Train your sales and reservations team to show compassion for cancellations

As a hotel sales trainer, it seems very odd to be writing a train-the-trainer article about how to manage cancellations, yet this is absolutely necessary as the lodging industry has been turned upside down temporarily.

Imagine how strange it must be for those who are tasked (and incentivised) for securing revenue are now dealing with a flood of calls and emails about reversing the flow. I’m sure it is time consuming, stressful and heartbreaking, especially when such staff are surely worried about their own job security and health concerns. 

It’s at moments like these when we all need to remember that we are in the hospitality business, not the room or meeting space rental business.  Rather than just stating the cancellation terms, and talking about holding deposits and rescheduling, it is essential that we all show compassion for those who are cancelling. 

For salespeople who sell to the social or wedding markets, this is a lost sale to us but the postponement of a dream for the planner.

For those who sell to meeting planners, many of which are contractors who might also be suffering a loss of income due to this, we need to acknowledge their probable sense of wasted effort and check on their wellbeing.

Regarding the transient market, for traditional hotels with 24-48 hour cancellation policies, cancellation is probably happening online, although some guests will no doubt call in a panic and will notice and appreciate heartfelt compassion. 

Transient cancellation conversations get a lot more complicated when guests have opted for a pre-paid / advance purchase booking, or at destination resorts, or for any guests who have paid an advance deposit that is non-refundable and not covered by trip insurance. 

It seems that most companies have extended ‘apply the amount for a future stay’ option as the airlines have done, and I’m pretty sure that leaders have addressed how to explain whatever procedures are in place at your hotel.

What’s most important though is to train sales and reservations staff to show compassion for the person who is cancelling. 

Remember that the true heart of hospitality is human kindness, especially for strangers.

Certainly, this is a good practice that generates goodwill for the lodging company, but even more important is that it’s simply the right thing to do for our fellow humans we call our guests.

So be sure to remind your sales and reservations staff that besides stating the cancellation, change or refund policies, they should also take a moment to share a personal statement to include two components:

One: A personalised message about how sorry you are to hear that their exciting or important plans have fallen through. Examples:

  • “On a personal note, I know you have put a lot of effort into planning this meeting (or event), and I am so sorry about how it has turned out.”
  • “I’m sure your family must be so disappointed to hear the trip is on hold.”
  • “I’m so sorry to hear your vacation plans have fallen through.”
  • “I can just imagine how disappointing it must be that your trip is cancelled.” 

Two: A brief inquiry about how they are doing personally. This does not require a long chat (or a long paragraph in an email) and we don’t have to be therapists. Just something to pause and share the moment by listening reflexively.  Now if the caller is rushing through the whole conversation, or does not react well to the personalised message recommended above, you can skip this. Otherwise, just take a brief moment to pass on the spirit of hospitality. 

When ending phone conversations, you might start with “Chris, before I let you go…” or when wrapping up emails you might start with “On a personal note…”

  • “…I just wanted to say I wish you and your family the best.”
  • “…We definitely look forward to having your visit in the future.”
  • “…Beyond planning for this meeting/event, I hope you and your family stay safe and healthy, and I look forward to hearing back working with you once we get through this and the plans are rescheduled.

On a final note, as hospitality leaders, while it is important to show compassion for all our staff members right now, be especially sensitive for those who are fielding calls and emails from panicked guests and planners. 

When you check-in with your own sales staff, make sure your only question for them is not “How many bookings did we lose?” or “What other groups cancelled?” 

Be sure to pause and check with them personally. Thank them for working the extra hours and acknowledge just how stressful it is for them to be dealing with panicked people

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