"What will you refuse to automate?"
This is a question the technology vendors in our industry don't ask nearly enough. Since technology can solve so many problems, it can be tempting for us to want automate everything. But in doing so, we'd be losing the things that make us Limited Edition. And if we become a commodity, not even the greatest technnology can save us.
Put simply, there are some things independent managers cannot afford to automate.
And you probably have a feeling for what they are.
But do not attempt to keep them in the form of a secret internal compass.
Outline them in a firm list of nonnegotiables: activities that will forever (or as long as you possibly can afford) be done by you by you or someone on your team (and not automation or machines).
This list will form a set of boundaries that protect you from the fast, bigbox, machinized world of business: the fence that divides the things you want from the things you don't.
5 Ideas for Your Nonnegotiables
Nonnegotiables will be different for every vacation rental business: you know your strengths (and weaknesses) best. But as a general rule, I like to suggest that you refuse to automate the human activities that are most directly correlated with your bottom line.
I have put together a few nonnegotiable departments for you to consider. Each is nuanced, so handpick the components that fit your needs. I have also added some examples as well as some "hybrid" tools to demonstrate that technology can (and should) still be used to compliment the process, just not as the main decision tree.
As arguably the most pivotal moment in the booking process, we need to use our personality/charm/insight/professionalism to demonstrate why we are the best place to stay and we need to do that slightly differently every time. The effort is well worth it.
Hybrid: templates, canned messages, blog posts about Frequently Asked Questions, Yesware to know when guests open or click links, Boomerang to remind follow-ups.
Because our relationships with guests are so important, we need to interact with each of them directly and uniquely. The chance to look someone in the eyes or hear their voice gives us confidence they will have a great stay (and let's them know we are in charge).
Hybrid: Facetime, phone calls, digital locks/smart thermostats (PointCentral), digital welcome books (Touchstay), digital handshakes.
The beginning and final gestures of a stay are the ones that stick longest in the guest's mind. So we need to personalize special touches or gifts based on information we learn about the guest to achieve that "Wow" factor. A small gift or handwritten note is probably the cheapest booking you can generate.
Hybrid: Strong PMS, CRM (to organize notes about guests), drop-shipping services.
4. Customer Service
We pride ourselves in our ability, as a small company, to step up and tend to guests when something goes wrong. We refuse to place this in the hands of a chatbot or a call center (a different kind of automation more akin to outsourcing). Instead, we must have a teammate by a phone 24/7 and we encourage guests to reach out if anything is of concern.
Hybrid: Knowledge database, scripts, cell phones.
5. Dynamic Pricing
We are aware of all the amazing dynamic pricing and data analysis tools (and we may even use them for research) but we know that we can do a better job* manually adjusting the pricing than an algorithm. Yes it takes extra time and energy. But considering the return, it's worth it.
Hybrid: Dynamic pricing tools (Beyond Pricing, PriceLabs), data resources (Airdna), spreadsheets
*Note: This one is definitely not for everybody. But if you listen to the interview above with Zaira Guzman, you'll see why it is so strongly preferred by some.
There is so much technology out there today that can automate so many tasks, it can be tempting to gorge and go overboard. But doing so would be ridding you of what makes you special. Determining what you refuse to automate is as (I argue, more) important than determine what you will.
And to do this, creating a firm list of nonnegotiables provides great clarity. If you do not have this list in place, you risk slipping down the slope, racing to the bottom, drifting into oblivion...etc. But if you do have this list handy, it becomes a prism through which you can look in making your automation/outsourcing decisions. Like in a relationship, knowing your boundaries is necessary to navigating your own path. Forget to do it and you may be pulled in all directions.