NB: This is an article by Doug Kennedy of Kennedy Training Network
In an experiment comparing how call center staff interact with potential guests, employees at one OTA won out over hotel companies.
As a hotel industry trainer, I have to admit being biased toward booking directly with hotels or hotel brands versus going through third parties such as online travel agencies. However, in my family and social network, I have encountered plenty of raving fans who are more loyal to their preferred OTA than any one hotel brand.
One example is my older brother Dan who, despite being a member of the baby boomer generation, has always been an early adaptor of anything related to Internet technology. We recently had a conversation about his favorite OTA, which has always been and continues to be Expedia. As he touted the advantages, such as an easy-to-navigate website and loyalty points he can use anywhere, I challenged him by saying, “Well at least with a big hotel brand, you can call them if you need to.” Sticking up for Expedia, he proceeded to tell me how he has in fact called its call center agents many times over the years and how terrific the service has always been.
I decided to conduct my own little test of the Expedia call center as compared to major hotel brands. First, I put together a call story that I was looking to take my wife away to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary; I had been online searching but found “so many choices that I decided to call to see what the best options would be.”
Next, I placed three calls to the Expedia customer service phone number posted on the website, one each for San Francisco, Miami Beach and Manhattan. Just as my brother had said, the service was absolutely impeccable. What’s more, as a hotel sales trainer, I also found that all three Expedia agents also outsold their brand counterparts. Here is a recap.
The call flow process I experienced at Expedia was consistent without sounding too scripted. Agents were all professional yet also personal and authentic. All three agents started with a positive opening greeting and politely asked for (and later used) my name in a way that was conversational and not forced.
I started by explaining that I had been online and needed help in selecting as I was overwhelmed by the number of choices. All three proceeded to fully “qualify” my call by asking for the dates, number in the party and bedding requests; two of the three continued on to ask what was bringing me to the city in question (I voluntarily mentioned my purpose to the third agent who did not ask). All three agents congratulated me on my upcoming wedding anniversary and all sounded like they truly meant it by making personal remarks such as, “Wow, 20 years, that is wonderful!”
As a sales trainer, I was impressed that all three used what we call the “Just For You” sales approach, which is to use phrases such as “You will enjoy” instead of saying “The hotel offers” or “It offers .” Two of the three even offered recommendations and endorsements of the options they presented, which is so important to convince channel-surfing callers to commit.
After quoting rates, all three agents offered to secure the booking for me right now. All three used urgency statements such as, “We already have some hotels that are sold out for these dates.” One even used a personalized suggestive selling close: “Let’s book this right now and make it a perfect anniversary.” Honestly, she was so completely awesome that I almost said yes even though this was a test call.
When I resisted, all three continued to press on persistently without being too pushy by using statements such as, “This is a fully refundable rate ” and “There are only a few rooms left at this rate” and “Many people have called me back and found out that it is not available, so let’s book this for you now, OK?”