This post by Nancy McAleer of Anna Maria Island Home Rental is part of a VRMB guest post series designed to cover innovative subjects and give greater texture to the world of listing site independence. If you enjoy it, feel free to leave Nancy a note in the comments area.
Here are the latest marketing headlines…..SEO is dead, SEM is the replacement… CXO is the new focus. FYI… CXO = Customer Experience Optimization. BTW and LOL… seriously, are the marketing spin doctors trying to confuse us on purpose?
Can we just dumb it down a bit and stop being so uber-trendy? Is this short form terminology for people just trying to be cool or make themselves sound smarter than they really are? Let’s bring it back to the core fundamental of what our business is all about in its purest form, and yes that means CXO - Customer Experience Optimization. It’s about the guest!
I’ve done an exercise to break down sustainable and successful ways you can tap into surpassing guest experience for both the techie and non-techie vacation managers and owners.
I have found that this is really important because the guest is the reason for our profit or lack of at the end of each business year. The guest can make us or break us, so really we should be focusing FIRST on exceeding guest expectations in all facets of our operations and THEN towards our marketing efforts. This total focus on optimizing the guest experience will lead to glowing guest referrals and the holy grail...the repeat guest. As a result of these efforts, we can fill our calendars and hopefully maximize profits.
Statistics from Google[1. The 2014 Traveler's Road to Decision by Google], as well as reports from HomeAway, Leisurelink and BookingPal have stated that acquiring a new customer costs 5 to 10 times more than retaining an existing customer. If the guest experience is good to great a vacation rental owner/manager has the best chance to get repeat business from the same guest.
1. Informative Website
An informative and useful website is a goldmine for potential guests. A great website is not stagnant, it should have a constant flow of pertinent information that will help your traveler find what they need and easily accomplish their vacation goals. Use the 10x content approach wisely, don’t fill your website with unnecessary, long, drawn out information. Focus on being the Wikipedia of your area and more importantly your vacation niche market.
If you haven’t figured out your niche market, do so now. Address the following checklist as if you are the vacation rental property itself:
- Who am I?
- What makes me special?
- Who would be attracted to me (client profile)?
- How can I garner guest referrals or word of mouth?
- Why would guests want to come back?
Voila, you now have a niche marketing identity!
Now it’s time to structure and focus your website on becoming the Wikipedia of your niche market. It’s ok to break the rules of traditional website templates, you’re only limited by your imagination.
A website that answers your guest questions before they are asked is impressive. Take cues from the Inner Circle Blogging University subjects. Also look to Bloggers who provide pdf documents for anything from budgeting, to packing lists, to help inspire you to provide extra customer service to your guests. Maybe you want to provide a map of the best hiking areas next to your vacation rental. Anything that you can think of that would prove valuable to your guest and heighten their experience would be a great choice.
Validate that the information pages on your website are working (meaning that this information is useful to your guest). I like to use Google Analytics to help gauge whether the page is visited and read (length of stay on a page) and the documents provided are used (click-through rates).
2. Anticipatory Customer Service
Customer service kicks in as soon as you get an inquiry. Your response should focus not only on the information requested (ie: quote), but on picking up clues as to the guest’s vacation goals, client profile and answering typical questions before they are asked. Your ability to anticipate the guest's needs is directly correlated with your potential.
For example: “Hi, I’m interested in getting a detailed quote for the above week. Is there a pack n play at your home? Also how far is the beach?”
The inquirer should be sent detailed information in your response that oozes customer service including:
- Details of children's amenities (pack n play, crib, bedding, dinnerware, portable high chair, toys...etc.)
- Amenities that help families with children (beach cart, free trolley, best family friendly restaurants...etc.)
- Referrals on where they can rent extra children/baby items
- Information on how your own family enjoys the home, start building a relationship/rapport with guest
- Family activities and experiences they should not miss
- Links to maps, documents, photos, and newsletters that will help them carve out a NO-FAIL vacation
Customer Service via Amenities Offered
I had a guest call me 15 minutes after they entered our vacation rental to book for next year…. yup, that really happened!
Customer service can not only be something offered personally, it can be offered by the amenities you have in the vacation rental. Having things that interest your client profile can be anything from Netflix to hot tubs. A sample of local olive oil, wine or specialty food of the region in a welcome basket is a nice surprise not normally found in a vacation rental. It’s both the little things and the big things that will set your vacation rental apart and make guests want to tell their stories to others and return again and again.
