By Doug Kennedy When you listen to reservations sales calls these days it is easy to recognize that most of the conversation is focused exclusively on the room or accommodation. What I hear most often is sales agents who are obtaining the caller’s dates, number of people, and number of beds needed. They click enter and then read back the list of room types and rates. Little or no information is offered about the overall experience of being a guest. My regular readers know I refer to this as “website search support.” Ironically, today’s callers are more likely than ever to have already been online prior to calling; many are online while on the phone. Chances are they have already seen the same list of room types and rates the agent is listing. Instead, today’s reservations and front desk agents should be first trying to find out more about the caller’s travel plans and “the story” behind their call. Agents should be trying to find out if the caller is interested in details about the overall experience by asking a question like this: “As I’m checking our rates for your dates, are there any questions I can answer for you about our location or amenities and services?” This question will help unmask the caller and prompt them to reveal the question or concern that caused them to call instead of just booking online. Your agents will then find out what the caller needs to know. Now all they will need is a sales model that will help them understand the importance of conveying the value of the overall experience of being a guest. When I was designing a new hotel reservations program recently, it occurred to me that a pyramid was the perfect sales model for what we need to do to establish value during reservations conversations. Many of us think of a pyramid simply as a smooth geometric shape. Yet the ancient pyramids had steps and were built to be climbed. Although I’ve not yet been to Egypt, I actually did have had a chance to climb the steps a pyramid years ago when I was visiting the Mayan Pyramids near Cancun, Mexico. Although I did not make it to the top that time, I would love to try again one day! Similarly, helping callers walk up the steps of the Hotel Value Pyramid will assist them in their quest for a place to stay, and will assist us in our quest to grab more bookings right now versus letting them go back online, possibly to someone else’s website. There are three levels on the Hotel Value Pyramid. The foundation, which is the destination and location; the mid-level, which includes the amenities, services, and outlets in or nearby the hotel, and finally, the accommodation itself to top-off the pyramid. To get the most calls converted into confirmations, just be sure to establish value at all levels before topping off the pyramid with a price tag. Unfortunately, too many reservations agents these days build upside down value pyramids. These are the agents who start off by checking dates and quoting rates. When and only when callers ask about the location, amenities, and services do they offer other such details. Their value pyramids easily topple over with the slightest objection. Instead, if the value of each level is established before rates are quoted, chances are less that an objection will occur and if so, the odds are higher that it can be overcome. The amount of information you potentially need to provide about each level will vary according not only to the “call story” you are fielding, but also to the type of accommodations and experiences you are selling. For example, many mid-market hotels do not have restaurants, bars, nor recreational activities to talk about. Instead, such services are located nearby in the area. Other properties, such as full service hotels and luxury resorts, have a multitude of services that could be of interest. Similarly, some hotels have only a few room categories, while resorts and vacation home rental companies have a multitude of options. So the amount of information you provide at each level of the Hotel Value Pyramid will vary according to what you are selling, and according to who you are selling it to. Again, if you ask callers if they have questions about the location or amenities and services before quoting rates, most of them will tell where they are at in their decision making process and what components of the value pyramid you need to fill in before you mention a price. Some call stories are no doubt easier to sell to than others. For example, most regular, repeat guests just want to talk about the rooms and rates. They have stayed before and know about the amenities and services; that’s why they are coming back. They already know about the location and area too. For these callers you need only focus on the top level. Other callers might be familiar with your location, but they have questions about the hotel, resort or community amenities, services, dining options, as well as the room or suite. For these callers you can start from the mid-level and build up from there. Still other callers have never been to the area before, and in these cases you have to build the Hotel Value Pyramid from the ground-up. After training your staff on how to identify where callers are at in their decision making process by asking the right questions, they will then know how to determine what guests want and need to hear. By training them on the concept of the Hotel Value Pyramid, they will be better prepared to go beyond just quoting rates and to instead convey the overall value of the experience of being a guest at your hotel or resort. Doug Kennedy, president of the Kennedy Training Network, has been a fixture on the hospitality and tourism industry conference circuit since 1989, having presented over 1,000 conference keynote sessions, educational seminars, and on-premise training workshops for diverse audiences representing every segment of the lodging industry.