When used correctly, communication technology has made access to information faster and easier than ever. However, when used solely as a labor saving measure or implemented without a clear objective and tested, it can hurt your bottom line and lose customers.
Think about automated phone and reservations systems. Have you ever found yourself in an endless loop because there isn’t an option that addresses your specific question? How about when the website says, “Call for more information” and the person who answers the phone knows nothing about it? Or one of my personal favorites… you call in for information and are transferred to the wrong department or, even better, disconnected while being transferred to the appropriate person. You end up pleading, “Can I just speak to someone, anyone, who can answer my question?”
These situations have happened to all of us. In fact, it was a recent experience that reminded me that getting this system right can prevent revenue loss.
Time was running out to book a reservation for my 28th wedding anniversary weekend. I offered to make the reservation, but I kept putting it off. You would think I would be excited to secure this adventure. So why was I reluctant? I had been through this process before and I knew it was going to take a while; I needed a block of uninterrupted time to make my reservation for the hotel, restaurant and spa. I started the process online and realized there wasn’t enough information to complete my reservation. How can I book a room if I don’t know if there is time available for our spa treatment? Hold the phone… it appeared I was dreading my experience with this property before I even arrived!
I decided to turn my reluctance to call into an experiment and made the call. Here is how it went:
Me: “Hello, I would like to book a hotel room, spa, and reservation to your specialty restaurant.”
Property:“Let me see what I can find out for you. Do you mind if I put you on a brief hold to call the food and beverage department to see if we are accepting reservations for that?”
Three minutes into the call and I am still on hold.
Property:“I called around, and I can’t get any information for another hour, can I call you back?”
Me: “Sure, but what about the hotel reservation?”
Property:“We can make it when I call you back.”
Now, 4:06 minutes of my life is gone without one transaction completed. The good news is she did call back. Two minutes into the second call, I find myself on hold again. Ten minutes into the call, it is suggested I need to book the spa package online and then call back for the other two nights, or I could get a better price by checking Expedia or Booking.com (even though their website said it had the best rate guarantee). Thirteen minutes and finally a spa appointment; then another transfer, which bounced, and finally a hotel reservation. It took one hour, nineteen minutes and twenty-three seconds to complete my reservation, which went from a three-night stay with a food & beverage dinner event plus a spa reservation, down to a one-night stay and spa trip. Too much work!
NINETY SECOND RULE
According to a leading industry expert in phone-based customer engagement, Daniel Wood, vice president of business development for Engagex, most properties struggle with the process of creating a seamless guest experience. Wood says he’s seen major resorts with hold times as long as 90 minutes. No wonder I didn’t want to make my reservation. He says if the call lasts longer than two to three minutes, you have lost the caller. Additionally, 6.5 percent of your guests are dropping off after 90 seconds. Yes, you are losing business.
It’s easy to measure hold times, which should be a maximum of 60 to 90 seconds. However, this does not address the total guest transaction time, much less their experience. Do you know how many minutes it takes to book a full resort reservation at your property? Is this booking experience all-inclusive by including items such as:
- Selecting and securing a room;
- Booking an airport shuttle;
- Booking tickets for a show;
- Booking reservations for dinner;
- Booking reservations at the spa;
- Answering general property questions; and
- Signing up for a players club card?
We put these processes in place and believe they work for our guests, but do we test the process? The failure of my transaction experience was not the fault of the team member, who by the way was terrific and was trying to get me the information, the failure was with the process. She did not have access to the information or the ability to complete the transaction without bouncing me to numerous departments.
Why can’t all of these transactions be done by one person on one call? If not, you have lost the guest before they ever enter your property.
If we really examine the issue, rarely is the central reservations or call center department (if you even have a department) a source of contemplation. They are the department located somewhere in a closet and forgotten. We assume each department is responsible for their specific experience, but nobody is ultimately responsible for the ultimate interaction.
The solution is to create a seamless process to create a “One Call and Answer All” philosophy. This could be a reservation and communication hub where one person can respond to guests’ requests without transfers. I realize this isn’t an easy task, but what if our reservation agents were treated like concierge agents? Would this elevate their request to upgrade technology during the capital budgeting process? Would they get considered for better office space and access to more information? How would this department transform if they were considered a revenue-generating department, which they should be?
There are inexpensive ways to streamline this process. However, it takes careful coordination between departments. Once the process is created, the program must be monitored to ensure that the quality of the guest engagement is achieved. The measurement must be a combination of transaction quality, time and number of successful reservations completed.
The experience we create begins before we ever step onto the property. The reservation process should make you excited about the experience you just booked, not frustrated and already regretting your decision to visit the property.
If you have a property which is getting this right, give me a call. Or, if you’re interested in evaluating your phone-based services, we can do that too.