Texting communication is rapidly increasing as we all see every day. Now when I dine out at a restaurant and I am waiting for a table, no longer do I get handed a device that buzzes when my table is ready, now I get a text letting me know to be at the lobby in five minutes to be seated. Which I really like the addition of having five minutes in case I need to pay a beverage tab or use the restroom before going to the table. I also get texts letting me know when a pharmacy prescription is ready or when a prescription needs to be refilled. As well as reminder texts for dentist appointments and payment reminders from my cell phone provider.
It is said that texting is the most prevalent form of communication today and that it deserves a much more prominent and more personal role in business communications. There are times we can send mass texts to guests such as weather disasters, yet we should be handling other communication gently as we do with all relationship focused communications.
It is important to satisfy today’s experience-seeking customer. If you offer a better experience than your competitor, consumers will buy from you. Texting is an easy way to give your customers the experience they are seeking. Are you sending out a text when the home is ready for check-in or are guests expected to call to see when it is ready? Texting is quick and convenient and can easily provide a high service level if done correctly. Often companies are not able to program a specific number that shows who the text is coming from and have a character limitation. Are you stating the company name first, so they know who it is coming from? Are you using templates that are the correct amount of characters and still coming across as warm so that employees can make small changes to customize them? Maybe the notification that a home is ready states, “Hi Smith Family! Your ocean front home is ready at 200 Seaside Lane with a door lock code of 3333. Reminder that your sunset view this evening is 8 pm. Amazing Rentals hopes you enjoy your time.”
Statistics say that 8 trillion texts are sent every year with an open rate of 99% and a typical response time of under 3 minutes, 33% of Americans prefer texting to any other form of communication. It is also the most used form of messaging for American’s under the age of 50. As an industry we have already experienced the huge increase in website bookings, for some companies it has reached up to 70%. Customers are finding your company on their smart phones more than not, when listening to calls often when asked to view the home together, caller’s say they will be able to when they are done with the call because they are on their phones. Consumers are not spending the time to open a computer to view the homes together because they rely on their phones so much for vacation rental searching and booking. I recently had a friend tell me she used Vacation Rental by Owner for her European bookings because it was easy to access on her phone during travels.
Now that we understand how popular texting is and why we should be using it in our businesses, let’s start off with some basic guidelines for how to text in business:
Spelling, Grammar and Respect
Spelling out words instead of abbreviating like you might when texting to a friend or family member. Even if the person you are texting with starts abbreviating, remain the professional service provider and spell out your words as well as use correct spelling and punctuation. Just because they might not capitalize an “i,” doesn’t mean you should do the same. Imagine you are texting a formal individual, that often helps to keep it professional. Part of being humans is that we are often judged, and texting is another line of communication that guests will make judgments on. Keeping in mind The Platinum Rule to treat others how they want to be treated. If I am moving fast when texting as usually we all are, I might misspell or use the incorrect word when texting, yet that doesn’t mean that I am okay if a company does the same when texting me.
Like emailing, it is crucial to watch “tone” in texting so that communication isn’t misinterpreted. Take time before responding so that you don’t come off as flippant or harsh. Entrepreneur.com recommends using polite touches like “please” and “thank you,” as well as re-reading every message before pressing send helping to double check your tone.
When to Text and When to Call
Always keep serious topics for a phone call. If you are talking about cancellations of any kind, finances or what might be interpreted as “bad news,” take the time and pick up the phone.
You can build trust with frequent communication, yet if you over communicate via text, you might annoy someone. I think about the last time I was interviewing a renter for a studio we own, and we were texting about references and details. The renter filled my phone with long detailed texts all the way into 10 pm at night. I finally stopped responding because I live by the quote, “what we allow we encourage,” and I didn’t want this to become a habit moving forward. The next day, he said something about blowing up my phone and I responded with, “yes you did.” We both laughed about it, yet he never did it again.
