Reservationists Are Unsung Hospitality Heroes

Sometimes we forget the power of a real, live, human salesperson. Jodi Tower, a senior reservation sales agent for FRHI Hotels & Resorts, dishes on her job at the Global Reservation Center.

With so much attention on digital sales channels, we sometimes forget the power of a good salesperson, specifically a reservationist. In an attempt to elucidate more about this crucial position, I sought out Jodi Tower, a senior reservation sales agent for FRHI Hotels & Resorts.

For those unfamiliar with FRHI, it is a Toronto-based hotel management company that supervises the Fairmont, Raffles and Swissôtel brands with more than 110 properties in 32 countries.

With experience in human resources and marketing, Tower works out of FRHI’s Global Reservation Center in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, with 300 other specialists who deal primarily with inbound telephone calls but all loyalty program services and technical support issues. The GRC offers services in English, French, Spanish and Arabic on a 24/7 basis.

Larry Mogelonsky: What makes for a great reservationist?

Jodi Tower: “A great reservation sales agent needs to have exceptional listening skills in order to anticipate what the guests’ needs are before they know what they want. This is complemented by superior product knowledge, which gives us credibility, establishing a trusting relationship and enabling relevant recommendations to be made to the guest. Because we do not actually see the guest—limiting the two-way communication process—listening with your ‘third ear’ helps our guests realize how valued they are to our company.”

Mogelonsky: What is the training regimen?

Tower: “After the initial three-week training period, ongoing support is provided on a daily basis by sales leadership, reservation sales agents (in the form of peer-to-peer mentoring) and customer service teams. Additionally, we have a quality monitoring team that reviews our calls. Feedback from these four groups ensures that we have the tools and knowledge to be successful in our role. A cardinal rule to follow is that today’s guests want the straight facts, and they want to deal with sales professionals who are service-orientated and concerned about meeting their needs.”

Mogelonsky: How do you learn about the properties?

Tower: “We have an internal website that contains all the pertinent information required to close the sale on a call. This is supplemented by each hotel region coming to the center on an annual basis to present what is new and exciting at their property and destination. It keeps the passion alive for us. Another component that we participate in is S.I.T.E. trips (Selling It Through Education). This program enables us to travel as a group of 10-15 agents at a time out into the field to visit various regions. Once there, the hotels provide us with tours of the hotel and city as well as an authentically local activity such as a ride on the London Eye or zip lining in Whistler.”

Mogelonsky: When listening to a customer, what clues help shape your suggestions?

Tower: “Tone plays a big factor as this helps in determining the guest’s interest. I also need to listen for pauses and understand the silences as this might mean a customer is contemplating, is not interested, wasn’t listening or doesn’t understand the offer. Asking a clarifying question at this point brings us back and allows me to move forward. Being engaged reinforces the relationship and trust that is developed on the call. A person can sense interest during the process.”

Mogelonsky: Do you have a favorite period to sell?

Tower: “Christmas is my favorite because many of our properties create such a magical holiday season atmosphere that I love sharing with customers. From the Plaza Hotel with their specially selected designer Christmas tree in the lobby to the Fairmont San Francisco and the larger-than-life gingerbread house complete with a computer to send a letter to Santa. All of our hotels embrace the season with something special.”

Mogelonsky: What kind of promotion are you most passionate about?

Tower: “My favorite promotion ties in with my favorite period—Christmas in November at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. They have been running this promotion for so long, over 20 years, that our clientele have passed from mother and daughter to grandmother and granddaughter.”

Mogelonsky: What is worst experience on a call?

Tower: “The worst experience I face is when I cannot provide the guest with what they are looking for. I really and truly become disappointed.”

Mogelonsky: What advice do you have for managers to help them find and retain the best reservationists?

Tower: “Creating an engaging and fun work environment that welcomes a competitive spirit, collaboration and creativity is important. Managers need to lead through clear expectations and by example. Here at the GRC, we are encouraged to bring our individual talents to the table and use them to reach our common goals.”

Mogelonsky: Could a hotel GM survive a full shift at the reservation center?

Tower: “Certainly with the proper training and talents they could. At the same time, I have had the opportunity to have general managers and vice presidents listen to my sales calls, and they seem to approach this activity from a totally different perspective. Based on my personal experience, they have a tendency to think about the hotel operations processes. Some may find it difficult as I completely focus on selling and setting the stage for a positive guest experience at whatever hotel the guest is visiting. I must say that they are always in awe with the amount of information I have to sift through and the level of multitasking that takes place—all while carrying on a natural conversation with the guest.”

(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky on Hotel News Now on November 20, 2014)