With the push for quality and rising expectations of property owners and guests, vacation rental managers are working harder than ever. The job requires managing not only properties but also these elevated expectations. Managers who rethink the way they communicate with their field staff and guests will be able to take on more work, elevate their brand, and provide memorable guest experiences.
Vacation rental management requires fulfilling two main objectives:
- Protection and maintenance of the assets, and
- Generating rental income.
As we all know, generating rental income in the vacation rental industry is a multidisciplinary endeavor. Growing a rental business requires targeted marketing to attract guests and organized operations to deliver an excellent rental experience. The job of property management is a series of operational tasks to ensure the achievement of these objectives: the properties are well-maintained, guest-ready and on-brand, and the needs of guests are met.
These are not the guests of yesteryear who happily brought their own sheets and toiletries for the week. Rather, these guests view vacation rentals as interchangeable with hotels and have high expectations for what the property looks like, its level of cleanliness, and the amenities included. Similarly, guests expect concierge services and speedy resolution for any issues that occur. Success means meeting this growing operational burden and effectively communicating a high level of service to guests and owners. This is the difference between a two-star review and a glowing recommendation and repeat rentals.
Managing service expectations is a demanding task for vacation rental property managers. As noted in HomeAway’s 2019 U.S. Vacation Rental Trends Report, 33 percent of vacation rental managers feel that managing property operations to meet guest expectations is their biggest challenge. This stems from the fact that vacation properties are larger and more unique than those in other hospitality verticals which creates logistical risks and increases the chance of error.
So how can managers communicate effectively with field staff and guests for smoother operations and fewer guest issues?
Internal Workflows and Communication
First, let’s walk through the internal communication flow among staff and service partners. Then, we’ll turn our attention to in-stay guest communication.
Optimizing the workflow starts with clearly defining tasks and communicating assignments in advance. With many moving pieces and a staffing model that’s typically filled with a mix of seasonal and contracted service partners, communicating assignments is a challenge. This often means that the housekeeping schedule is not set until right before a busy weekend turnover, and in many cases, it’s communicated to the team the morning the work needs to get done. By scheduling in advance, team members can accept and confirm that they received their assignments. Your team will be prepared for their work, which is particularly important for service partners and contract cleaners. Leveraging a process for staff to accept or decline an assignment helps ensure that a cleaning doesn’t fall through the cracks and positions the manager to communicate any last-minute adjustments.
With property care assignments scheduled, the manager now needs to communicate exactly what needs to be done. Sounds simple, right? Anyone who’s managed multiple properties is keenly aware that this isn’t a walk in the park. After training personnel to the manager’s quality and brand standards, the manager needs to consider the context and urgency of the task. Is this a back-to-back departure/arrival where the unit needs to be prepped for children or an early check-in? Is an owner coming to the property that requires your team to rehang that off-brand painting that is usually kept in the basement or owner’s closet? Did staff confirm that the tricky skylight is functioning and that the remotes are placed next to the correct TVs? Although these may seem like small details, they make all the difference—particularly because vacation rental guests are more fluidly switching between rentals and hotels (these issues don’t arise in a hotel room).
Communicating exactly what needs to be done for each property becomes more complex when the requests become personalized. The uniqueness of each task exponentially increases, as does the logistical risk. Vacation rental managers can create an environment for success by ensuring that every team member knows what needs to be done with every property task. Investing in getting the work done right, and on-brand, is what differentiates the best property managers in the industry.
This is the reality of property management: the best plans will need adjusting. As work progresses through the day, new issues are reported, and new service requests are received. Active status updates are needed to make these adjustments. Take stock of your property operations workflows, and consider these status updates as part of the team communication.
Guest Communication Experience In-Property
We all know the importance of guest communication, from the reservation confirmation to pre-arrival messages and post-stay engagement. In-stay communication has typically been reactionary—leave the guest alone, and be ready to respond as needed. That is no longer the case—the expectation is now proactive engagement during the stay.
Proactive outreach to guests during their stay not only demonstrates a level of care and attention but also helps the property manager get in front of potential issues. This is particularly relevant for vacation rentals, where the guest is often surrounded by unfamiliar appliances, HVAC systems, and entertainment and smart-home devices. Even if there are no issues, chances are high that a simple question-and-answer conversation could improve the in-stay experience. Additionally, a lack of reported issues provides a good record for the property manager to use when disputing any chargebacks or end-of-the-trip refund requests.
When there is a concierge or service request, communicating resolution time or task updates back to the guest helps manage expectations. Guests are not looking for a pen pal on vacation, so communication with the guest should be focused on actionable tasks, which is why it’s important that messages are tightly tied with operational activity.
A timely message the day after check-in will be standard operating procedure across all hospitality verticals by the end of 2019. Similarly, expect new systems to communicate automatic updates of each service request, making it easier to keep the client informed of the work’s progress. Deep machine learning will drive the predominate messaging method, which will lead to faster resolution times and happier guests.
Owner Relations—More than Money, It’s about the Work
Don’t overlook the changing dynamics that are coming to owner relations. Historically, managers have handled owner relations through monthly account statements and direct outreach. Many companies, such as InvitedHome, Exclusive Stays, and Coastal Home and Villa, have put a significant premium on quality home care and asset protection services. Communicating with status reports and results from preventative maintenance adds an additional layer of professionalism and eliminates surprises. Establishing a pattern of detailed information sharing strengthens the relationship with the owner and builds trust in the manager’s ability to care for the property.
Very simply, the future of property management is one with deeper service engagement driven by deeper technology. Tying guest communications to your internal operations platform will enable managers to create automatic service requests from a guest interaction. This will create massive efficiencies for property managers, eliminate manual data entry, and close gaps in your team’s communication.
In an industry with rising guest expectations and heavier pressure on property operations, it’s now of utmost importance to adopt better processes to communicate with staff and guests.
What can you do today to build better processes for your vacation rental company?
Rethink the way you facilitate your team communication:
Communication goes well beyond the emails and messages you exchange with your team. Organized communication includes the flow of scheduling and assignments, each interaction of property care, and the constant stream of updates between service partners and supervisors.
Proactively engage with your guests to better meet expectations:
Guests will have a better experience at your property when you stay ahead of potential issues. Smart communication and service updates will help keep your guests happy and drastically reduce the chance of negative reviews and refunds.