On an internal business note, take breaks from technology occasionally. I hear about managers who are getting texts on their days off and sometimes even owner relations employees doing the same. I understand we are in the hospitality industry and it is very people pleasing focused, yet I spend a good amount of my coaching time helping people create healthy boundaries, so they don’t get burned out or need to take a month off to rejuvenate. If we are going to give with all of our heart and build healthy relationships in business, we need downtime, so we don’t get snarky or annoyed.
One of the bigger points that I find to be extremely important is to watch when you are sending texts. I recommend 9 am-5 pm for business texts. Now, if you are texting about an update on a maintenance issue that is pressing, I feel it is appropriate to text as late as 7 pm, yet I wouldn’t recommend any later. If you are communicating due to an after-hours call, ask permission on how late you can communicate via text or if they would prefer another form of communication.
Inc.com wrote a great article about why texting increased Dirty Lemon’s revenue by 1400 percent. The first reason was due to personal communication via SMS and how it optimizes the direct-to-consumer experience. I completely agree with this being that I tend to make a good amount of purchases through Facebook Market Place and I like the quick and easy transactions.
It is said that understanding consumers better drives smarter product development. The ability to track what the consumers want and the areas that your company is not delivering, allows for business changes that meets and even exceeds their needs.
Texting speeds up consumer communication and eliminates the lengthy phone calls or email queries that sometimes never get answered or end up in spam.
It is time to embracing the texting communication in business if you haven’t already.
“If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone.” John Maxwell
Many people are very familiar with the concept of trust when it comes to personal relationships. Yet, what about professional relationships?
I have been experiencing more and more, companies that struggle with trust. If there isn’t good trust in the company culture, it will lead to internal and external challenges. When I think of companies that struggle with trust, it wasn’t one big situation, it was many issues over time. Ron Zemke who wrote Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service said that when working with customers you should practice the following techniques to build trust:
Communication is a great example and one that I find to be the most common for leading to lack of trust. When employees and guests feel like they know what is going on, it builds trust. When employees are told that the company operates on a “need to know” basis, it can often make people feel like things are being hidden and compromises transparency. Depending on how lacking the communication is, it can create a fear-based environment. These pieces then leak over to guests, such as employees not being proactive in communication and then creating upset customers because the guest felt like local details were hidden from them, such as not being told the home they rented was still having construction happening. The best thing we can do is be transparent and act out of love for ensuring the guest feels informed and is able to make the decision for themselves. When we don’t share such information, it represents acting out of fear. Fear that the guest won’t rent the home and revenue will be lost.
When expanding on developing openness, I think of the importance of getting vulnerable. Vulnerability can look different to everyone. For reservation sales calls, it might be sharing something personal that makes a connection with the caller. Such as growing up in the same community they are coming from or being an avid hiker and sharing some of their favorite local hikes. Keeping in mind we don’t want to make the caller regret getting vulnerable by sharing something that makes their situation pale in comparison. This can be when a caller shares that they are coming because a family member is in the last phases of their wife’s life, due to cancer and the employee shares that they have had all their family members pass from cancer in a two-year period. For leaders, getting vulnerable might be sharing the underlining issue that has been making them unapproachable or unhappy over the last year, leading to stress in the company. When we get vulnerable, it builds trust. Yet we are in a world that doesn’t always embrace vulnerability and sometimes makes people feel like it makes them look weak instead of confident. If you have the mindset of fearing getting vulnerable, I encourage you to watch Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on vulnerability. It changed my life! We are living in a world where people are craving connection and vulnerability builds connection.
Showing warmth includes empathy and compassion. If a potential guest calls and shares they are bringing their mother for her last trip back to the community where they grew up, acknowledge how hard that must be. You want to make sure you don’t simply say nothing at all, instead say, “I can’t even imagine how hard this must be for you and your family.” You also don’t want to put the silver lining on it by saying, “At least she will get to see her home town for the last time.” For leaders this can look like being compassionate when an employee has had something terrible happen in their personal lives. As well as believing them when they share that they need time for a personal situation. Another example that comes to mind is sharing about another employee’s situation to a different employee. Brene Brown references keeping information that is personal to others in the vault. Some people think that talking about other people and their issues builds connection, yet it creates distrust. I always wonder, if you are talking about someone else to me, what are you saying to others about me?
