Time, all the way through Average Call Conversion Rate.
Now ask yourself:
- Are we leaving money on the table for every call we miss?
- Is my hotel’s rating being compromised?
- Are we seeing guest loyalty attrition?
- Are we staffed appropriately to meet demand, even on off-hours?
- Are calls being transferred to the front desk agents who may not be expertly trained to handle voice reservations?
- Should we consider outsourcing our overflow (and service) calls to a professional hospitality call center?
As the pandemic subsides and travel demand grows, hotels need to be ready to pick up every call. But more than that, they need to demonstrate empathy and understanding to every caller — giving them the time and personal service required.
Naturally, this represents a major challenge. Hotels have had to lay off huge numbers of employees and placed many others on furlough. Bringing back a full team of front desk staff may not make sense, and probably won’t be possible for logistic and financial reasons, until occupancy levels pick up.
This is where a dedicated call center can play a key part in a hotel’s direct booking strategy. By outsourcing calls to an expert reservation team, the onsite front desk won’t be overwhelmed and every one of those precious incoming sales calls will be picked up.
John Smallwood, CEO of Travel Outlook, highlights how an effective distribution of calls to right team member can pay multiple dividends.
“When reservations calls are answered by multi-tasking front desk staff, guests at the front desk tend to fall to a second-class status, while the reservations calls are rushed to an ineffective conclusion. Have the right team perform each task: the front desk staff engage with the person right in front of them and have the trained reservations team to get the most revenue from each call received.”
For now, at least, the hospitality industry needs to live with a new normal. Staying at a hotel is not going to be the same experience as it once was, but guests need to know they’ll still receive the best possible experience and, most importantly, that their personal safety will be prioritized.
As more and more hotels open up, the trickle of reservation calls will grow. When they do, having the capacity to field all of those calls and reassure guests will help hotels maximize bookings and begin their own journey on the road to recovery.