A Day in the Life of Our Reservations Team
It’s 5:30 pm and John Scaggs is just getting off a call with a customer. It’s a surprisingly busy afternoon for late August, but the assistant manager of reservations is unfazed. “We get a lot of a last-minute reservations for fall trips at this time of year,” he says. After five and a half years working the call centers and processing reservations for ATA’s client organizations, John can pinpoint when his team can expect an influx of calls. October and February, for instance, are busy booking months, and just before 5 pm on Fridays, the phones seem to ring off the hook.
If you’re picturing circuit boards lit up with customers on hold, or frustrated future travelers caught in a tangle of automated voices and choices, you’d be wrong. “Our phone tree is short,” says John. “Ideally within seconds, you have a human being picking up who won’t transfer you out to another department.” They’ll create or consult the traveler record, answer questions, give out their extension, and follow up. “Continuity is there.”
When we operate your call center, we become you.
John’s team handles all manner of situations and questions, everything from “Do I need a visa?” to “Do the beds in my hotel face East?” He points out that his team rarely has to sell an itinerary: “marketing does its job,” he says, and callers tend to know want they want. “They need us to clear the hurdles and make it happen.”
To run a call center, the reservations specialists need to be fully versed in all the travel programs the client organization offers, including the destinations and hotels featured and the study leader or expert who lead the trips. When they pick up the phone, they are representatives of the brand: they introduce themselves with the organization’s name, and they send emails from its domain.
So how do you train to become your client? “It takes time,” says John. It also takes comprehensive briefings that cover the client’s website, database, and reservation protocol as well as each travel program’s itinerary and potential clientele. “We learn the most from the guests themselves—by talking to them we get to know the personality of the brand.”
It makes a difference. “There have been many times when I’ve been able to say, ‘Here’s what we’re offering for this price: what’s included, what you’ll see and do. And here’s what makes it different: our expert, the educational aspect. You can’t do this on your own.’” It’s gratifying to be able to bring a caller from lukewarm to “Yes, I’m going to sign up.”
Traditionally, after the reservation team handles inquiries and reservations, they hand off the new booking to the guest services department. They speed-date, goes the office joke, while the guest services staff courts the traveler until departure. But the reservation team’s responsibilities don’t end there. They manage inventory for all clients, coordinate with a client’s other tour operators to maintain brand consistency, and maintain a range of client databases to make sure traveler records are up to date. And while the team is in charge of acting as a call center for a number of our U.S.-based client organizations, it also represents the call center for some international travel brands.
Life on the reservations team is fast-paced and dynamic, and while multi-tasking and great oral and written communications skills are critical for doing the job, a sense of humor keeps you going. The rewards often come when talking to travelers. John remembers a World War II veteran who tried to book a D-Day trip on the 70th anniversary but was 30 down on the wait list. When a spot miraculously opened up, John got to make the call and confirm his reservation. And occasionally a couple will call to book an anniversary trip, and they’re so excited they’re talking over each other. The enthusiasm can be contagious. After all, “these are life-changing experiences,” says John, “We’re playing a part in this transformation.”