When vacation rental (VR) managers walk down the aisles of industry trade shows, such as VRM Intel Live! or VRMA’s annual and regional conferences, they are sure to encounter vendor partners offering the very latest in innovative, technology-based tools that promise to improve and enhance guest experiences and, in most cases, reduce labor costs.
Certainly, smart VR managers will take the time to fully investigate all offerings—due diligence that is recommended by the providers themselves as well as by me. Long-established processes and procedures for the VR industry, as for virtually all others in today’s world, are being constantly disrupted. Therefore, embracing change is absolutely necessary for your company’s long-term viability.
However, simply using the latest technology-based tools in the same way your competitors are using them will not help you gain market share of either renters or owners. In fact, if not used correctly, many of these “solutions” may inadvertently degrade the relationship between the guest and the rental company by eliminating key touch points in the guest and owner experience. As a result, many of today’s VR guests don’t even know which company they actually rented from last time, and owners feel little if any connection to them.
Yes, to stay abreast of the competition one needs to embrace the latest technologies, but it’s more important to use these tools in different ways to stand out from competitors. When considering innovations, think about how each one can be used to personalize the sales and service experience, not just how the tool can reduce labor costs and increase staff efficiencies.
Here are some training tips for using high-tech solutions for old-school relationship building:
1. Use an auto-attendant to answer phone calls after hours and during peak times, but have sales calls answered by a live person whenever possible.
Cross-train all office staff to field incoming calls, answer basic questions, and properly transfer calls (using “call announce,” not “call screening”) when it’s necessary to send the caller to a rental agent.
2. Have an easy-to-use online booking tool on your website, but encourage phone calls by posting your number prominently on the home page and adding copy that says “Call our in-house reservations specialists right now.”
Let callers know they are not going to reach an untrained agent at some giant call center. Make sure the phone number is easy to find when searching on a mobile device. Update on-hold messaging to reinforce the point that callers are holding for a knowledgeable, in-house staffer. Update after-hours messaging to commit to a quick callback the next day.
3. Offer virtual and 3-D floor plans, but train agents to “narrate the pictures.”
Often, guests who are already looking at images online while on the phone will ask your agents for their opinions. Without training, most agents will simply restate facts about the accommodation, such as square footage, number of bedrooms, and a list of amenities. Instead, train them to endorse the options callers are inquiring about (assuming it matches their stated preferences) and/or to use needs-based recommendations and suggestions. When speaking with callers who have not yet viewed images of recommended options, agents often coach callers on how to find a home and view images at the website. Instead, train agents to use screen-sharing tools such as join.me (which is free to use), and then they can easily show callers the images they want to present.
4. Offer online chat, but when the chat is a booking inquiry, train agents to redirect guests to the voice channel if possible.
When conducting on-site training, I often observe agents who field sales inquiries solely via chat, which wastes time and is not personalized. Instead, train them to say, “That’s a great question. Are you by chance by a phone so I can give you a quick call?” Even better, be among the first to embrace video chat! (Skype and FaceTime already offer this option.)
5. For e-mail inquiries, use an auto-responder, but train your agents to follow up proactively with personalized responses.
If a phone number is provided, train them to call the prospective guest and say, “I just had a few questions to help you find the best options.” Otherwise, they should at minimum send a personalized e-mail response. Rather than just using a template, they should start with a few sentences to paraphrase and restate details regarding the sender’s plans if they are described in the inquiry. Even better, if you really want to stand out from all your competitors who may receive a similar inquiry from the same prospect, train your agents to respond with personalized video emails. (Email me to request a sample and link to the only vendor who provides this.)
6. Use a call- and lead-tracking tool, but train your agents to use an investigative sales process to uncover “the story” behind the caller’s vacation plans and to document these details in the comments field of the lead (if not booked) or in the PMS system if booked.
Then train agents to paraphrase and restate such details in their sales follow-up messages and when welcoming guests.
7. Use keyless entry and remote check-in if they fit your operational model, but welcome guests personally.
Make sure your staff members take the time before they call to read the guest history in the reservation and to note any details regarding the guest’s vacation. Then they can use what they know in a personalized greeting or at least leave a personalized voice mail. (Example: “Greetings, Mr. Rodriguez! Just wanted to call to make sure your kids’ first trip to the beach is off to a great start this summer!”) It’s always a good idea to send a locally themed, locally sourced welcome amenity, especially if you are using the remote check-in model to help guests connect with your brand.