A tale of two Inns and the importance of good phone sales skills

I was recently asked to do a phone customer service evaluation on two inns that one of my consulting clients owns.

Both are similar type inns. Same rates, approximately the same number of rooms. Both inns are in the same state but separated by several hundred miles. Both run by innkeepers that are employed by the offsite owner. Both inns had great reviews, very similar information on their websites (both sites done by a very large professional internet company) and no customer issues.

The reason for the evaluation, (which would have been followed by an in person visit if phone calls could not identify the problem) was one inn was getting significantly higher bookings then the other and selling a lot more add-ons. I had strict instructions to talk only to the innkeeper and to call back if I got someone else.

The Following is a transcription of the calls:

Inn One:

Inn One: Good Morning, you have reached the Jane Doe Inn, this is Marcie, what can we do for you this lovely day?

Forfeng: Hi, we are interested in your room availability for next weekend and some more information about the rooms.

Inn One: What can we help you with specifically? And were you looking for Friday and Saturday nights or a 3 day weekend?

Forfeng: Well, It’s our anniversary and we were looking for something special. We looked on your website at all the rooms but its not like seeing them in person, we were wondering if you had a recommendation. Something really romantic,

Inn One: Ah ha! Well my favorite room is the Blue Violet Suite, it has a gorgeous canopy bed and a whirlpool tub for 2. We also have some great amenities available for special occasions, chocolate dipped strawberries and champagne and we can also offer a couples massage from one of our local masseuses, she and her partner are absolutely wonderful.

Forfeng: That sounds terrific, let me check with my husband and I’ll give you a call back.

Inn One: Would you like to give me your name and your number just in case someone else requests the Violet Suite and we can give you first dibs on it if you would like it?

Forfeng: Sure, “Jane Doe”, 760-XXX-XXXX. Thanks.

Inn One: Thank YOU for calling, have a wonderful day and we look forward to hopefully seeing you this weekend.

  • Inn One actually called me back the next day. I had to tell her my husband had already made plans as a surprise but I really appreciated her calling me back. She got extra Kudos for the follow-up

Inn Two:

Inn Two: Hi this the John Doe Inn, how can I help you?

Forfeng: Hi, we are interested in your room availability for next weekend and some more information about the rooms.

Inn Two: Yes? Have you looked at our website? It shows all the rooms with details and the rates.

Forfeng: Well yes, we did, it was very nice, but it’s our anniversary and we would like something really romantic.

Inn Two: Our rooms are all romantic (this was said in a nice way), was there a price you were looking for?

Forfeng:  No we thought maybe since you have been in the rooms you could tell us what you thought was the most romantic one.

Inn Two: Oh, our Peekaboo suite is great for special occasions. Everyone who has stayed in that room says they have loved it.

Forfeng:  Ok, thank you, I need to talk to my husband, we will give you a call back in a bit.

Inn Two: Thank you for calling. Have a nice day.

  • Now it’s pretty apparent if I was an actual guest which inn I would book a room at from the conversations, but lets take a moment and really analyze the innkeepers responses.

Inn One:

Inn One: Good Morning, you have reached the Jane Doe Inn, this is Marcie, what can we do for you this lovely day? (nice welcome, an identification of the person speaking and an enquiry)

Forfeng: Hi, we are interested in your room availability for next weekend and some more information about the rooms. (from innkeepers perspective, potential guest is fishing for information)

Inn One: What can we help you with specifically? And were you looking for Friday and Saturday nights or a 3 day weekend? (trying to target a specific thing a guest is looking for and also gaining more information about a possible reservation)

Forfeng: Well, It’s our anniversary and we were looking for something special. We looked on your website at all the rooms but its not like seeing them in person, we were wondering if you had a recommendation. Something really romantic.  (from innkeepers perspective, potential guest is identifying why they are coming and also asking for a personal opinion.)

Inn One: Ah ha! Well my favorite room is the Blue Violet Suite, it has a gorgeous canopy bed and a whirlpool tub for 2. We also have some great amenities available for special occasions, chocolate dipped strawberries and champagne and we can also offer a couples massage from one of our local masseuses, she and her partner are absolutely wonderful. (personal perspective question is answered and also some great upselling going on customized to the potential guests plans)

Forfeng: That sounds terrific, let me check with my husband and I’ll give you a call back.

Inn One: Would you like to give me your name and your number just in case someone else requests the Violet Suite and we can give you first dibs on it if you would like it? (innkeeper sees that guest may go elsewhere and wants to be able to follow up to see why they lost the booking and also dangles a carrot to the potential guest of some preferential and personal special treatment)

Forfeng: Sure, “Jane Doe”, 760-XXX-XXXX. Thank you.