Always stick with the truth! It sounds pretty simple, right? Yet, often I hear about avoiding information which can translate into not telling the truth. If a house has dated furniture and décor, don’t sell it like it has just been remodeled. Use words like rustic or comfortable. As leaders, please don’t encourage your employees to lie about homes or local construction projects that have been happening. It always comes back around, referencing a favorite quote, “What we allow, we encourage.” When such situations are communicated as not sharing, it will carry through to employees and how they communicate with guests.
Confidence comes through in words, tone and body language. Using a good amount of “ums” when communicating may express a lack of confidence similar to dead air. I remember a past manager that used to say, “Bad on me,” when he would try new things and they didn’t work out. Instead show confidence about being willing to try new things and learning from them as well with being okay when failure happens. Brainstorm with the team on how it could have been done differently and use it as a trust and team building experience. There is a difference between being humble and lacking confidence.
Roy Lewicki and Edward C. Tomlinson from Ohio State University found the following techniques for cultivating trust in working relationships:
Simon Sinek believes that a team is not a group of people working together. A team is a group of people who trust each other. I encourage everyone to think about these different concepts of trust and dig deep to see where you can improve your trust techniques as an employee or a leader. As well as do what you say you are going to do to build reliability.
“Trust is the glue of life. It is the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” Stephen R Covey
As consumers we are used to the occasional upselling technique when making purchases. I usually think of the upsell offering insurance on products or complementing products to the one being purchased. I am the consumer that is quick to deny the upsell because I usually have done my research and already have a specific price in mind and don’t want to spend more. How do we overcome the mindset of a set price?
Sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer, author of The Sales Bible, The Little Red Book of Selling and The Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude, shares that when upselling is done right, it builds deeper relationships with your customers. His quote is “Tell me how I win. When I win, you win.”
I agree with Jeffrey and believe in relationship building sales, if we educate the consumer on the benefits of the upsell for them, our ability to overcome the price objection softens. Using the example of traveler’s insurance when renting a vacation rental. The Mt. Hood Vacation Rentals team in Oregon quotes the final price with and without the insurance, followed up with why it would benefit the guest in their specific situation where they talked about older family members that are ailing and taking them for a final vacation. When you speak to the specific benefit for the potential guest it shifts to relationship sales and guests feel taken care of.
Another example of an ideal upsell is during the redemption of a vacation rental stay gift certificate purchased at a non-profit black-tie gala (Geronimo Solutions provides Vacation Rental Management Companies with a free platform to handle such gift certificates). Instead of jumping straight to redeeming, ask how many people will be joining during the stay and offer the option of a larger home or more desirable dates or an upgraded home with a better view. This is a great way to leverage non-profit fundraisers… post slow-season and middle tier offerings and have a “menu” of upgrades that can be offered to holders of these certificates; each upgrading carrying an associated fee. These upgrades are often welcomed by certificate holders, and this is found incremental revenue for companies and homeowners.
Some vacation rental companies offer concierge services. Stony Brook Cabins in Tennessee offers rose petals sprinkled in the bedroom along with a bottle of champagne chilling in the refrigerator. There was a guest that was planning a wedding proposal and was thrilled that he didn’t have to run around getting the items and hiding them for the surprise proposal.
I remember traveling and staying at a vacation rental with Sea to Sky Rentals in Washington that offered early check-ins and late check-outs for an additional fee. This was offered in their online agreement and then followed up with a phone call offering additional upsell services.
Jeffrey Gitomer recently shared in an article that, “the customer is in a buying mood and has already made up his mind and is open to suggestions that will help him. It all rests on the ability to engage, combined with how much trust you have built.”
He speaks to breaking it down into forms or elements.
