What a crazy couple of months it has been for our vacation rental reservations sales staff, who were on the very frontlines of the pandemic.
First, they fielded a tidal wave of calls from panicked guests and had difficult conversations regarding cancellation penalties and the fine print of travel insurance. Second, came the flood of digital correspondence from those who booked via third-party channels, along with requests for documentation from finance managers responding to chargebacks. Third, came the eye of the storm, as everything grew eerily quiet after the initial chaos. This quiet phase will not—and in some destinations, did not—last for long. Now wise vacation rental (VR) managers and supervisors are preparing their reservations team for what is going to happen next.
Like the VR and overall lodging industry, activity at my company, Kennedy Training Network, Inc., has mirrored the same trends. We used our own “quiet phase” to develop new training content, which for now will be delivered via private webcam to our clients’ reservations teams, and to update our mystery shopping criteria and call coaching processes. Following are some of our reservations sales tips you can use for in-house training, but first let’s look at what comes next.
Although many are out of work, a huge chunk of the workforce is for the first time experiencing the work-from-home model, while simultaneously coaching their children through distance learning technology and attempting to tutor them. Workers in essential services are racking up overtime, especially superheroes in the medical profession and in biotech research, first responders, and those working in other essential services such as the food supply chain. Many people are still working in jobs that are completely unaffected, going home after work to do their part to flatten the curve, and missing social connections.
One thing most of us have right now is extra downtime at home. Pretty soon we will have cleaned out all our closets, washed the outside windows, walked our dogs to exhaustion, and grown tired of binge-watching Netflix. As a flattening curve brings hope for the end of social distancing, more and more people will feel safe enough to engage in what I call “vacation daydreaming.”
The trickle of inquiries will start to grow into a stream and soon thereafter a flood. However, that’s not to say that things will return to “normal” for vacation rental reservations sales. Following are changes I anticipate along with training tips from our KTN training web coaching.
“Voice” Returns with a Vengeance
There are several reasons I predict an uptick in voice reservations calls. First, those who have previously booked via OTAs and other third-party platforms have either experienced firsthand what this means during times of crisis, or they have read stories and heard firsthand accounts of the challenges guests have experienced. Also, guests are going to be looking for personalized reassurances about deposit, cancellation, and refund policies. They will be asking pointed questions about cleaning and disinfection procedures.
“Dialing for Deals”
As I have always heard from our reservations sales workshop participants, many of those who called previously were looking to negotiate special rates or to get fees waived.
Given that it’s no secret that the travel industry is going through hard times, we can be assured that what I call the “value-driven deal seekers” will be dialing for deals more than ever. Those who don’t call will instead shoot over blunt “let’s make a deal” emails like “I see the rental is $X for this week; can you check with the owner and see if they will take $Y?”
Surely, the traditional sales training techniques that the VR industry has embraced will be important, such as connecting with the caller (or email sender), asking investigative questions, and using a storytelling approach. However, it’s a great time to revisit some of our more advanced sales techniques.
Use a “Rate Framing” Approach
When offering any new quotes for any rates other than the very peak-demand rates, mention the “normal” or “prevailing” rate as a reference point. Marketing experts often call this “slash pricing,” such as used on OTAs and online retailers.
Your agents’ ability to do this skillfully will vary greatly according to your property management system and your rate strategy. Ideally, they can reference a specific high-demand rate for what the same vacation home goes for during holiday periods. Here’s an example:
“Okay, in checking your selected home for those dates . . . the prevailing/normal rate is $X, but for your dates I’m able to offer you a rate of $Y.”
Position Rates as Being a Surprisingly Good Value
Even if your agents are not able to easily see high-demand rates to reference, they can at least express that the rates quoted reflect value pricing. Here’s an example:
“In checking . . . Wow! At this time I’m showing the rate of . . .”
Creating Urgency—More Important Than Ever
One unique challenge in the VR niche of lodging versus KTN’s traditional resort clients is that availability is completely transparent. In other words, when prospective guests search specific dates, they can see firsthand specifically how many homes remain open.
Not only will this fuel the deal seekers, but it will also give prospective guests a good reason to put off their decision and perhaps wait for a better deal to surface. Here are some examples of how to create urgency when you are in fact “wide open.”
“Yes, as you said, right now I am showing lots of availability, but it sounds like this home is a perfect match for your family vacation.”
“Yes, we do have homes open, but I have to say we have been recently getting a lot more calls, as people seem ready to travel again.”
Remove Barriers to Booking Now
Most companies have relaxed deposit and/or cancellation policies. Be sure to coach your agents on how to explain this. First, they should create urgency such as indicated above, and then reduce commitment barriers by saying:
“With our relaxed cancellation policy, I can lock this in for you now; if the situation changes you can always cancel before X date for a full refund of the deposit, less only a booking fee of Y.”
Personalize Follow-Up on Inquiries
Despite one’s best efforts, many of our vacation daydreamers are simply not going to be ready to commit just yet. Therefore, it’s more important than ever before to obtain the caller’s contact information, send a personalized follow-up note, and then reach out again a couple of times down the road, alternating between phone calls and emails.
We hope that the above ideas are helpful for your in-house training. Stay tuned to www.KennedyTrainingNetwork.com as we continue to develop and launch new live web-training content in response to the VR industry’s reservations sales training needs. Certainly, your reservations sales agents need a break after the stress of the cancellation calls, and your company might also be looking to conserve cash on payroll and reduced hours. Yet, it is wise to also use this time to upskill your reservations team and get ready for the rebound.