The excited family pulls up to their rental home for a highly anticipated week of vacation. Everyone jumps out of the vehicle, and they rush through the front door to admire the amazing view as they split up to explore the property they have been dreaming about all year. Everything seems perfect!
But upon further inspection, although the property appears as it was pictured on the website, it becomes obvious that there is a laundry list (pun intended) of unaddressed cleaning and maintenance issues. What seemed like a perfect location for a dream vacation has turned into what will most likely be a drawn-out process of trying to get the management company to make it right.
Phone calls, maintenance techs, and housekeepers will disrupt their precious vacation time while working around them. Although the vacation experience can be salvaged, the damage has been done.
While this is a nightmare for the seasoned vacation rental manager, it’s a regular occurrence for travelers out in the vacation rental world.
In most US markets, the past year has shown record numbers of guests staying in vacation rentals. Early research shows that more first-time vacation rental users have come into the market than in any other twelve-month period in history.
The New Front Line
There is no question that marketing, reservations, and business development are the primary drivers of revenue in a modern VRM. They are heavily reliant on experienced and technically capable team members who drive the business forward, and these team members typically are compensated accordingly.
In the past, the front line for customer service was found at a company’s front desk or call center. However, with the advent and almost ubiquitous post-pandemic use of direct check-in at the property, guests rarely see the front desk. Add guest apps, texting as a preferred communication method, and even in-property artificial intelligence in homes (Alexa, Google Home, etc.) offering guests the answers they need, and it’s clear that guest service is becoming increasingly about technical logistics.
Consequently, housekeeping and maintenance staff members are the first—and in some cases, only—” faces” a guest is likely to encounter for customer service. Without strong execution in these areas, the guest experience can suffer greatly.
Despite these new demands, housekeepers and maintenance technicians are usually the positions with the lowest salary ranges, the highest turnover rates, and the least amount of customer service training. The hardest service for a VRM to deliver is the consistent production of high-quality cleaning and maintenance. This challenge can be attributed to the fact that it is exceptionally difficult to identify, hire, and retain team members who produce results effectively over a long period.
When talking to many VRMs, they consider this a given. They have come to the conclusion that the situation “is what it is,” and all they can do is try their best to replace those who come and go in the hopes that some team members will stick with them.
If you ask the guests (we did for more than twenty years), they will tell you consistently that the most important thing a manager can do for them is to make sure the property is clean and well maintained.
The people who influence guest satisfaction most are given the least amount of consideration when it comes to identifying and hiring the best possible people.
Is High Turnover Really a Given?
When we ask VRMs whether some cleaners and maintenance techs stick around, they almost always have a few examples of those who have withstood the test of time and have produced over the long run. In many cases, these employees are considered anomalies—unlikely to be replicated—and VRMs are simply happy to have that handful of unique folks who seem designed for the job.
Wait . . . designed for the job? Designed for the position? But what if they are?
What if there is a way to identify the type of people who not only are great at providing these types of services but also are happy to do so for the long term? What if we could stop the revolving door and build an exceptional front line?
How Most Companies Hire
Identifying the right person for a particular role is one of the most challenging things to do in business. Most companies heavily emphasize the résumé and interview process.
Although solid experience in a particular role can be helpful, what someone has done in the past does not guarantee they will do it well within a particular organizational culture.
A well-structured interview should be part of the selection process, but there are other factors to consider. In two or three discussions, employers try to assess through mostly standard interview questions whether the person will be a good fit.
The process can get even less structured than that when a company gets desperate to fill a role. At that point, it comes down to “Can they fog a mirror? Hired!” (which seldom works well as a long-term hiring strategy).
Although résumés and interviews can provide some data points about a person, these methods aren’t enough to predict whether that person will be the right fit. Some companies benefit from pre-employment screening techniques that provide far more information about the applicant.
We recommend behavioral profiling and cognitive testing as two such tools. Behavioral profiling is a form of personality testing. Although some personality tests take a long time and are challenging to administer, there are self-selection psychometric tests that take only a few minutes to complete. These tests are exceptionally accurate at identifying key attributes of a person’s behavior.
“Before using personality testing, we made a number of unsuccessful hires,” said Christina Thorenson, co-owner of Chattanooga Vacation Rentals. “We had the wrong people in the wrong seats, and the business suffered. After implementing behavioral profiling to survey all applicants, we have found our team growing in strength and abilities, and we are able to move the company forward faster. Imagine hiring a housekeeper who loves what they do, pays great attention to detail, and is excited about the result of a happy guest!”
With changes in who the front line includes, it’s clear that the ideal candidate’s profile may have changed as well.
Filling the Funnel
Leveraging tools such as behavioral profiling is great—that is, if you have applicants to profile.
In today’s environment, there is more competition than ever for quality candidates. Building a front line that is capable and consistent is hard when getting people to apply can be a challenge.
Our company’s view is that VRMs market and sell three things in this industry. The first and most obvious is the property rental. The second revolves around a solid growth plan for new property acquisition. The third is identifying and hiring the best people.
We find that most companies have plans and budgets for the first two. They focus on driving occupancy and revenue on the rental side, there is a solid growth plan for new properties, and there is a marketing budget for both. But we rarely find a VRM who has a talent acquisition plan that comes close to what they have in the other two categories.
If you are growing rental revenue and property count but don’t have the team to execute, and if you don’t have a strong front line that makes sure those guests and owners you worked so hard to acquire are raving fans of the services you provide, then long-term success will be a challenge.
Although the front line is broken in many cases, it doesn’t have to be. A company doesn’t need to hire out of desperation the first person who walks in the door. Turnover doesn’t have to be a given. You can decide that this component of the business requires a renewed emphasis.
You can and should reinvent your front line to better serve your guests and owners, which will enable you to be a market leader long into the future.