By identifying the client profile of your booked guests, you can make smart investment choices as to what amenities to add and easily garner those blessed repeat guests.
Customer Service During Stay
Customer service during a stay does not always have to be a direct communication approach. Ensuring that your vacation rental is optimized for new guests is the key. This can be as simple as labeling light switches, offering a personal operations manual for the home, an emergency kit, to ensuring the client has detailed information on maintenance, garbage and recycling days clearly laid out to ensuring that repairs and problems are addressed and fixed immediately. You can download a sample of the one that I use here.
Don’t forget about opening up the lines of communication during a guest’s stay. Have a designated person who is available 24/7 to address any questions, concerns or emergencies the guest may have. This could be as simple as giving a guest your cell phone for texting or more elaborate for managers having an after hours service for guests.
If a guest has an issue that is beyond the regular occurrences of a normal stay don’t wait for them to approach you for compensation. Go beyond their expectations and offer a gift certificate, discount on next stay, free sports rental...etc. From analyzing your guest persona you will have a strong idea of what the guest would like beforehand. You’d be surprised at how this type of surprise will be the spark of a conversation with their friends or family after their stay and probably the clincher as to whether a guest will return or not.
Customer Service After Departure
Yes...your job is not finished yet. Great owners and managers go the extra mile to ensure that a guest had a satisfactory stay. Ask your guests for their honest review of your vacation rental and use it not only on listing sites but on your website, Google+, Yelp, and any other site that would be beneficial. This will reach a much larger audience.
Customer Service after departure can include notifications keeping them up to date on events, activities, new information, specials and more. This is where understanding your guest persona is golden. Send them information via the communication tool that they prefer and hone in on what was the magical moment that they enjoyed and inform them of other experiences that they would enjoy. These new experiences can be anything from taking their suggestions for adding furniture to the vacation rental to suggesting other restaurants, activities that they haven’t tried or giving them the inside track on deals.
3. Guest Persona Profiling
Guest profiling starts from the initial inquiry. Compile data from the number of guests (adults and children) in their party as to the group type. The dates requested as well as the type of property they are interested in (if you have more than one). If the guest doesn’t offer information via listing sites, be curious and ask them questions. Ensure your website is optimized for you to be able to easily segment / group people into profiles. Guest profiles or ‘guest personas’ can be grouped into 5-10 categories.
Matt's “Single Guest Perspective” Workshop is brilliant to get you started.
Data To Consider For Guest Profiling
Different client profiles like to use different mediums. Based on your client profile, you should be communicating with them through these genres. Grouping your client profiles into different segments will help increase your results because you are sending the guest topic specific material. There are endless ways to communicate with your guests so keep this in mind from the first inquiry to the end of the booking and beyond.
It’s a good exercise to review each of your current practices annually and identify if you can do anything differently to improve your guest experience. Here are a few examples of different types of communication tools that have worked in our business:
Are you sending a static automatic email response to each inquiry? It’s time to up your game and use the Guest Profiling approach to surprise your inquirer with oodles of information and links that may be of interest to them. As mentioned above, do include surprise, free information like; Special tips on what your VR offers that others don’t, maybe it’s the free access to a fitness centre or a free guide to the area.
Ensure that your call is not a sales approach but helpful. Be ready with extra information that you’d like the guest to know about that would benefit them. A great idea is to inform them about how to avoid the listing site traveler fees by booking directly with you. Ask open-ended questions to discover the guest’s persona and fully exceed the guests expectations. For example: “What are your vacation goals or what types of activities do you hope to partake in?”
There are endless opportunities on how to exceed guest expectations and experience through your newsletters. Identify the guest persona that fits within your vacation rental calendar year. From there create a calendar of topics, offers and more that will entice them to visit throughout the year to keep your calendar full of reservations. Remember to give the guest enough advance notice to travel and book, timing is everything!
Special interest blog articles, event articles, special offers, videos, giveaways, reviews of local restaurants and activities, are just a few ideas but the possibilities are endless. Keep targeting your guest persona market and write with them in mind.
Any changes or additions to your website should garner a mention in one of your newsletters to entice guests to book, refer, or return to your vacation rental.
Don’t forget to include a "call to action" within each newsletter to gently push the reader to engage in what you want them to do!
There are tons of options to send out flyers, postcards, free promo items and more using traditional postal service. A simple thank you postcard along with a branded/logo pen and pad will keep your vacation rental business top of mind with guests and again… exceed their expectations.
