10 Vacation Rental Experts Help Craft The Perfect Follow-Up Email

Summary: Following-up is an easy yet oft-overlooked way to generate bookings. Instead of obsessing over new guests, why not cultivate former guests into repeats and referrals? This post goes in tandem with The 4-Part Incoming Guest Nurture Sequence to build trust and respect with our clients. 

I stay at a lot of vacation rental properties…

And one thing that always confounds me, no matter how nice or convenient or perfect the property is…

9 out of 10 times, I check-out, I leave the keys in the house, and I never hear from the owner/manager again.

No follow-up email. No nothin.

Now I know I fall on the extreme spectrum of the marketing pool (the side that engages in email marketing, referral engines, and constant social contact).

But how hard is it to send a follow-up email saying something simple like “Hope you had a great time, please stay with us again!”

Well, apparently it’s very difficult because almost no one is doing it.

Follow-up emails are not only a courtesy of the hospitality industry, but they can generate real direct repeat guests when done properly!

Below, I’ve asked 10 of my favorite vacation rental professionals to chime in on what makes a perfect follow-up email. Their ideas may inspire you (and at the bottom, I show you how to implement the follow-up email itself)…

1. Request Permission To Feature Guest In Your Marketing

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 5.31.40 PM“We’ve seen the number of guests leaving reviews of their stay more than quadruple simply by making feedback a part of the checkout process. Why? Because guests are simply more likely to leave reviews while still physically on-site. That being said, the post-stay follow-up email is a great way to elicit additional “social proof” from your happy guests. If someone already rated their stay 5 stars and/or left positive feedback, the follow-up email is a perfect time to ask if you can feature them in your marketing. If they agree, you can make their recommendation even more powerful by requesting a photo of the guest (during their stay is even better), or if you want to see fantastic results, try to arrange to get a video testimonial. Authentic, rich media recommendations from your guests will go a long ways in convincing that next guest to choose your rental over your competition.”

Brent Jacobsen, http://guestnetix.com

2. Integrate Guest Experiences With Facebook Campaign

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 5.33.20 PM“Feature the guest on your Facebook timeline! In your follow-up email, ask your guests to share with you their favourite photo whilst holidaying at your vacation rental along with a small description. Then share the photo with your followers and offer a 50% OFF the first night when your guests rebook!”

Chloe Young, http://kigo.net/

3. Focus On One Main Call To Action

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 5.34.12 PM“The most effective follow-up emails include one (not several, but one) main call-to-action (CTA). While there are several ideas on what that CTA could be, we consider a call-to-write a guest review the most important one. It’s a great way for you to collect positive reviews on your most important booking channels. Follow-up emails are also an easy way to increase your social media “Likes”. Add a one-liner at the beginning of your follow-up email with a link to your Facebook page, for example: “If you enjoyed your stay with us, please like us on Facebook :)”

Naveen Sharma, http://www.lodgify.com/

 4. Leverage Time-Sensitive Offers

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 5.37.34 PM“For an effective follow-up email, we recommend a time-limited offer that expires in a few days to encourage impulsive consumer activation. Of course, this email should be written and sent by the owner making it less promotional and more personalized.”

Lester Kang, http://www.pandabed.com

 5. Conduct A Mini-Survey

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 5.39.58 PM“Here is a template we recommend our clients to edit and use as necessary:

Dear [first name],

I trust you had a safe trip back home after your stay in [destination].

I would appreciate your feedback and comments on your holiday, [property name] and the services provided. It is important for us to receive your opinion in order to maintain consistency and help improve our guests experiences.

Comments:

I would also welcome your rating from 1 to 10 (10 being best) on the following criteria:

Value:
Location:
Staff:
Property:
Dining*:

* (in house chef or nearby restaurant)

Was the property as described in the web site:
Was the booking easy to do:

If you have enjoyed your holiday and the service, please feel free to connect with us on Facebook and Google+ and share your experience and holiday images.

