Ever wondered how much business you might be losing because of miscommunication over the phone? It’s a lot! … and I have proof.

A friend of mine was calling a hotel to book a table recently.  Her call was unsuccessful, primarily because the staff hung up on her half way through the call. She was wondering why  and suspecting I knew the reason, I told her – “They probably didn’t understand you”.

Hotelintel.co subsequently had a brilliant idea (in your best interest).  We decided to check and see if your hotel is losing potential customers just because your operators can’t understand English properly. We made ten random calls to ten 5-star properties in Bangkok using standard language, natural rhythms of speech and requests.

Here are the top 5 things that we discovered from our calls (Please note that all conversations were recorded but will only be used for our internal purposes):

1.“Call Back Later”

One hotel said “Please call back tomorrow because we are closed today”, while other hotels asked us to call back the next day or after the weekend because there are no reservations staff working. For a five star international hotel, this is really unacceptable.  Guests could be contacting the hotel from different time zones around the world and the hotels should be ready to take the calls.  Especially given that now there is a big effort by hotels to try and get more direct bookings rather than via OTA’s, one would think that hotels would be doing all they can to maximise the bookings that they get directly and not risk having them book elsewhere – or even worse, stay elsewhere.

2.“Do You Know Who I Am?”

Nobody asked for any names or emails or other contact details.  In a normal sales call, the customer’s name and contact details should be one of the first things that the operator gets at the beginning of the call to both build rapport, as well as ensure that they can contact them back should the phone line drop – and also to follow up on sales after the call.  Not getting a name or contact details is almost guaranteed to throw potential sales down the drain.

3. “Can You Spell That Again?”

There were no staff who understood the standard NATO ‘Alpha, Bravo, Charlie’ spelling system. Instead, if this system was used with them, the operator struggled to understand resulting in something that resembled a sketch out of Monty Python. In Thailand, there are some pseudo ‘standard’ words that were being used like ‘A Apple’, ‘B Boy’ and ‘T Thailand’. For most other letters however, it was a game of random hit and miss, struggling for words that might be mutually intelligible. At one stage we almost found ourselves saying ‘U – Youtube’.

Even when the common words are known, there is then the issue of the ‘rhythm’ of words.  If a native speaker said the word ‘Bravo’ like they would naturally in English, confusion might follow with a Thai speaker of English because Thai English speakers will often accent the final syllable of a 2 syllable English word.  This is compounded as there is no such sound as ‘v’ in Thai, nor are there consonant clusters like ‘br’. In the case of ‘Bravo’, a Thai might say ‘BaWOH’. If the speaker says ‘BRA-vo’, it might not match what was anticipated by the operator and communication breaks down.

4.“Please Hold … Sorry I Can’t Help You”

Transfers were a plenty and they usually took forever.  In some instances, you could hear them speaking in the background trying to find someone who was capable and willing to take a call in English.  In several cases, the final result after several rounds of transfers and even being hung up on, was being transferred to a global call centre. Those ‘global’ operators often had very heavily accented English and knew nothing of the property or facilities that we were enquiring about. It was a very ‘generic’ and frustrating experience. 

5. “Sell Me What You’ve Got”

Apart from one hotel from the ten, not a single operator tried to close the sale let alone up-sell.  Ample opportunities were given to upsell, sell loyalty programmes, added breakfasts, extensions of stay or Christmas / New Years promotions.  Instead, the calls more resembled trying to pull teeth getting information from the sales reps (operators).  They generally only handed over individual pieces of information as they were enquired about and there was little to no initiative taken to anticipate the caller’s needs and ‘sell’ to them.  None of the calls tried to take a credit card number and close the final sale.

Of course, there were some calls that could be called ‘okay’.  They could understand everything that was being said and so could we, but in our opinion that should be the base line for someone doing sales over the telephone.  As a hotel, your operators are the front line for sales and service and really should be trained to do so. We are sorry to say that we don’t have a winner yet on this one and we won’t be naming names.  We hope that this exercise will at least motivate hotel owners and operators to start to look at their SOP’s and training, and also find a way to ensure that your teams are the superstars you hope for over the phone no matter who is calling.