When we can step back from thinking about the next call coming in or the customer in front of us, we can be more strategic in our relationship building and make the guest feel taken care of as well as generating additional revenue.
“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.” -Steve Jobs
Online bookings in the vacation rental industry have been on the rise for a while. We are hearing from clients that anywhere from 50 to 85 percent of their bookings have been online this year. What that tells me is that when people call in to book over the phone, they require and expect more from their service providers. Long gone are the days of easy bookings where the caller calls and says, “I want to book this home.” Instead I hear that people are calling about pricing and availability. Their minds have not been made up already that they are going to book at all.
Recently during a secret shopping project that I conducted, I found that in three out of five calls, the agents never asked what brought me to the area or what I was looking to do. They gave me “canned” information on the amenities of the resort or gave me a price and then asked me if I wanted to make a reservation and what credit card I wanted to use. I have to admit, I felt a little violated. They didn’t take an interest in what was important to me or even earn the right to ask for a reservation. In other calls, the phone routing disconnected or delivered to dead air where I waited for two minutes saying, “Hello . . . hello,” before eventually hanging up.
If your company is going to thrive and grow with the times, I encourage you to implement the following helpful tips for exceeding increasing customer expectations.
The Platinum Rule
We all know the golden rule of treating others how you would want to be treated. Let’s take it to the next level with the platinum rule and treat others how they want to be treated. We do this by asking questions and listening to hear.
Listen to Hear, Not to Respond
It is our natural human instinct to think about how we are going to respond when we are listening to callers or guests. It takes concentrated effort to overcome our natural instincts and really listen. This could require pausing after hearing an objection or concern and sharing that you are taking notes and want to understand the issue fully before coming up with a solution. The customer will respect this because who wants a quick answer that feels “canned” and not thought through? It is OK to say that you want to research what happened and follow up with the customer later that day. You could also make a comment on partnering with the client on the issue at hand and being his or her advocate in coming up with a fair resolution.
Empathize before Educating
Customers want to feel heard, understood, and related to. Often our natural instinct is to fix the problem before fixing the person. If we go straight into educating the customer about the “why” or the solution, we miss the opportunity to connect with the caller and build a long-lasting relationship. I have even heard customers, after being given a solution that is fair, say something like, “You didn’t even say you were sorry.”
Acknowledge Their Vulnerability
Often customers will share something vulnerable—maybe they are going through a divorce or have just lost a family member. Take the time to acknowledge the situation. You don’t have to relate to them by sharing a story of yours that is more devastating. Please don’t do this as it discounts their pain and does not create a connection. Instead say something like, “I am so sorry you are going through that.” Then gear your tone and focus on their needs for relaxation and rejuvenation.
Put the Caller in the Moment
Often customers are completing a responsibility by reserving a home. Get them emotionally connected to the experience they will have when staying with your company. You can do this by using the word “you” or “you and your family.” An example would be, “You and your family are going to love this home. It has a nice patio that overlooks the ocean. In the morning, you can enjoy coffee and breakfast as you watch the waves, or you can enjoy wine in the evenings while watching the sunset.” I have heard customers actually say that they are ready to be there now when employees have been successful at emotionally connecting them to the experience.
Often employees, during a busy season, are what I call “burning through calls.” When answering the phone, they make a quick assessment of whether the caller is a potential guest or not and then move on to the next call. Take the extra two minutes to ask what is bringing the caller to the area and what experience he or she is looking to have while visiting. Make the caller feel like you care. Even if the caller can’t do the minimum night stay or the price is too much, the caller will remember how you made him or her feel and will want to tell other people or come stay with you at another time. Every interaction we have is an opportunity to brand our company.
Make It Easy on the Customer
This might be an offer of an e-mail with links to send to the group that is traveling with the caller and taking an active role in deciding the home the group will stay in. Offer to call back instead of saying, “Call me when you have decided.” I heard an employee share that the employee’s company lets multiple people pay for a stay so that one person doesn’t have to pay the total and then collects funds from everyone in the group. I love that! I hear customers feel so relieved and grateful because of this offer.
