H & A Report, Volume III, Issue 3 July/August 1995

A general manager walks past his Reservation Office.  Every reservation clerk is busy taking telephone calls and every reservation line has a call on hold.  Is this:

  • A.  Good News?
  • B.  Bad News?

There was time when “A” was the accepted answer.  Today, however, when callers want immediate responses and competition is fierce, the correct answer is “B – Bad News”!  Long telephone holds result in calls to the competition and posibly permanent loss of guests.

Efficiently responding to every call is a crucial step in the successful handling of reservation inquiries.  As such, it is the subject of constant examination and adjustment by hotel chain central reservation executives.  Their methods and tools have considerable relevance for property management staff.

Hotel chain central reservation offices (CROs) are usually equipped with sophisticated telephone call management equipment to route and report on telephone traffic.  Using the detailed activity reports these systems deliver, CRO staff can determine the service levels they are providing at that moment, and that they have provided for the past hour, shift or day, or longer.  Further, they can compare actual performance against the corporate goals.

Like computer systems, generally these call management systems, called Automatic Call Distributors or ACDs, are falling in price as their functionality and ease of use increase.  Today, scaled-down versions of ACDs, as well as simpler call routers called Call Sequencers, are installed in a growing number of hotel CROs and provide the opportunity to print many of the same reports generated by full ACDs.

Call Center executives focus on several primary performance indicators, shown on their ACD reports, as they manage call traffic.  In addition to applicability at properties equipped with an ACD or call sequencer, an awareness of those tools and the concepts they represent can significantly improve management of a totally manual reservation office.

The primary call handling indicators monitored in call centers are:  blocked calls, abandoned calls, hold time before answer, talk time and conversion rate.

Blocked Calls Calls lost due to lack of incoming lines.
Abandoned Calls Callers who hang up before their on-hold call was answered.
Hold Time Before Answer Average time calls are on-hold before being answered.
Talk Time Length of telephone call.
Conversion Rate Percent of calls which result in a booking.


Blocked calls data is available only from the local telephone company.  While it can be obtained by subscription on a continuing basis, it is frequently available free of charge for a limited period.  Abandoned calls can only be determined if a call sequencer or an ACD has been installed.  The remaining three are each relevant and observable in manual and automated situations.

Mid- and upper-tier companies target a maximum average Hold Time Before Answer of 20 seconds, based on an hour’s volume.  They base this on a portion of total call volume, to derive the commitment to answer 80-85 percent of all calls within 20 seconds.


The appropriate Talk Time for reservation conversations varies according to several factors, including the tier of lodging product and the complexity of the rate structure, special restrictions in effect such as deposit requirement and the complexity of the product.  Leisure oriented properties tend to have longer talk times, for example.

Mid-tier talk times often average 140-160 seconds, while those for upper tier properties are sometimes 60-90 seconds longer.  The goal is to have a Talk Time consistent with the volume of information, including the sales-oriented product description, to be related to the caller.  A too-short talk time is as great a concern as too-long talk time, often indicating the lack of sales and upselling activity during the booking conversation.


Conversion Rates vary widely over short periods but exhibit a consistency over the long term.  Sold out dates resulting in many denials are balanced long term by slow periods when calls are much more likely to be converted to bookings.  Targets of 25 to 30 percent for conversions, with variances for individual property circumstances, serve as a reasonable target for a preliminary examination of reservation office efficiency.

Examination of any hotel reservation office using these measurement tools will provide, in manual surroundings as well as systems-equipped offices, an indication of current performance and a base line for comparisons with future results.

In our next article we will talk about ways reservation office performance, once examined and measured using these concepts, can be strengthened.