by Doug Kennedy Even those who search and then book exclusively online often call just to reconfirm that the reservation came through. Therefore it is important for hotel marketers to effectively manage their 800 numbers. Here are some tips: - Move beyond having just one “legacy” 800 number. Many hotels still fixate on having one traditional 800 number, which is often a vanity number that allows guests to dial by letters that spell out the hotel name. Yet with mobile searches soon to exceed desktop searches, more guests simply click to call versus dialing anyway. It is better to have several different 800 numbers that can allow you to track calls generated by different channels, such as website, print, paid search, etc… - If you do have a vanity number, be sure to also post the numerical version as some mobile phone keypads no longer show the letters on the keys. - Have a separate 800 number that appears in mobile search ads. One reason why the conversion might appear to be so low from mobile searches is that many guests are simply pressing the number to auto-dial the hotel instead of booking the reservation on their device. By having a separate 800 number just for mobile search ads you can better track the ROI on these channels. - For full service hotels, have separate 800 numbers for revenue generating outlets such as restaurants, spa, golf and/or ski calls. These numbers can bypass the reservations or phone operators and bring callers straight to the person who can assist. Having separate numbers also allows you to track activity. - Avoid having too many 800 numbers. While some hotels are still using only a single 800 number, a few others have so many 800 numbers that it is difficult to manage and track ROI. Generally, having more than a dozen creates information overload. - Post your 800 number prominently on your website. Too many hotels hide their phone numbers in a small font size that is difficult to read at the bottom of the page, or have a “click here” button that you have to press to display the 800 number. Instead, post your 800 number prominently to encourage direct bookings. While there is certainly a cost to field a call versus a website booking, it is still far less than the commission you might have to pay to an OTA or other third party. Also, for some famous “legacy” properties there are what I call “cyber squatters” who will purchase paid advertising listing your hotel name and a prominently displayed 800 number in an effort to syphon off business that they will then intercept and book for you while charging back a travel agent commission. Harness new innovations in 800 number tracking. - These days there are numerous companies that provide detailed tracking of inbound 800 traffic. Most all carriers will tell you information about the geographic origins of calls, which helps for marketing purposes, and the peak times of day and days of week, which helps for staffing. Others will also provide you with a web-based call recording of the actual calls, which provide an excellent tool for training, coaching and also for verifying guest honesty. The costs of inbound 800 access through such providers is not much more than what most hotels are already paying if they are using a traditional phone company. - Still other companies are offering long distance services that integrate with a CRM or lead tracking tool, allowing your inbound reservations and hotel sales department staff to turn calls into leads, attaching the recordings to the customer record and allowing the staff to generate a follow-up action step on their task list. (Contact me directly if you would like more details on companies that are offering this type of upgraded long distance service.) Understand that you own your 800 numbers, not your phone company. One question I frequently hear my clients ask is if they are able to keep their same inbound 800 numbers if they change carriers. Many feel locked-in to their current provider out of a fear of the unknown. According to all of the providers I have spoken to, you can "port over" an 800 number to a new carrier much in the same way you can with your mobile phone number when you change providers. (I recommend checking with the carrier you are switching to for a confirmation on their process.) Some charge a fee, but the ones I recommend do not. When I searched online I found three related articles posted by the FCC with more details. Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry.