Outsourcing is well-known as a cost-saver, but very often it doesn’t apply to hotels. But COVID-19 has changed the game, and one notable trend is the resurgence of the voice channel. This in turn raises the risk of abandoned calls and lost revenue.
Given the rapidly shifting ground, guests feel more confident about booking when they can speak to a live agent and ask specific questions about what amenities have reopened post-lockdown or what new safety features have been implemented to prevent the spread of this coronavirus. But with all the furloughs and the inability to maintain bench strength in the reservations department due to a lack of incoming revenues, this can mean that the intake team is overwhelmed. And a harried front desk clerk will not give the inquiring guest a great experience or, worse, the call goes unanswered and the customer takes their business elsewhere.
Given this problem, one reasonable question is why hotels won’t considering outsourcing the voice channel so that you have a full roster of reservationists that, like a spigot, can be turned on and off on an as-needed basis? Based on my past consulting work as an asset manager, the answer often comes down to office politics. To explain how this works, let’s first backtrack to earlier this year right as Covid started to turn all our worlds upside-down.
Working as an asset manager through the early stages of this tumultuous shutdown, one of the main concerns brought up by our front office manager was the ongoing need for associates to cover the phone lines in case guests called to inquire about the reopening or to move an existing reservation.
But maintaining those wages with zero revenue on the books simply didn’t fit with the primary objective of stopping the bleeding in order to prevent the hotel itself of going heavily into arrears. Hence, we had a conflict of interests between front office and finance. A hotel call center offered an amiable compromise because of its pure commission-based compensation model.
That is, we received 24-hour coverage for our voice channel and only reimbursed the provider whenever a booking was completed. On top of that, all calls were recorded for quality assurance and the agents had access to our CRS, so no guest data was lost.
“Another problem we’re addressing during the coronavirus crisis is mitigating abandoned calls,” said John Smallwood, CEO of Travel Outlook Premium Hotel Call Center, the company we selected for this task. “With barely anyone on staff, inquiring guests are either put through to voicemail or left on hold for an irritably long stretch. In either case, there’s a high chance that customer has already moved onto another property, likely a competitor, and will not be recovered. Having a rolling switchboard means guests always reach a live agent within a couple rings.”
The front office’s perspective
Despite the clear advantages, the pushback from our front office manager always fell back to how outsourced reservationists would never know the property as intrinsically as a homegrown team. Even after showing us concurrent success stories, as well as assurances that the call center agents would undergo extensive training and be capable of upselling, this became a die-on-a-sword type of situation.
There had to be more to it, with the resistance guided principally by underlying emotions manifest in logical concerns that were back rationalized to justify not changing to this new system.
Putting myself in the front office manager’s shoes, I saw that it boiled down to a fear over a lack of career advancement. Many in this position are groomed to become general managers, in part because the number of people under their direct control teaches good delegation and personal relationship skills. Ergo, having fewer team members implies a loss of power within the organizational structure, potentially threatening their chances for a raise or promotion.
Knowing this core reason, I resolved the manager’s opposition by taking them aside and giving a guarantee that they would be the key point of contact between the hotel and the outsourced intake team. This manager would still be responsible for all reservations and would be instrumental to our success in handling the surge of new booking inquiries once travel resumed.
Where we’re headed
Guests don’t care where a reservationist is located so long as this agent is able to politely answer all their questions and finish the transaction in a timely manner. Your owners probably feel the same way, especially if there’s an apples-to-apples cost saving that arises from switching to a hotel call center.
Nowadays, Covid offers two additional benefits for outsourcing. Firstly, it’s safer because fewer onsite employees means less potential for viral spread. And second, the compensation structure means that there are no staffing hiccups during a ramp up or any forecasted ‘second wave’ which may bring us all back into a lockdown situation once again.
In this sense, it is best to view the pandemic as a ‘grand reset button’ for your hotel operations where any new process should be given your due consideration. As it relates to the front office, once you assuage the egos of your managers, you will see that there are seldom reasons not to implement such outsourcing ventures that can drastically cut costs to help you prosper in the new normal.