Listening to recorded calls for reservation sales and guest services offers invaluable insight into how company’s values are being reflected in direct phone communications. I often hear supervisors say they can hear their team members in the office, and that is all they need to know. While I am always excited to hear that supervisors are paying attention and listening to team members, there is much to be heard when company managers take the time to listen to recorded calls. Coaching employees on how to grow their soft skills and create better relationships is a wonderful way to build trust with your team members and make them feel valued.
Recently, I was working with a multi-destination vacation rental management company with a large reservations team, and an employee confided how much it meant to her that the company’s founder and CEO valued her enough as an employee to invest in her and have someone coach her. Another employee at the same company who had improved significantly after coaching told me that she had been looking for guidance about what worked (and didn’t) in her sales calls and was grateful for the effort they had put into helping her be more successful. The CEO was equally touched and grateful that team members looked at the coaching opportunity in such a positive light.
To build solid relationships with team members, it is critical to hire for values and then coach additional soft skills.
Over the years, I have updated and altered sales, guest relations, and service points based on what I’ve learned from listening and scoring thousands of calls. Following are some critical areas for creating loyal guests who want to book directly and come back year after year.
GREETING THE CALLER
While it sounds nice to ask for a caller’s name in the initial greeting, often such a greeting seems like a mouthful that makes employees feel more robotic than authentic. Instead, ask for the caller’s name sometime during the first minute of the call. If the caller offers his/her name right away, I suggest repeating it, just like a verbal handshake.
Using names in calls has many benefits. Research shows that, as humans, we judge people within the first seven seconds of meeting them. I’ve found, if you use the caller’s name, they will listen to the next seven seconds of information that you give.
In my experience, the foundation of any call includes asking two open-ended questions. I am a fan of the following questions:
- “What brings you to the area?”
- “What are you looking forward to enjoying while you are visiting?”
- “What is important in a home for you and your family?”
- “What traditions do you enjoy this time of year?”
- “What did you enjoy last time you visited?”
Let callers begin with what they are calling about; then you can transition to asking the above questions as you look up the details related to their inquiry.
If you fully understand what is important to your callers, you can eliminate many subsequent follow-up calls, emails, or texts that take place when you make incorrect assumptions. Often, just two questions will allow you to really understand someone. It is best to avoid a series of close-ended questions, which can make people feel disconnected, such as how many people are in the party, how many beds do you need, are you bringing any furry friends, or do you want to be near downtown?
DISC Assessment is another great technique that I like to use for understanding behavioral styles. By listening for answers to the who-what-why-how questions, you can narrow down callers’ behavioral styles to determine whether they are dominant, steady, compliant, or influencing. Then you can match your call techniques to what they like. For example, people with dominant styles do not want to hear about the sand between their toes and the smell of the ocean, yet they do care about facts, such as how many steps there are to the villa or how the travel insurance can benefit them. On the other hand, those with an influencing style enjoy your painting a picture of them sitting on the deck with their morning coffee, looking out at the ocean.
BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS AND CONNECTING
People want to do business with people. I have listened to many calls where a team member shared something simple like being from the same area or having children similar in age. The caller’s tone changes, and they ask how they can contact the same provider again.
We are living in a disconnected world while, as humans, we are put on this earth to connect. Even though I have never heard someone say out loud, “Hey, I want to connect today,” connecting is fulfilling. When connection happens on a call, most callers express something along the lines of, “You are the nicest person I have talked to today.”
It is essential to empathize with callers when they share something personal or call as the result of a problem. I have listened to many calls where a caller shared the loss of a family member or something tragic, and the team member didn’t acknowledge it at all. Supervisors may miss this when they hear one side of a conversation. When a caller shares something personal and it is ignored or dismissed, it breaks trust and creates disconnection. No one likes to have someone completely ignore the fact that they just took off their mask. My favorite saying is, “empathize before you educate.”
PUTTING CALLERS IN THE MOMENT
The key is to say “you” and directly relate it to information they have shared. This could be wanting an ocean view, needing time in the warmth of the desert, wanting to walk to all their activities, preferring a private pool at the home, knowing the number of steps, or cancelling the previous year due to an emergency. When describing the home, you might say, “You will be able to sit outside into the late evening with the most pleasant temperatures.”
EDUCATING ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE
Most companies I work with offer travel insurance and for a good reason. Recently, I had a representative tell me that he doesn’t feel that he needs to discuss travel insurance when callers are concerned with pricing. I believe the opposite. How are callers going to react if they are already financially stretched and they end up having a death in the family, can’t make their trip, and lose thousands that they didn’t have in the first place? I promise that, if they choose not to take the insurance, they won’t be nearly as upset as if they had never been told at all. I remember a call where the representative said she would drop the travel insurance to lower the price and the caller stopped her and said, “No, leave it; with the number of kids we are traveling with, we always buy the insurance.” Besides health-related concerns, the weather in our world is changing, and it is important to let people know their options.
I am one of those people who thinks about the words I use to communicate and strives to build relationships with a compassionate tone and warm words. I often hear industry verbiage, such as units and properties. Such verbiage feels the same to me as fingernails scraping on a chalkboard. I understand that we have the word properties in company names and all over websites and technology platforms, yet we can always say house, villa, cottage, or cabin. Notice how much softer and inviting those words feel.
The same concept applies to cheaper and expensive. There isn’t anything soft about those words; instead, we can say most economical or best price point, even high-end or luxury. People often use a technique when they struggle to find the right words, filling in with ums. Write the word down, and draw a ghostbuster sign over it. Do this daily and see what happens.
It’s professional to refrain from bad-mouthing third-party booking websites about their added fees and altering of emails, which makes it hard for consumers to contact companies directly. When we talk badly about others, the bad talk does not transfer to the person we are abusing; instead, it reflects on us as people. Keep it positive, and simply state that the best price is always guaranteed when they book directly with the property management company.
ASKING FOR COMMITMENT
When asking whether people are ready to commit, you don’t have to be pushy. I am a fan of simply asking, “How does The Cozy Cottage sound for you and your girlfriends?” The key is to do so right after stating the price. Too often I hear an awkward pause after the price is shared, as if stating the price were a question. It isn’t a question. Take it from an industry expert; the next step is to remove the pause and ask for a commitment in a kind way. If they aren’t ready, the next best step is to offer to email them the details so they have them on hand.
CLOSING THE CALL
We are in the hospitality industry, so it is up to us to make the booking process easy on people. The best way to do this is to ask, “When are you looking at making a decision?” Then, follow up with, “Can I call you if I don’t hear from you?” This makes it easy to manage leads, and, more often than not, the caller will be grateful for the offer. Then, be sure to use the caller’s name in the closing and rebrand the company name. Rebranding the company name is important these days because multiple booking platforms can be confusing to consumers. I also see it as a form of gratitude. Consumers have options, so thanking them for their business is essential.
Smiling and answering questions make it easy to be a service provider, yet being a hospitality expert is more difficult and requires self-reflection and mindfulness about how we communicate and how to be the people we want to be. I encourage you to take the time to ensure your people are getting the personal development they need to be true relationship builders.