As Maya Angelou put it, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did; they will remember how you made them feel.”
Often people associate coaching employees with directly effecting revenue or customer satisfaction. Yet there are underlying behaviors that are important to coach on to achieve customer satisfaction and increased revenue.
An example might be… the employee that works long hours and is always the first to take on additional responsibilities. This could be viewed as your perfect employee… Unfortunately, this employee most likely gets sick often, even though he/she doesn’t call in sick, getting other team members sick and overall performance suffers because of the illness. In turn this employee is the biggest risk for burning out. When these employees don’t set healthy personal boundaries, their work goals fall short and potentially encounter stress and conflict at home. Adam Grant and Reb Rebele wrote the article, Beat Generosity Burnout, stating that “Selflessness at work leads to exhaustion-and often hurts the very people you want to help.”
Adam Grant also published a book called Give and Take, talking about how generous “givers” succeed in ways that lift others up instead of cutting them down and add more value to organizations than selfish “takers” or “matchers” do. They “key” is to be a giver with boundaries. When they researched selfless giving teachers they found that their students performed at a lower level than givers with boundaries. I find the selfless givers to be two fold in the sense that they are:
The next piece is that they aren’t coaching team members to be givers with boundaries so the employees, in turn don’t live the above traits.
How do we break the generosity burnout cycle? We pay close attention to the selfless givers and coach them on healthy boundaries, after all, when you are a true leader you are developing leaders. This can look like the following; noticing when team members are burning out and give them extra time off for their needs, talking with them about self-care; healthy eating habits, exercise, 6-8 hours of sleep a night and surrounding themselves with people who build them up.
Industry leaders are prone to generosity burnout in the hospitality industry of service. I have found that selfless givers are attracted to the hospitality industry because they love to give and this industry can take from all directions. It doesn’t have to be this way though. Personally, I feel that millennials are getting a bad rap because they don’t want to live this life style, yet as far as I am concerned, we as a culture need to rethink how we are being selfless givers and shift to givers with boundaries. There is a good amount of research that shows how much more effective teams are when they are working 40 hours a week instead of 60 hours a week. How can we as service providers give to our guests or coworkers when we don’t have anything left to give? Imagine what your team would look like if they only worked 40 hours a week, were healthy, able to spend time with family and friends, exercise and get a full night’s sleep. The chances are that they would jump to help the guest and their coworkers instead of being resentful and burned out.
The next step is coaching employees to be resilient. There are very few individuals who live a life and don’t experience some type of grief or struggle with challenging customer interactions. We experience grief any time we go through change. There are changes in jobs, our homes, relationships, technology, etc… as Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant share in their book Option B, psychologist Martin Seligman found that three P’s can stunt recovery:
This self-talk can spiral employees into very dark places. If they can shift their self-talk into believing that they are not entirely at fault, that it won’t affect all areas of their life and that it won’t last forever, they recover at a faster rate. Everyone has their own timeline when it comes to grief and their own map of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Some skip over one area and others get stuck in another area for a longer amount of time. As I like to say, “Everyone has their own journey.” It isn’t to be judged are rushed. This is where self-compassion comes in. If an employee is grieving and something triggers them, causing them to cry, they should be able to go to a place where they feel safe and let it all out. Employees are humans and emotional people. I was once told that I would never be promoted within a company because I was too emotional. At the time my self-talk had a hay day and I beat myself up over being too emotional. I was having health issues as the company was aware of and my hormones were all over the place, yet after I left this company, I embraced my emotions and now I am grateful for being emotional. When we can recognize that some people’s ideas of imperfections are part of what makes us who we are, we can have self-compassion and are able to recover from hardships quicker.
Sheryl Sandberg shares in her book, for soldiers returning from war in Afghanistan and Iraq, those who were kind to themselves showed significant declines in symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. She states that self-compassion is associated with greater happiness and satisfaction, fewer emotional difficulties and less anxiety. We aren’t talking about brushing off situations like they aren’t our responsibility, but not negatively self-talking ourselves into a hole where we damage our future. Adam Grant’s research has shown that offering support to employees through personal hardships helps employees become more committed to their companies.
