"You really know if a call center is behind the times if they still call themselves a call center." That’s the advice Aspire’s Chief Revenue Strategist Christine Brosnahan heard at the International Association of Reservations Executives (IARE) conference this past September in Seattle. In her over 30 years of experience, Chris has worked with hundreds of clients to optimize call & contact center revenues, so this month we sat down for a no holds barred discussion of what works and what doesn’t in today’s voice marketplace to help you take advantage and drive conversion.
RENIE CAVALLARI: What do you say to people who think call centers are dead?
CHRISTINE BROSNAHAN: You’re right! At least, in the traditional sense. It’s important to look at call centers differently today than we have in the past. Technology has made customers expect transparency and customization in the bookings process. They also demand immediate responses to their questions. So call centers really need to evolve into customer contact centers, where all methods of reaching out to your hotel—chat, email, social media, and voice—funnel through knowledgeable sales agents.
RC: How else has technology impacted call & contact centers?
CB: Technology makes it appear as if all you need to book a hotel room is a computer and a credit card. This makes the traditional call center seem less important, when in reality it is even more crucial! If someone has reached out to contact your property or call & contact center by phone, it’s because they want to talk to someone: they are looking for answers and a sense of confidence in what they are buying. They have questions, and if you’re not providing your agents with answers, you are losing out on potential revenue. With so much information at the consumer’s fingertips, if you can’t help them they will go someplace else.
RC: With so many consumer channels available, why is voice still so important?
CB: That’s simple. Profitability. According to a recent study by Cindy Estis Green and Mark V. Lomanno for the HSMAI Foundation, voice yields a contribution toward profit per room night that is twice as great as the OTA-merchant model. This margin difference is significant to your bottom line. When they’re browsing an OTA, they’re essentially window shopping for the best rate. When a customer is on the phone, they are ready to buy. It’s your job to effectively present your hotel’s value proposition against the price they are paying. Talk time gives you the opportunity to listen directly to the customer. Listen well, ask a few key questions, and focus on delivering an experience the caller wants and engage them into the buy. Remember, they don’t know you. Voice is your chance to introduce them to all the reasons your hotel is different as well as position your brand.
RC: Are all calls the same?
CB: NO! Thank you for asking. There’s a huge gap in the expectations and needs of leisure and new customers versus loyalty and current customers, and for that reason, hotels must use effective customer call management. If a customer has been to your hotel before, they have a high propensity to buy. Their calls are usually more transactional, focusing on dates, rates, and space. They like the experience your hotel provides, which is why they are coming back. New and leisure customers’ needs and desires come in all shapes and sizes. It’s an agent's job to uncover what those wants and needs are to know how to sell effectively based on that discovery. You then need to deliver a targeted pitch that transcends a simple transaction and presents your hotel as a solution for the experience being sought. Give the customer options, and ask for the sale.
RC: How do you set agents up with the tools they need to drive sales over the phone?
CB: A lot of businesses think more revenue takes more time. That’s not necessarily true. People don’t have long attention spans, especially when it comes to customer service. In fact, a caller’s attention is gained or lost in the first 15 seconds of a call. That’s the approximate amount of time psychology says its takes to form a first impression. Standing out doesn’t mean spending more time on the phone. It means listening—really listening—and asking a few key questions to ensure you understand what information the caller needs and what kind of experience they are looking for. You need to have a process to move the customer through to buying your offer, and your agents should be coached in executing it. Develop systems to monitor the questions that come in and provide easy and efficient access to the answers for your agents. Remember, your agents don’t have to know all the answers. They just have to know where to find them. Close the gap between your CRS and the Internet.
RC: What are the key systems and processes that help call & contact centers produce money?
CB: Make the best use of the talent you already have. Use skilled based routing to match customer wants with agent strengths, and customer call management to direct different customers to the correct experience. Align scheduling with call flow, so you have the support you need when demand is high. And keep in mind that no one business can know or monitor everything. The first thing to recognize is which statistics matter and how to track them. Some important ones include sales conversion, abandon rates, service guidelines, and adherence.
RC: What else do you tell business owners when it comes to optimizing call & contact center performance and profits?
CB: The most important thing is always leadership. Are your supervisors acting as good examples of what to do? How do they coach and support your agents? How do they empower your staff? What measurements are your leaders looking at and talking about? It’s important for agents to understand their value and how they contribute. Provide a structure to give control of the call back to your agents. Teach them how to personally impact MRIs (measurement result indicators). Show them what good listening and targeted questions sound like. People buy from people they like, so be sure your agents have clear and effective approaches to proactively connect with your customer.
Most importantly, remember that what you focus on comes true. Stop seeing your call & contact center as an expense. Focus on revenue capture, and you’ll stop bleeding profits and save your call center from certain death.
CALL CENTERS ARE NOT A THING OF THE PAST…
BUT MANY ARE STUCK THERE.
IT’S TIME TO EVOLVE.
To learn more on how to optimize your contact center for the 21st century, download our free guide available on our website.
Renie Cavallari is the CEO and Chief Inspirational Officer of Aspire, an international training and leadership development company that ignites change to drive results. Aspire announced the expansion of its contact center division in Fall 2013. Led by industry expert Christine Brosnahan, Aspire’s contact center services include assessments, strategic consulting, sales training, reservation agent and supervisor coaching, and leadership training and workshops. If you aspire…to lead, change, and realign your team to drive conversion, reach out to Renie at [email protected].