Optimizing videos are a great way to reach out to the guest persona that enjoys this medium. A digital handshake can go miles towards building a client relationship. Again focus on your guest personas and your niche vacation rental market to create videos that tell a story and bring your product to the forefront of your market. These can be snippets of a typical vacation experience, events, local vendor interviews, reviews, and much, much more! I’m working on editing a Christmas Video to send to this year’s guests to entice them to re-book and refer us to others. There are so many options here and you don’t need high tech equipment even an iPhone and an Instagram account will work. Admittedly, I’m not a techie person and have used iMovie successfully to create a great video that looks professional.
5. Preferred Guest Program
Statistics show that over 50% of travelers express less loyalty to a brand and more interest in moving towards ‘programs with better perks and easier paths to rewards.’ It’s time to set up a Preferred Guest Program and quick!
Preferred guest programs should be beneficial to the traveler. That means extra perks or good savings. Try reviewing a few of your favourite programs that you belong to to get inspiration. Our Preferred Guest Program isn’t advertised, we only offer a healthy discount to return guests if they have left our homes in pristine condition. We inform guests of this option upon their departure along with a review request. Another nice surprise for guests who are more than happy to fill out a review as a result.
6. Random Acts of Kindness
Nobody does this better than the folks at Disney. I had the opportunity to participate in a board meeting with a Disney Rep a few years back when I was a director. It was a fabulous opportunity to gain insight into how you can be a HERO to anyone at anytime. You just have to look for the opportunity to do so. This can be as little as offering a bottle of champagne for an anniversary, or leaving a stuffed animal for a child recovering from an illness. If you asked the right questions you will know this information before the guest arrives. Yup, we did that too. And yup, it's well worth the investment.
These random acts of kindness takes a typical vacation from good to exceptional: they lend themselves to a great story to tell friends and family when the guests return home or immediately via their social media pages.
Did you know that leisure travellers turn to their friends, family, and colleagues for travel inspiration? A whopping 56% of people get ideas from this group through direct communications. And 32% of people get their inspiration from this group indirectly by following them online, through Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, etc.. This group carries more weight than the traveler’s own research online. It’s time to start focusing on your current, past and future guests to really tap into this potential floodgate.
This type of guest to friend/family referral is free, and it depends on the type of experience that you’ve offered. Here in Canada, most of our social conversations revolve around the weather, vacations, and yes. hockey too. We love to hear stories about our friend’s travels. What they did, what they saw, what they tasted, what they enjoyed and didn’t like. At my business Anna Maria Island Home Rental we easily break this down into the following categories:
There are many ways we can encourage our guests to share their vacation experiences with others. Try focusing on the above categories to brainstorm ways to capture your referral audience. We often ask our Facebook followers to post their photos, experiences, and comments. It’s just one way you can tap into this free resource.
Ask newsletter recipients to share your last minute deals, specials and information with their friends. Ensure that there are easy links to allow the reader to e-mail others and share on their social media platforms and emails.
Offer guests a referral discount off their next stay, when one of their friends/family books a stay.
By encouraging them to follow your business social media platforms early on in the guest relationship you encourage them to tag, share and follow your information as well as their own experiences. A great way to entice guests to post is to host a best photo contest.
Use your Facebook Business account to crowd source information. Ask them where their favourite spot to photograph in your area is, their favourite spot for sunsets...etc. This will immediately entice your followers to post their experiences.
Guest Persona data is crucial to a successful social media ad campaign so be sure you have all data required including importing past guest emails into Facebook BEFORE you even attempt this marketing technique.
Keep in mind that your communications both direct and indirect should be geared toward your segmented guest profiles. It’s important to have a voice within the text and photographic information that will be easily relatable to each of your guest personas.
This leads me to XYZ… the big reveal…. when creating any marketing plan don’t forget your guest! Correlating your operations and marketing efforts into Guest-Centric opportunities is a goldmine that can’t be ignored. Remember that acquiring a new customer costs 5 to 10 times more than retaining an existing customer. ALL of the steps above are cost-effective, easily attainable and sustainable ways to tap into appealing to your guest personas.
By following even some of the advice in this article you’ll incorporate SEM, SEO, and CXO without even realizing it. At the same time you’re exploiting opportunities to garner repeat guest bookings and referrals. Don’t get lost in the myriad of marketing options out there and don’t forget about your guest! It’s time to get back to the fundamentals of vacation rentals, it's about the guest and always will be!
If you are exceeding your guest expectations in a new and innovative way I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to share in the comments below.