Although many innkeepers prefer telephone inquiries to online reservations, our Diamond Collection inspections reveal that many potential reservations are being lost because of missed opportunities.
We live in a time where multi-tasking is the norm, but it’s important to give potential guests your undivided attention. Put everything down when you answer the phone. Remember, this is a two-way conversation focused on the guest; you’re not just taking a reservation. Take notes to stay focused and track action items.
If you don’t have time to have a full conversation, especially if it’s going to inconvenience actual guests, don’t answer the phone. Instead, let the call go to voicemail, though make sure your voicemail greeting is friendly and apologetic. Mention that they can find your complete information on your website, including photos, reviews, and online reservations, and spell out the URL if necessary.
It’s always ideal to have a real human answer the phone when possible, so consider extending the hours when a trained innkeeper is available to answer the phone, and train multiple people to answer the phone effectively. Consider giving them incentives, like bonuses or commissions, for making sales after regular working hours. Have calls forwarded to your smartphone so you can answer and take reservations while you’re away from home.
Three Rules of Phone Selling
- Pretend that you are having a face-to-face conversation. Smile while you talk – people can hear the "smile" in your voice.
- The person asking the questions controls the conversation. If the prospective guest is asking the questions, you’re on the defensive. You can't sell effectively until you regain control. Create a question checklist to use on each call.
- Stay focused on your goal, while always being friendly, helpful, and courteous.
A little etiquette goes a long way. Your phone shouldn’t ring more than four times before it goes to voicemail. If you’re answering the call, aim for two rings.
Always ask permission before you put a caller on hold. You have 17 seconds before they get annoyed. Reduce annoyance by asking permission, explaining the reason, and by giving an estimated time before you return.
Make sure potential guests don’t hear you eating, drinking, or chewing gum, or the voices of staff and guests. If necessary, take a cell or cordless phone to a quiet location for the best caller experience.
Use the first 30 seconds to establish a positive perception through voice, tone and focus. The last 30 seconds is when the caller finalizes their opinion; thank them for calling, review their reservations, and thank them for their new or continued business. Before you hang up, ask, "Have I answered all of your questions? Is there anything else I can do to assist with your travel plans today?"
Five steps for increasing conversion
- When answering the phone give the property name and your name, then get their name: How callers are treated is vitally important; if they weren’t concerned, they would probably have booked online.
- Ask open-ended questions: Let them talk and don’t interrupt. People go where they feel comfortable and appreciated.
- Recommend and upsell: Build the relationship by adding value with restaurant reservations and other insider advice; upsell with packages, luxury rooms, specials.
- Objections are usually requests for more information. If the caller is objecting to the price, work on selling the value, assuming you’re competitively priced. If they are looking for a specific date and you’re sold out, get their email address for future trips.
- Ask for the reservation: How many reservations have you lost because you didn’t say, "If you have your credit card handy, I can confirm your reservation"?
Sell the breakfast
While it may sound obvious, explain that a key part of the B&B experience are your amazing breakfasts. If you know that the caller is looking for a romantic getaway, suggest that you can enjoy it in the privacy of your room; for business travelers, mention that "we can accommodate you at almost any hour." Be sure to ask about dietary restrictions/preferences for caller and partner.
Sell the packages
Although packages should be bookable on your website, guests may have questions before purchasing. Ensure that everyone who answers calls from potential guests is fully aware of your packages and add-ons and that it’s the same as the info on your website. Ask caller if you can email a list of packages, a reminder of the wonderful options.
There are no be-backs
When a caller says "I just want to check with my partner," you are most likely losing the reservation. Ask if you have answered all of their questions so they can make a decision. Ask if you can place a courtesy hold on a reservation date/room for 24 hours. Offer to email your virtual brochure to personalize the inquiry. Consider a closing offer for serious inquiries – "Reserve now, and you’ll get our romance package for free, usually a $50 value."
Although many repeat guests book online, some will call. If they don’t identify as repeat guests, ask and/or check your computer for details. "Great to hear from you again! Are you planning to celebrate your anniversary with us?" By returning to your inn, guests are paying you a wonderful compliment. Thank them with a special welcome note and by remembering their preferences, with little gifts, upgrades and extras, and they’ll keep coming (and referring others!).
Extend the relationship
If you can’t close the sale, ask the caller if they’d like to be on your mailing list or if you can email them a sample issue of your email newsletter. "I’m sorry we couldn’t accommodate you this time, but we’d love to welcome you to back to the Downtown Inn in the heart of amazing downtown Austin, Texas in the future. Would you like to be added to our mailing list? We send a monthly email covering special deals and events!"
Making cold calls can be intimidating, but when it’s slow, you shouldn’t wait for the phone to ring!
- List every possible local source of reservations: businesses, hotels, churches, schools, funeral parlors, senior housing, country clubs, hospitals.
- Introduce yourself to owners/managers, invite them to your inn, add them to your email list, stop by with brochures/muffins – whatever is required.
- Invite local college marketing class to learn from participating in your marketing blitz.
- Offer incentives to local businesses to encourage leads or referrals, and be sure that they know that you are recommending their businesses to your guests. Supplement as needed with other appropriate thanks.
Updated by Emily Starbuck Crone