The Enjoyable Experience
My husband and I found a vacation rental on the McKenzie River in Oregon that we have been enjoying for six years now. We love it because of the rushing water that you can hear at all times of the day, the outside lounging area where we watch and listen to the river, and the large stone fireplace inside that we sit by and play games. We have taken friends and family there over the years and always look forward to our next visit. However, a large part of the reason we continue to frequent this rental is the caretaker Randy Morrow. He has a way about him that makes us feel relaxed and comfortable, like when he tells us stories about the home, about his mother’s antique collection stored there, or about how the home offers a retreat for him whenever he needs a fishing fix. Each time we visit, I am amazed by his demeanor, and I always tried to pinpoint what it is about him that just makes us feel so “at home.”
Finally, after a few visits, I came to realize that what keeps us coming back year after year is his soft tone and his choice of words that makes him so authentic. Each time we arrive for a visit, Randy welcomes us with open arms (despite his hour commute, he always insists on being there for our arrival) and a warm fire. When we go through the initial walk-through, he reminds us of the quirks of the 1924 home. When he talks to us, he uses phrases such as, “If you choose to enjoy the hot tub, the temperature stays warmest when the cover is on during times that it isn’t in use.” He doesn’t use phrases like “you must,” “you need to,” or “you have to.” His tone is gentle and his words are calming and respectful. He also extends our check-in and checkout time if no other vacationers have reserved the home on our arrival and departure days.
The Underwhelming Experience
The vacation rental experience that we had in New Orleans, however, was a stark contrast to our experiences with the home in Oregon. We rented a nice apartment on the edge of the French Quarter with easy access to the attractions we wanted to experience. Here, we had spotty Wi-Fi and multiple hardline policies. We were told (yes, told) about the policies and about what we could and could not do; nothing was suggested to us in the manner that Randy uses. We did not have any parking options, we could not check in earlier than 4:00 p.m., we had to arrive at 4:00 p.m. sharp to meet the housekeeper (who didn’t speak any English, so we weren’t able to ask questions we had regarding the apartment), and we had to be out of the property by 10:00 a.m. sharp. These firm policies were communicated at the time of booking, a week prior to our arrival, and on the days of check-in and check-out. Although the apartment itself was nice, the repeated mentioning of the policies and the lack of hospitality was not nice at all. Since then, we have not gone out of our way to suggest this place to friends and family, and if we return to New Orleans, we won’t go out of our way to rent from this particular vacation homeowner again. The firm policies set in place and reinforced time and time again affected our vacation as well as our overall experience in New Orleans.
Little Things Make a Big Difference
For both guests and employees, little nuisances make a big difference in perceptions of and experience with a company or organization. It is important to pay attention to the words you choose. You can either use warm words or cold words. Randy doesn’t use cold words such as “you must,” “you need to,” or “you have to.” Instead, he uses warm words such as “if you choose,” “if you’d like,” and “would you please.” After all, no one really likes to be told what to do.
I have noticed that when employees are new, they tend to focus on making sure they know the company policies and are quick to state and reinforce them. After employees learn these policies, the next level of their education and training should be to outline the gray areas of the policies and to refer to them as guidelines, using soft and gentle tones, when speaking to guests. When can guidelines be bent or broken? How can you turn someone’s bad experience into a good experience with the little things that make people smile? The gray area in customer service is very large.
Another cold word I hear often is “property.” This word is like nails on a chalkboard. Going on vacation is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. Vacation rental managers are selling private home accommodation to people for a couple of days and even up to a couple of months, and guests want it to feel like it is their home for that time period.
The tips in Start Your Own Business, a book where the staff of Entrepreneur Media Inc. outlines the importance of focusing on repeat business, tell how to keep your business at the top of the customer’s mind by doing the following:
Ø Let customers know what you are doing for them to ease their worries.
Ø Write personal, handwritten notes—frequently—to stay in contact.
Ø Keep it personal by picking up the phone to talk instead of relying on email.
Ø Send cards for special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, or other holidays.
Ø Pass on the information you think they will value, such as an interesting article or book.
Ø Consider follow-up calls to be business development calls for leads on new business.
Notice that of these six points, half are personal touches. We are in changing times with a new generation that is quicker to text rather than pick up a phone and struggle with relationship building, as pointed out by Simon Sinek in his video Millennials in the Workplace. That is why it is important to educate this generation on the importance of customer service and relationship building. And although millennials are the up-and-coming generation of customers, there are still multiple generations of consumers who want the personal touch and prefer to do business with people, not companies.
The main challenge for front-line service staff is making an emotional connection with potential guests. Having been in customer service for over 28 years, I was raised with the mindset of relationship building and emotionally connecting with customers to build trust and long-term relationships. I use different techniques to impart my knowledge to my employees, educating them on why it is important and what emotionally connecting with a consumer sounds and looks like. It can be as simple as bonding over owning the same breed of dog or growing up in the same small town.
Technology has made it easy for us to track customer preferences and their rental history. But it’s so much more important to simply slow down, take time with customers, and genuinely care about their needs and desires. This is an important tool to build successful businesses as well as to make positive connections and feel good about experiences with people. A good interview question for your front-line service staff is, “Describe a customer service experience where you feel you really connected with a customer and created loyalty?” If you hear and see them get excited when they share their story with you, it’s a good indication that they understand the value of great customer service and should be your newest employee.
Here is an example of eight positive reviews an owner of a small vacation rental company shared with me where her staff was highlighted:
Dream come true! A special thank you to Faye. She went above and beyond all expectations. Thanks to Faye, we will have a memory that will always be cherished, recommended, and told to friend’s future kids.J Love the beautiful Sandy River home and plan on going back once a year!
Notice the customer didn’t mention the company name; she used the employee’s name and referred to the home, not the property. This is what real customer loyalty sounds and looks like. After all, people enjoy doing business with actual people and want to feel special. Imagine what your company would look like if a high percentage of your customers who rent from you year after year received the same personal touches and attention.
Ali Cammelletti of Cammelletti Consulting has more than twenty-eight years of experience in the hospitality industry. She has served in many capacities within the industry, from the front-lines in restaurant and lodging services to the creation and management of a successful event planning business to, now, running a consulting company. She currently coaches and trains front-line staff as well as managers to grow their leadership skills. Visit www.cammelletticonsulting.com for more details.