Why do people settle for mediocrity? Why do people tend to take the path of least resistance? I suppose it could be a matter of “hard-coded” personalities based upon genetic dispositions and the complex balance of logic and creativity within the miraculous human brain; or maybe these are learned behaviors through sociological influences acquired from friends, family, and lifelong experiences? The truth is there is no perfect answer. Every single person is unique and driven to act by two pillars of human development, “nature” and “nurture.” The entire make-up of a human character can be so multifaceted that people may hardly know themselves. Yet, my most essential message here is that you absolutely must get to know them.
How does this relate to a CRM? That will be revealed soon, but first let’s discuss what CRM stands for—customer relationship management.
The key word to focus on here is relationship. Building and maintaining relationships with customers (guests and owners) require having the right tools and technology. Ask yourself, “Exactly what type of relationship do I want to have with my customers and/or potential customers?” Once you have that question answered, you can begin to strategize on how to achieve this initiative. Before going any further, let’s look at some of the primary technological components of an effective CRM system:
- Guest database, profiling, and reporting
- Owner database, profiling, and reporting
- Guest lead management system
- Owner lead management system
- Reservation quoting
- Loyalty programs
- Reservation management
- Promotion and coupon management
- Email and text messaging
- Two-way guest communications
- Two-way owner communications
- Automatic notifications (email, text, push)
- Integrated phone system
- Call recording and monitoring
- Coaching and scoring
- Customer notes
- Marketing Source Tracking
- Conversion Tracking
- Advanced Reporting/Dashboards
- Reservation Sales Management
- Guest Interface/Mobile Application
- Owner Interface/Mobile Application
“Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even if you wish
they were.” – Anonymous
Ideally, and based on how important guest loyalty and the guest experience has become in the vacation rental industry, we would have a real friendship with all our guests. We would know our guests by name, and we would greet them face to face. We would invite them to dine with us, we would know their family, and we would take them golfing or skiing, etc. If you are in a position to personally know your guests, kudos to you because your guest retention is going to be through the roof.
For the rest, for whom this is not at all practical, you have to create a different strategy. This strategy will be based on resources, time, and simply how much you care about your guests. Defining the guest experience from the first step (first exposure) to the final steps (checkout and beyond) should be a very specific, fine-tuned, calculated process.
Defining each stage of the guest experience and breaking those stages down to their micro-elements can be the difference maker between that guest remembering your company and achieving that highly sought-after guest loyalty. Many of the fundamental components of the guest experiential stages can be handled by technology. There has always been a philosophical struggle between automation or being hands-on—the person or the machine.
Should we be the boutique company or the large company lacking personalization? I believe that this is a flawed argument; property managers should be focused on finding ways to let technology save time by providing all the basic information so the property manager can go above and beyond by freeing up staff for personalization. If it takes 30 seconds to send a quote because of better technology, the property manager now has the ability to call and follow up with the quote. The new generation of travelers expects a high-tech experience. Having a quality CRM is essential when building an advanced guest relationship strategy because a CRM builds the relationship with guests and lays the groundwork for intelligent automation and future marketing campaigns.
“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.” – Steve Jobs
Good news! While you likely can’t make friends with each and every guest, you certainly can with your property owners. Optimizing your communication and your relationships with owners is paramount in owner retention. While a guest has entrusted you with a weekend stay, an owner has entrusted you with his or her property and financial future. Owners deserve a certain amount of care and sacrifice with such a commitment to your company. It is beneficial to make the time to gather, organize, and utilize data to deliver an optimal owner experience. A quality CRM, especially for larger companies, is at the forefront of optimizing long-term relationships through a committed owner strategy.
It is my opinion that a company should always build its service/relationship strategy around the best customers, not the bad apples; instead, let the bad apples learn to love you. You will be surprised how well some of your more challenging customers respond if you treat them the same way you treat your best customers, despite a natural inclination to reject them. Every owner needs to have a unique strategy because everybody responds differently to certain types of interactions, but in general, positivity, care, and patience are a recipe for success, regardless of the personality type. It is important to educate owners. Provide a professional marketing piece about why your company is the best in its class. Talk about your technology, mission, commitment, plans for guest retention, distribution, and stance on wild guests. Let them know how important keeping the property in good shape is to you. As always, the best salespeople in any organization are its customers. Get a list of testimonials. Overall, build the relationship, establish trust, and be real.
Back to the basics
To jump back to the initial paragraph in this article, the first lesson is that the human psyche is highly complex; thus, to emotionally trigger your customers into a desired buying behavior, spend the time and effort to get to know who they are. Learn what makes them tick, and collect a catalog this information to do so. The second lesson is don’t settle for mediocrity with a CRM—not now, not in this industry. Make an effort to know your customers inside and out, and this must be a company-wide commitment. Gathering and organizing data on your customers—whether its demographic, geographic, or psychographic—is essential. Do not compromise on a CRM when choosing your technology because it really is the key to your future.
Consolidate your technology
We are living in the age of connectivity. Our entire planet is networked and intertwined on levels that are nearly unimaginable. We are connected through airways, highways, railways, subways, waterways, satellites, cellular networks, the web, and the grid. We can share more information and more data in one second than our entire species has in the history of our existence prior to the 1900s.
The vacation rental industry in particular is experiencing a boom in technology and a significant shift into the world of extreme connectivity. This is most obviously seen through OTAs and online booking channels, but it goes far beyond that. Property management systems are the main technology hubs for property managers with connections to lock companies, credit card processors, home automation providers, website builders, travel insurance agencies, floor plan companies, lead management solutions, phone systems, distribution channels—the list goes on. What is this craziness? Well, it’s an attempt to have the most well-rounded, efficient, and profitable operation possible. The goal really should be to bring as much technology under one roof to minimize costs and inefficiencies while harnessing third-party platforms. There are many great external product extensions, but the first objective should always be to consolidate. After all, maximum efficiency often translates into maximum profitability.
How does putting time, money, and energy into a CRM translate into ROI for my business?
Whether using your PMS for your CRM or an external system like Salesforce, the answer stays the same. You invest consciously into getting your customers through the door, but it is critical to understand the value of keeping that customer inside the door. It is essential to begin to evaluate the lifetime value of the guest or owner. Once a guest has stayed with you or an owner has signed up with you, he or she is your customer to lose. If you make all the right moves, there is little your competitors can do to reel in that business. When speaking of return on investment (ROI), let’s focus on the investment part. You are investing a great deal of resources to get people in the door. You are investing in employees, costs per click, SEO, branding, OTA fees, your website, etc.
A successful customer retention plan would start by tailoring a personalized experience, which is possible with a quality CRM for both guests and owners. Create an experience through technology that makes customers feel like they can trust you and that you care about them. With an automated approach, you are providing the foundational/functional necessities and using the gained staff time to cater to and personalize the relationship on whole new level.
Once you have the data, get creative. Categorize your guest as a golfer in the CRM and set up a notification that automatically goes out to all “golfers,” saying, “We remember you like to golf, so here are the courses in this area; we recommend this one.” Delivering an experience like this is entirely possible, but you have to get the data, know the customer, and find the technology and CRM to create such an experience. Think how creative you could be! You could build tailored experiences for skiers, or fishers, or VIP clients, or foodies—the list goes on. These same concepts are true for owners. Owners are really your most valuable customers, and their experience with you should be highly tailored as well. There are many ways to go above and beyond for owners. If you invest the time and resources into the right CRM and customer experience, your one-time guest can become a lifelong guest, and your success will be ensured.