Sheryl also talks about how to help your team embrace learning from failure. She uses the Marines as an example of having debriefs after missions. They see failure as learning opportunities and it allows them to remove the personal connection. When you are open to criticism you usually get more feedback, which you can take to better yourself.
In order to build resilient teams as a leader it is recommended to do the following:
One of my favorite clients shared with me that he felt his responsibility as a leader was to support his employees with their personal growth. If we all had this mindset, the world would be a beautiful place.
Leadership and coaching go hand in hand. Often I hear managers telling employees what they need to do instead of coaching them. Reminding me of the old management style of “Do as I say, not as I do.” I was definitely raised with this style of management. Then once every ten years or so, I would come across a real leader and coach. They are the people that I visit in my head when I am looking for leadership and coaching guidance. It starts off with having the right mindset and looking at the potential in someone instead of what they can offer you now. Then building trust with your team by consistent communication, being open, showing warmth, telling the truth, being confident and most importantly getting vulnerable. When you sit down to coach an employee, you start off by asking what they are looking for in their professional growth. Then you listen; really listen to them, for understanding, not to respond. Once you have a good understanding of what they want to focus on, you support them continually.
I had the great benefit of working with a leader just like this. His name is Kevin Cronin and at the time he was a regional manager for a restaurant group in San Francisco. When he hired me he said that he didn’t expect me to know everything, such as the importance of ordering the kid’s food first when a family sat down to eat together. Instead he said that he would show me those details to help grow my skills. Then he asked me what area of the industry that I wanted to focus on for my own growth. At the time it was my wine knowledge, being a restaurant manager in San Francisco at the age of 26, was a little intimidating to say the least. He gave me a simple wine book to support me on my journey. Then he sent me to the Sterling School of Hospitality and Wine in Napa Valley so that I could learn from professionals. He also gave me a beautiful bone designed wine opener that I still have and cherish. He knew that as a leader, if he invested in me, I would in turn be dedicated to my team and the company. When we put people first and support them, organically they are committed to you and the company. If they aren’t, you might want to reference Adam Grant’s TED Talk on givers or takers.
Once you feel confident on your coaching skills, because you have built trust and you are asking them instead of telling them, that is the time to also look at your level of empathy and compassion. Brene Brown has multiple videos on these concepts and the importance of them. It is being able to put yourself in one’s shoes, understanding what they are experiencing, yet it is also being able to be compassionate for their situation. This takes effort in showing them that you have heard them and acknowledging how challenging their situation might be. This also includes removing the silver lining. If you try to outline the positive of the situation, it takes away from really being empathetic. Instead, a simple response of, “I am so sorry you are going through this right now. It must be really hard.” I am always a fan of a big hug and sharing that I am here for them in any way I can be. I coached an agent that struggled with empathy when we first started coaching together. I would listen to her recorded sales calls and hear snarky tones and then people would share that they just had a family member pass and she wouldn’t acknowledge what they shared at all. She explained that it made her feel uncomfortable to hear such news and she didn’t know how to react. So we talked about options of what she could have said. I shared with her the 7 Phrases That Convey Empathy by Myra Golden:
The next step is to ensure you are motivating your team. Yusuf Tokdemir wrote an article titled; Discover What Motivates People More Than Money and his tips include the following:
My husband and I found a vacation rental on the McKenzie River in Oregon that we have been enjoying for 6 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 this 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 with his demeanor, and I always tried to pinpoint what it is about him that 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 check-out time if no one other vacationers have reserved the home on our arrival and departure days.
