By Doug Kennedy – By now most vacation rental companies have long recognized the potential of outbound email as a marketing tool and have actualized their potential in that area. However, too many companies still overlook their email inbox as a distribution channel worthy of attention. While we might prefer that guests book online or contact us via telephone, many guests prefer to be contacted via email, and they make it known by using the “rentals@…” address posted on a website or by completing an inquiry form on the “contact us” portion of a webpage instead.
With that being said, websites can be confusing and phone lines are sometimes busy so email inquiries seem to be prevalent (especially in this era of texting over talking). Perhaps the inquirer is a soccer mom who has only a few seconds between plays to plan the family’s annual vacation or maybe a husband planning a secret getaway while his wife is watching The Walking Dead. Regardless, their motivation doesn’t matter because either way these prospective customers get to choose how to reach us.
Has your vacation rental company already embraced email sales as a distribution channel or is it in the early stages of recognizing missed opportunities?
The true measure of your organization’s commitment to email as a distribution channel is exemplified in the reaction of whomever opens the inbox first in the morning. Does the person sigh and say with despondence, “Oh no! How did we get so many emails today?” Or instead is the first staffer to encounter this untapped revenue stream of the correct mindset exclaiming, “Yes! How did we get so many emails today?!” Negative mindset is mostly the result of leaders who have not yet recognized this opportunity nor have reorganized their operations to support it, but it can be corrected. Here are some training tips and suggestions for your next meeting or in-house training session:
1. Make Email Everyone’s Job
All reservations sales agents should be part of the email sales team especially for smaller companies. Larger organizations who can staff to the skill-set level and maximize the talent of those who type better than they talk should do so; yet all agents should be cross-trained for both voice and email sales.
2. Respond Promptly
By making email everyone’s job, your team will be able to respond well ahead of the industry’s current minimal standard of 24 hours. Better yet, if your team is able to respond immediately or within a few hours then most likely you will be able to maintain the interest of your prospective customer.
3. Budget and Staff for Email Sales and Service
If next year’s budget calls for an increase in email marketing campaigns and other online advertising, plan accordingly so that you have resources in place when the responses you are anticipating arrive. The additional inquiries you will convert will generate an ROI many times over.
4. Sort and Prioritize Responses
It is essential to sort and prioritize responses so that a balance is achieved between the quality of the response versus its timeliness especially for companies receiving a high volume of email inquiries from numerous distribution channels. To sort and prioritize, consider this:
- What is the source of the inquiry? Generally, direct channels (such as your website) should be a priority over those arriving via third-party listing sites.
- How much information did the sender include in the “remarks” or “comments” fields? The more time the sender has invested in voluntarily divulging his travel plans, the higher priority we, as a team, should place in responding.
5. Personalize the Response
Although it is always a good idea to prepare your team to respond with templates, it is important to personalize the templates to the highest extent possible. Again, by sorting and prioritizing according to the above principles, the responder can pick the template which best applies and then personalize it as needed. Personalize responses by:
- Opening with a greeting and signing with a name.
- Restating the sender’s needs as he has originally indicated to show that we “get it” and to make sure that we have the details correct.
- Ending with an invitation to become a guest and a message of fond farewell.
6. Mirror and Match the Sender’s Style and Commitment Level
Just as voice reservations agents are trained to do, email sales works best when the responder replies with the same style and tone of writing as the sender. In other words, if the sender has taken time to send personalized remarks about his plans, the responder should do so as well. Likewise, a longer description of said travel needs and details in the “comments” field calls for a more in-depth and informative response.
7. Be Specific on What is Promised and Be Precise in the Terms
Given all the opportunities with recognizing email as a potential source of additional revenue, it is also important to reiterate the importance of having your team provide accurate information since it will be in writing. So encourage them to error on the side of caution. This means that rather than just saying, “We have received your request for an early arrival…”, make sure your staff adds a friendly reminder such as, “Please keep in mind that we cannot guarantee this in advance.”
As a final note, this article is not to say that we shouldn’t pick up the phone and call someone who has sent an email inquiry if their question or concern involves a complex scenario. But, even if your website’s “contact us” form has a mandatory field requiring a phone number, those who don’t want to be called (for whatever reason) typically enter a fictitious phone number, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself unable to reach the inquirer. However, if you do call the inquirer to discuss his question or concern and are able to reach him then chances are that he will be impressed that you care enough to call to clarify his needs.
By focusing your organization’s full attention on email as its own unique distribution channel, your vacation rental team will be able to outsell the competitors whom the sender is also contacting during his online search.
Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over two decades. Since 1996, Doug’s monthly hotel industry training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hotel industry training writers. Visit KTN at www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly. email@example.com