As I often say to participants in my on-site reservations training workshops, “You are not supposed to have this job, and I am not supposed to have a job training you, because it’s 2018 and no one is supposed to be calling anymore!” I’m quite sure that if we could go back ten or even fifteen years and show lodging industry marketers the robust websites packed with information, videos, and 3D floor plans, and simultaneously showed them the nifty smartphone devices we all carry around these days, and then asked them, “Do you think anyone will still be calling for a reservation when they have all this information at their fingertips?”—100 percent of the survey responses would be “definitely not.”
Yet the phones still ring, and ringing they are! True, some VR companies have had a slight drop-off in calls; but if you take time to listen to those that are still coming in, you notice right away that most of the calls missing these days are calls we used to get regarding questions that no longer need to be answered. What’s missing is a lot of “service only” calls, such as those asking for directions (now available on GPS), local area information (now pushed out via apps), and details on what’s in the actual home (now viewable via virtual tours.)
Despite all this evidence to the contrary, some VR marketing still holds onto the concept that there exists a “voice” client and, separately, an “online” client, when the truth is they are the same client.
One reason for this diehard belief is linked to all the vague generalizations we read about the “millennials,” who supposedly want to do everything online via an app and who never want to make a call. I personally know this is not the case. I provide voice reservations training to several “lifestyle” hotel brands that specifically target the millennial demographic—and I can tell you that many of those hotels receive up to 35 percent of all bookings via good old-fashioned phone calls. Also, as the lives of those millennials (the oldest of whom are now 37 years of age) become more complex, such as when they have children and become the generation planning the annual vacation for extended family, they are indeed calling for assistance.
That being said, I’m sure many of you data-hungry marketers reading this are wanting proof. So allow me to suggest a way that you can measure the interplay of voice and online channels specific to your VR company.
First, run a report in your property management system showing the long list of bookings made directly on your own website. Chances are these are coded as a separate market segment, so this should be an easy task. Next, randomly highlight at least twenty-five bookings made on the website and the respective phone numbers, along with the date on which the reservation was made. Finally, check those phone numbers against the billing records of your provider for inbound 800-number service. This step might involve your working with accounting to log in to view this part of your phone bill online as a searchable record. Search the bill for each phone number, and when you find a match, note the date and time of the call or calls (many clients call more than once.)
Then you can tally the results to find out a) how many of those who booked online called prior to booking, b) how many called after booking, and c) how many called both before and after booking.
Of course, if you have invested in call and lead-tracking systems from VRM Intel supporters such as TrackPulse and NAVIS, and therefore you are capturing the full names from all incoming leads, you could instead just pull a list of names of leads that did not close via voice and then check those in the property management system to see if they had booked online.
If you take time to do this, you will have empirical evidence of the interplay of voice and online channels. If you would be satisfied with anecdotal evidence, just ask your reservations agents how often they hear callers say something like, “Hi, I just booked online, but I have a few questions…”
Ask those agents how often they recall talking with someone extensively, possibly even sending the caller a quote via email—and then seeing an online booking coming through with that person’s name on it.