Though vision is frequently argued to be the most important of the five human senses, neuroscience professor Seth Horowitz suggests it is actually hearing that matters most to human survival. Hearing is the only sense that works reliably while humans sleep, and from an evolutionary perspective, it is instrumental in our survival against predators. It would be easy to surmise that things have changed and the digital revolution has actually increased our reliance on touch (e.g., to interact with devices). However, hearing continues to be the most reliable form of human connection, perhaps more so because of reliance on technology. How often are text messages misinterpreted and then clarified by a conversation? Tone of voice is essential to understanding, and our unique rhetorical abilities are far more persuasive in a conversation than written.
Why the spiel about hearing? Because hotels have been putting an extra helping of faith in the wrong senses for a while now.
Reservations agents turn a phone inquiry into a reservation 35.1% of the time. Know how often a website converts a reservation? Just 1.72% of the time.
This means agents are 20x more likely than a website to convert a booking.
To capitalize on the human ability to listen and be persuaded, hotels would do well to shift their goal from capturing bookings on the website to capturing them on the phone. Of course, if you can grab a web booking, that’s great, but it has become clear that for independent hotels and vacation rentals the website isn’t the place to close the deal. A website simply can’t anticipate an individual traveler’s needs, wants, and quirks.
Further NAVIS analytics have shown that for every $1 generated by an online booking, reservations agents generate $3. So, each inquiry handled by an agent is not only more likely to be booked, it is going to be more profitable. The nuance of a person-to-person relationship, the art of persuasion, the ability to upsell—these things all come into play.
For those of you who have invested most heavily in driving web bookings, the question of how to shift to the profitable voice channel comes up frequently. First, recognize that the website continues to be essential at multiple points across the path to purchase. During inspiration, research, and just before/during the booking process. Continue to invest but with the awareness that it is in your (and your guests’) best interests to place that call. (Artificial intelligence and chat features can solve for some of this but these still miss the impact of human interaction.) Feature your phone number on every page, including the booking page, where it is frequently omitted.
Mobile click-to-call is on the rise, and these calls tend to happen around high-value purchases, according to Marchex. “Oftentimes, that human connection is key to closing a sale,” says the report, which locates the mean purchase value of a travel click-to-call transaction at $320 (Marchex 2015).
Don’t just give guests a reason to book directly; give them a reason to call. Whether you have a loyalty program or offer a value add, make sure to associate the best incentives with phone calls.
Finally, invest in reservation agent training. With NAVIS’s robust client advocate program, which includes reservations training, agents increase their conversion rates from 35.1% to 42.5%. Think about it. Out of 100 leisure calls with a stay value of $1,200, this is an increase of almost $10,000. With training, the growth in conversion rate could very easily amount to $1 million in additional annual revenue without increasing staff OR leisure demand.
Reservations agents have abilities that go far beyond what we’ve covered here. Understanding not just that they still have a role but also their tremendous value is among the first tactics properties can employ to immediately increase bookings and profitability. Even if demand drops due to shoulder season or economic fluctuations, most properties could still increase revenues with a greater reliance on the voice channel. If nothing else, consider a strategic shift toward improving your response and efforts at driving phone calls a worthwhile investment in the economic unknowns of the future—and reap the rewards now.