Lastly if you have your own travel blog and would like to add some high quality photos of [property name], just let us know so we may send you some of the great images we have.

In advance, thank you and I look forward to hearing back from you.

With best regards

[Property owner/manager]”

Marc Ribail, http://klikasia.com

 6. The Biggest Follow-up Mistake? Forget To Actually Send One!

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 5.41.59 PM“Obvious yes, but are you sending follow-up emails every time? We decided to invest a little time upfront and automate our follow-up emails.  When a reservation is made, we schedule the follow up email.  We wanted to make sure the follow email was still personalized and well crafted, so we use things like the guest name, the property they stayed at to ensure it still has a personal feel.”

Mike Moser, http://www.splitvr.com

7. Smartly Solicit 5-star Reviews

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 5.43.01 PM“First off, ask your guests how their stay was to get feedback and find out whether you can ask them to leave a 5 star review or you need to refine your service. This way, you are kind of ‘in control’ of what your guests may write publicly. Use a 2-message sequence:Message#1: Ask how their stay was.Message#2: Copy/paste the part they wrote on message#1 that you want to appear in a review and send them a kind request to write a review of your property providing them with the appropriate direct link to your listing site’s review page.The idea is you make them really easy to do such thing as 1…, 2… done! Top it up with a discount offer for their next stay and…tell them you extend the discount to any of their referred friends. Works like magic!”

Antonio Bortolotti, http://www.vacationrentalsecrets.com

8. Make Guests Feel Like Their Opinions Count

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 5.44.38 PM“Everyone wants to feel like their opinion matters, so always use your follow-up email to ask guests what they loved the most about their stay and if there is anything that could have made it even better.  This approach can elicit ideas and suggestions you may never have thought of.  If you are able to make a change as a result of the suggestion, it’s a great opportunity to communicate with them again and let them know you acted on their feedback. Then send an Amazon voucher to thank them.  This works on several levels by helping to upgrade your amenities and services and by creating an army of loyal repeat customers.”

Heather Bayer, http://www.cottageblogger.com

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9. Tweak The Timing

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 8.08.30 PM“In addition to the content of your email, the timing of the follow-up email is very important.  You want to find the optimal time to reach your guests when they will complete the call-to-action in your email (whether it is a Review or liking your Facebook page).  Try sending the email the day after a guest checks out.  Try sending an email 4 days after the guest check outs.  Did you get a better response?   In general, you should always A/B test your email campaigns in order to get the best results.”Sarah Brubaker, http://www.webchalet.com

10. Ask For Pictures

Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 1.48.19 PM“Yes… PICTURES! Pictures of them vacationing and having a good time at your property. It could be the big “catch” or a family reunion picture with a beautiful sunset, a birthday celebration, or just something meaningful to them and their memory of their vacation. Simply ask for their permission to publish and post them on any of the free on-line photo galleries (Flickr, Photobucket, Shutterfly, etc.) that you would link to from your web site and even put the gallery link in the THANK YOU letter. That way they can see where and how you would post them.

Over time you would be surprised how meaningful it would be for your past guests as well as future ones to check out the photo gallery and share it with friends and family creating even more reach for advertising your vacation rental. This extra attention to details and the opportunity to convey value that enhances the traveler’s experience. Oh and be sure to thank your renters and have them share their experience with you and others through pictures!”

Bob Blum, http://www.rezernet.com/

 

What To Do Next: If you are using an online booking engine, it should have the follow-up email capability. That is to say, in the settings panel, you simply designate that “X days after a guest’s departure” you’d like to send “Y template.” This automated process is the easiest ‘set it and forget it’ approach. If you don’t have this feature available, I would recommend setting reminders on your calendar, and then manually sending a template respond (customized of course) to each recently departed guest. Both options have their pros and cons.

About the author 

Matt Landau

Matt Landau is the Founder of VRMB. He spends most of his time inside of VRMB's Paid Community, the leading collaboration platform helping vacation rental owners and managers build more profitable & sustainable businesses.

