The benefits of an outsourced inbound central reservation office

Consider your reservations center for a minute. Who answers booking requests during lunch breaks, on weekends or after hours? Does a call to reservations go to voicemail? In peak hours, do inbound requests roll over to the front desk, where telephone calls interrupt guest service activity? Or, does a reservations call ever go on “hold,” pushing guests determined to stay with you to their favorite OTA to make their booking, or — heaven forbid — to a competitor? And, what does a poor reservations call say about your guest-service level?

All of these scenarios are real. Their impact on revenue generation is substantial. That’s why I sought out John Smallwood, chief executive officer of Travel Outlook, to discuss the benefits of an outsourced inbound central reservation office (CRO).

When it comes to phoned-in hotel bookings, a national or multinational chain can rely on the scale of their corporate team to fill a personnel gap at one location or another. For independents and small chains, however, employing an external CRO can meet these same needs without incurring additional costs from building internal staff. This conceit permeates most outsourced operations, call center or not.

But rather than just serving as makeshift filler, Travel Outlook promises to seamlessly fulfill booking duties on par or even better than current reservation teams. The company operates on a commission structure for consumed rooms only — no reservation, no cost to you. It’s this rate guarantee, which pledges to achieve the same ADR or higher, that elevates them above mere cost saver. Moreover, John purports that for most of Travel Outlook’s clients, the conversion of qualified reservation calls to revenue typically exceeds 70%. In the end, you save on employee costs while gaining on increased ADR and occupancy.

This feat is accomplished through rigorous training and hiring the best agents available. John seeks hotel professionals with past experience in customer service to train as call-center agents, not the other way around. Due to the virtual nature of Travel Outlook’s system, agents are often in the same cities as client hotels — a key component in building rapport during a sale and offering further recommendations. John has even hired service reps to answer reservation calls for the hotels they were previously working for!

Prior hospitality experience ensures that all agents have a better understanding of what guests want, but this is no proxy for extensive training on a client’s specific operations and brand positioning. Travel Outlook claims its own proprietary proactive sales system where all trainees must achieve top marks before moving to the phone. The company also teaches agents how to use each hotel’s property management system (PMS), providing extra cost savings on GDS commissions and other pass-though fees. From there, both live call shadowing with a supervisor and constant communication with the property act as strong quality-control measures.

What I find to be the greatest benefit is how this type of outsourcing can positively impact guest services. It’s often not economically feasible for a hotel to hire enough in-house reservations agents to answer every single call that rings in, to not put any callers on hold and to spend the time needed to sell each customer using a defined multi-step sales process unique to the hotel. Inbound CROs have that luxury and can take the time to close more sales. Aside from this monetary advantage, you’re not bogging down the front desk — the hub of your hotel — with rolling reservation calls.

Hence, with an inbound CRO, your front desk clerks can focus entirely on the concerns of present guests, both those phoning in from their rooms and those physically in the lobby. It’s this focused attention that will improve the overall guest experience, bolstering your online reviews, positive word of mouth and customer loyalty.

Another more subtle benefit comes through Travel Outlook’s electronic call recording. First, this acts as another quality-control measure by allowing hotel managers to assess the sales process for themselves. More significantly, professional tracking can glean critical marketing data that would otherwise go unnoticed.

In this new world where every dollar counts, an inbound CRO is definitely a viable form of outsourcing for small to midsized hospitality operators.