Renaissance Cruises Rides Wave of Growth and Invests in New Monitoring System

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Riding the wave of a booming economy and increased interest in ship travel, Renaissance Cruises, Fort Lauderdale, FL, is restructuring its reservations call center seeking to impress potential vacationers with kid gloves and hassle-free service even before they step aboard one of the company's luxury liners.


The move follows the company's launch of CruiseTour, an all-inclusive cruise fare that includes airfare and hotel accommodations in cities where passengers embark and disembark. Renaissance invested in Dictaphone's Insight call monitoring system so that just as CruiseTour takes off, the call center's customers reservations service also excels, said Carole Pennington, manager of training and performance improvement for Renaissance. "We want customers to feel happy that they called Renaissance, receiving service above and beyond expectations."


"We have improved our call-to-booking rate dramatically [with Insight]," said Pennington. The company, however, would not disclose the amount.


But even more remarkable is the sharp increase in retention rate of reps, said Pennington. "We feel that when the customers are happy about the service, the experience here [for the reps] is a good one. The attrition rate is minimal."


The center takes about 12,000 calls a week from travel agencies and prospective passengers who call the company's toll-free number. Calls are answered by one of 50 representatives, up from five people who staffed the phones in 1993. The center is expected to grow to about 75 reps by the end of the year.


Before they go out onto the floor, reps go through extensive training. They learn how to master the call center's reservation and reference system, based on an AS400 together with a Lotus Notes database system that houses all of the informational pieces. If reps need to look up the temperature of a particular city, it is all in the database. Reps also receive training to become familiar with the cruise ships, their various destinations and happenings within the industry.


"Every day there is something new in the travel industry that needs to be addressed," said Pennington. News flashes (paper format and e-mail) are distributed regularly.


Four call center supervisors and two performance improvement agents routinely monitor a rep's calls. The Insight system, which was installed last year, automatically records the calls, both the voice conversation and the rep's data screens, based on a pre-set schedule. Supervisors then go back and review the calls from their own PCs.


The ability to follow a rep's data screens and conversation at the same time was key in Renaissance's decision to buy the Dictaphone system, according to Pennington. Most monitoring systems either do one or the other, she said. Being able to track a rep's ability to maneuver efficiently through the system is a key coaching tool. It also helps the call center identify system problems and bottlenecks.


Before using the automated monitoring system, the call center used its phone system to silently observe reps' calls.


"Our supervisors would listen to calls and try to write down as much of the call as they could," said Regina Davidson, reservations supervisor. "You had to depend on the person's listening and note-taking skills." She said supervisors could easily miss something. The supervisors would then go over the call with the rep as soon as possible while still fresh in the rep's memory.


Without a recording of the call, reps and supervisors could get into a "he said/she said" type of situation. "It's very subjective," Davidson said. "When you put a recording into it, they can listen to their own voice and it becomes very objective."


Where supervisors used to score reps using manual, hand-written forms, they now have flexible, electronic forms built into their automated monitoring system. They can score reps' calls as they are playing them back, pausing and repeating parts of the call and filling in segments of the form as they go along. Different sections on the form relate to different aspects of the reps' call-handling performance, like opening and closing skills, sales skills, inclusions (did the rep tell the customer what was included in the cruise?), exclusions (what was not included?), and an advertisement section (did the rep advise the caller on policies and procedures and provide the financial information the customer needed to make a decision?).


Also included in the form is the ability to assess more subjective, service-oriented skills - like the reps' ability to listen, ask questions, provide accurate information and check for understanding throughout the call.


Reps are coached on softer skills, as well, like tone of voice, use of jargon and impression left with the caller.


"We can identify the areas that we are excelling in and the areas we need to improve in," Pennington said. "We listen via Insight, evaluate and then we coach. It is in the coaching that we improve the service."
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