  1. Great ideas. We do the same with follow up emails. We use mailchimp to send autoresponders. Another cool tool is to use RightInBox with your Chrome browser. This tool allow you to do many things one is to prep a mail now and send it later. If you want I can share a article on how we use RightInBox very our vacation rental agency.

    Have fun.

    Johan

  2. Great article Matt and once again straight to the point!

    Sarah Brubaker has a very important point and it is even more so valid depending on your source market ie local, regional or long haul travelers as when guests get back to work they may have a backlog of work accumulated during their break and the follow up email may be put as a secondary priority

    1. I always like to ask questions in my follow-up emails: Did you get home safe? How was your flight? Did X find the Y he was looking for all vacation long? Questions seem to elicit responses (and interaction) way better than simple call to actions in my experience.

  3. Great topic Matt! I have incorporated an “auto template” as 99% of guests have security deposit refund automatically going back to the credit card used for booking.(there are a few who pay by check) I also follow up with a hand written note. Usually the only CTA is to ask for a review. Need more ideas for CTA. I’d like to include a survey monkey link in the email. Also any ideas for a “token gift” thank you for those who complete the survey or post a review??

    Much thanks!

  4. Wow, it blows my mind that 9 out of 10 vacation rental owners wouldn’t send a follow-up message after guests depart. How many industries can you think of in which a customer spends $1000+ on a product or service and the business owner doesn’t even bother to say “Thank You”?

    We send an auto-responder 12 hours to every guest after they check out, and then follow up again in 3 days if no response. I’m happy to share the text of the message to those who are interested, just email info@rentalwithaview.com.

    1. Great work Danny. Jon from MyVR is high on autoresponders and I am too. Really great way to (at least semi) automate a small business!

  5. I think the first one hits the nail on the head. Requesting feedback during the checkout is a must. It must be simple though. We use this simple feedback to “take a guests temperature” so we know how to follow up with them. Of course those giving 4-5 stars are invited to submit a recommendation, and we invite them back with a discount.

    1. To add to this Joey, for those whose temperature is “too hot” (ie. could potentially be unhappy enough with their stay to write a negative review) we like to send a simple Survey Monkey review allowing them to vent. Always great to have constructive criticism: just not always great to have it publicly on our review pages 🙂

      1. Matt,

        We tried to come up with a process to streamline the followup/review solicitation process and add a little back-end intelligence to our autoresponder.

        Each guest gets an autoresponder email 3 days after check-out, which includes a link to a form we built on wufoo.com. We use their functionality to have the form do some pre-screening of guest feedback for us. If a guest scores us a 7 or below on first 2 questions, that is it…we get valuable feedback, but don’t proactively steer them to public review submission. If they score us 8 or better, the form displays a couple more questions and automatically links them to our review submission page on main paid site (vrbo)…even taking linking to the appropriate property page based on the property they select in the form.

        Still tweaking, but for us it has worked well so far. Thanks for your constant analysis of all things vacation rental…it gets our own wheels turning and looking for continual process improvements.

        Feel free to email me for a link to the form we created if interested…corey@luckysavannah.com

        Corey

  6. Email? I send a hand written note on nice notepaper. How often do you get a handwritten note? In addition to thanking them for staying at Afton Cottage. I ask them to leave an online review.I also include a magnet with a picture of the cottage along with their deposit. I follow up a few days later with a survey which includes a stamped and addressed return envelope and, again, ask for an online review. We have 86 reviews on the major sites and we have had 47 reservations per year for the last 3 years.

    1. Dick, I like the way you think! While individually-written thank you cards may be difficult for some of us (due to high volume) the idea is certainly not short of motivation!!! Well done!

          1. Thanks, Antonio! A hand written note is a powerful marketing tool. One note may take 5 minutes but it is well worth the time. I think guests will respond to a handwritten request for a review more readily than an email request.