Inn One: Thank you for calling, have a wonderful day and we look forward to hopefully seeing you this weekend. (nice goodbye and also a somewhat implied assumption that the guest will call back)

Inn Two:

Inn Two: Hi this the John Doe Inn, how can I help you? (standard greeting, no identification of innkeepers name, straight to the point)

Forfeng: Hi, we are interested in your room availability for next weekend and some more information about the rooms. (from innkeepers perspective, potential guest is fishing for information)

Inn Two: Yes? Have you looked at our website? It shows all the rooms with details and the rates. (this is where she initially lost the sale, depersonalization and deflection to an online impersonal source)

Forfeng: Well yes, we did, it was very nice, but it’s our anniversary and we would like something really romantic. (guest really wants more personal information and is disappointed it’s not forthcoming, innkeeper should have picked up on this by the tone of voice used)

Inn Two: Our rooms are all romantic, was there a price you were looking for? (totally missed the boat on this one, missed the opportunity to identify guest has a special event and also to upsell)

Forfeng:  No we thought maybe since you have been in the rooms you could tell us what you thought was the most romantic one. (guest is really fishing for personal advice)

Inn Two: Oh, our Peekaboo suite is great for special occasions. Everyone who has stayed in that room says they have loved it. (again totally missed the boat on this one, I didn’t ask if other guests liked it, I asked for the innkeepers preference and again missed the opportunity to upsell)

Forfeng:  Ok, thank you, I need to talk to my husband, we will give you a call back in a bit. (this should have been a tipoff that the guest is going to go elsewhere and she should have tried to salvage the conversation)

Inn Two: Thank you for calling. Have a nice day. (the potential guest flew the coop)

  • Let me make clear that both innkeepers had very nice tones of voices. Inn One though you could actually tell she was smiling over the phone as we spoke.

Just in case the innkeepers happened to be having an off day, both inns were followed up by two additional phone calls in the space of the next month, in context of booking a reunion and a bike trip. Both conversations went along the same lines as the “anniversary” calls. (and yes I do some great regional accents and alternative phone numbers) All three times, Inn One called me back to enquire if I still wanted a booking.

My recommendation to my client was to send Inn Two’s innkeeper to some sales training and phone customer service courses.

Takeaways and Tips:

  • Analyze your phone skills, if you need help, there are some great books out there with suggestions and tips, I recommend Dale Carnegie courses and Toastmasters. It will also improve your in person sales.
  • Do some role playing, find a friend and work out some potential guest phone calls, write down what you would typically answer and improve on it. Practice, practice, practice until it becomes second nature.
  • Don’t miss the opportunity to upsell. Keep a cheat sheet by the phone, don’t be afraid to suggest add-ons.
  • Keep a calendar of local events by the phone, when I called to enquire about a reunion booking, Inn One reeled off a half a dozen local events that would be going on in the area for the time period I was requesting and had a bunch of suggestions of local places that would be good for group activities. Inn Two: told me of a couple of local things to do but didn’t go out of her way to suggest additional things.
  • Be very familiar with local businesses, when I called about the bike booking, I asked about restaurants and Inn One had some great suggestions. Inn Two told me how far away some of them were.
  • Be personal, don’t be afraid to dig for information.
  • Smile, people CAN hear it on the other end of the phone.
  • Listen, what exactly is your potential guest asking for? Be sure to answer their questions, all of them.
  • Don’t let the guest get away, if possible obtain contact information from them, if they don’t call back, call them back and ask why. Was it rates? Was it something you said or didn’t say? Did they call some other B&B and they roped them in? Let every escaped guest be a learning experience, you would be amazed what kind of information you can gain this way.
  • Don’t let your website be your only selling point, you can have the most well designed informational website in the world but if you need help with your phone interactions you WILL lose sales. If you have staff or are a couple running the B&B, make sure everyone is trained properly on phone etiquette and phone sales.  And SMILE!

About Chef Forfeng

Innkeeping Tip and Tricks: Please check out some marketing ideas for Inns and B&Bs, Blogging ideas, Facebook Tips and Social Media Tutorials https://chefforfeng.wordpress.com/marketing-for-lodging-resources/
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5 Responses to A tale of two Inns and the importance of good phone sales skills

  1. Mare says:

    Heather, this was a great article – I’ve been overwhelmed and too busy lately, and I’m the one answering the phone! I know I have not been my best, and this just reminds me to get my ACT together and do better.. Thanks for posting this.. we all have a thing or two to learn and learn again, if need be! Mare

  2. This is a well written article that really conveys the customer service message. In the UK we have a slightly different culture so the actual greeting words used might differ, but the point is identical – make your customer feel valued and listened to (so listen!). Tailor what you say to what she or he is saying. Add value. Don’t be bland or corporate in the way you speak (this is where the independents can forge ahead in getting business). Just be nice and helpful?

    Gilly

  3. Wonderful presentation on what should and should not be done when answering the phone at a bed and breakfast. We try and teach our students these exact same points when they take our Innkeeping or Interim Innkeeping classes.

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