      1. Hi, plenty of great ideas here ! We love the idea of a short video to show how clients are happy wth their stay.

        Matt, it is possible to combine Dick’s idea of hand written note and high volume.
        You can send a letter with always the same printed content, but you make a handmade commentary close to your signature. it can be “nice to see you again” or soemthing like that. You can aslo write “Dear -name of customer-” by hand in the top of the letter.
        (sorry for poor english cause we are French and everybody knows french people are so bad with english ;=D)

    2. Hand written notes are great. I got one once when I rented a place and it made me feel that the owner really cared.

      And magnets are an awesome idea too. People are unlikely to toss it… most will place it on their fridge… keeping your place on their mind year round! When vacation time comes and that magnet catches their eye, they’re gonna call!

      1. Kevin, you are exactly right. People do not throw the magnet away or stick it in a drawer and forget about it. They stick on the fridge. Vistaprint does a great job with magnets. They also do high quality mugs and other items on which you can put a picture of the property. I give these to repeat guests and to guests who stay a week or more.

  7. Great ideas. I really like the one that offers to send them HD photos. I send a follow up email as well as a snail mail photo collage card with business cards included and a return guest discount for their next stay.

  8. Wow, 9 out of 10 with no follow up? Blows my mind!

    I always follow up after a check out, letting them know that their deposit has been refunded and asking if they enjoyed their stay and if they have any comments or suggestions. I also offer a 10% discount for return stays. When I get a reply with positive remarks, I send them the link to leave a review. If they had some negative thoughts, I address their concerns and apologize, but skip the link for a review. It’s gotten me almost 30 5-star reviews so far and I’ve only been listing my studio and house since April of this year! I know how important reviews are when groups are deciding where to stay, and I will always make sure to put my best foot forward!

  9. My follow up email starts at the time of the reservation…when I personally talk to each guest and find out a little something about them and their trip…and write that down.

    Then, as soon as I get the “green light” from my housekeeper…I send an email to every guest…mostly to let them know that I’ve refunded their damage deposit through Home Away…and that it will take a few days to clear.

    But…it’s not all business…I take the time to follow up on the discussion we had during the reservation and ask stuff like: “how did the wedding go?”…”did the boys enjoy seeing the beach for the first time?”…”how was the fishing?”

    In my market, I compete with corporate PM’s…and this little touch puts our place miles ahead of them and creates not only repeat guests, but real friendships!

  10. Thanks for so wonderful and
    useful tips! The ideas are great! Acall-to-write a guest review is really the
    most important one. It’s also a great idea to conduct a mini-survey to have
    a stencil like in the example and ask people to fill it. They can propose something to improve your rental property! Thanks for these tips!

  11. All good stuff, probably the perfect solution is in here! Ours are automated and we can check opens and clicks.

    Problem is the big sites want reviews in their systems, not ones supplied third party and this advice may be useful for relay to the listing sites and for G+ pages etc.

    Certainly going to review what we do!

  12. At the Cottage we leave a comment card with our own little survey on it so we already have an idea how people feel about their stay. 80% of guests fill it out for us.
    We check the house and email our guests the same day they check-out to let them know that we have refunded their damage deposit. We start the email by saying, “We hope you had a wonderful stay at Ridgecrest Cottage. We enjoyed having you and your family [or friends as the case may be]. We appreciate how nice you left the house and wanted to let you know that we have refunded your deposit in full.”
    We go on to let them know how long it should take for them to receive their refund and ask them to let us know if they have any trouble with getting it credited. With Flipkey we just let them know that we won’t be claiming any of their deposit.
    Normally, we invite them to return and offer them a small percentage off any future stays they have with us.
    Some times we ask for reviews in this email but other times I wait and see if they respond – if so, we then tell them we love to have reviews from wonderful guests like them and ask them to leave comments for the benefit of future guests.
    So far we’ve collected 23 reviews in our 9 months of business.

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