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 hard line 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 any questions 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 were off putting. 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 home owner 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 nuisances make a big difference in people’s perceptions and experience with your company or organization whether they are guests or employees. It is important to pay attention to the words we use. I call it warm words vs. cold words. Randy doesn’t say, “you must,” “you need to,” or “you have to.” No one really likes to be told what to do. When employees are new, I notice that they focus really hard on making sure they know the policies and they are quick to state and reinforce them. The next level of their education and training should be, outlining the grey areas of those policies, calling them guidelines with a soft and gentle tone. When can guidelines bend or be broken? How can you turn someone’s bad experience around with the little things that make people smile? There is a ton of grey in customer service and being empowered to see what makes top level customer service experience. Another cold word that I hear more, is “property.” This word is like nails on a chalk board for me. Vacation rentals are an emotional transaction and experience for someone to enjoy their time away. We are selling homes to people for a couple days up to months and we want it to feel like it will be their home for that time period.
I am reminded of these tips in the book, Start Your Own Business, the staff of Entrepreneur Media Inc.; outline the importance of focusing on repeat business. They touch on the following ways to keep your business at the top of the consumer’s mind.
Having empathy for other people is a true art. Some research says that you are either born with it or you are not. I can say that I was not born with it and I did not have it until my early 30s. I grew up in the hospitality industry. I watched my parents work evenings and holidays throughout my life. So it was very natural for me to not have empathy when I entered the restaurant industry and employees would ask for holidays off to spend with their families. I continued the family cycle of working long hours and not spending holidays with my family and fully dedicated to my career. It wasn’t until I had what I call, “Life Challenges” come up when I owned my event planning business that I began to shift and have empathy for others. I lost my grandparents and father in a 2 year time frame along with experiencing a major medical challenge and a divorce. It was then that I started to look at people differently. When I saw someone acting out, whether it was saying mean words to others or yelling, I started to wonder, what was going on in their life? All I could think was that they were having probably one of the worst days of their lives. I knew what that felt like to be brought to your knees with grief and wonder if I was going to be able to get through the pain and anger. This feeling was empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Keeping in mind it wasn’t sympathy, feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. The two are very different and sympathy does not have the same impact as empathy when working with people. From my experience with empathy, I know that it can be learned through life challenges. Yet, what if you are someone who doesn’t have empathy and your life has been very easy, without any life challenges? It can be learned if someone wants to grow their personal skills. Maybe they see there is more to life and they want to be better within themselves and for their family. If this is the case and they have the desire, they can learn empathy. If you are one of these people, I recommend paying attention each time you have negative thoughts about people and stopping yourself during those negative thoughts. Stop and ask yourself, is this person having the worse day of their life? Think about what that must feel like. Keeping in mind that we are all different and one person’s worst day might be having their car break down whereas another person’s worst day might be being told they have cancer with one year to live and they don’t know how they are going to tell their husband and two toddlers. Feel the empathy for the other person in your heart. This is an art and it takes practice and discipline.
According to Roman Krznaric as outlined in his article “Six Habits of Highly Empathic People,” we can cultivate empathy throughout our lives and use it as a radical force for social transformation.
Habit 1: Cultivate Curiosity about Strangers-Curiosity expands our empathy when we talk to people outside our usual social circle, encountering lives and worldviews very different from our own.
Habit 2: Challenge Prejudices and Discover Commonalities-Challenge your own preconceptions and prejudices by searching for what you share with people rather than what divides you.
Habit 3: Try Another Person’s Life-Expand your empathy by gaining direct experience of other people’s lives, putting into practice the Native American proverb, “Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him.”
Habit 4: Listen Hard-and Open Up-“It is essential to be present to what’s really going on within-to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that moment,” according to Marshall Rosenbergy, psychologist and founder of Non-Violent Communication. Then followed by making yourself vulnerable by removing your masks and revealing your feelings to someone. This is vital for creating a strong empathic bond.
Habit 5: Inspire Mass Action and Social Change-Empathy happens at the level of individuals yet empathy can also be a mass phenomenon that brings about fundamental social change.
Habit 6: Develop an Ambitious Imagination-Empathize with people whose beliefs we don’t share or who may be “enemies” in some way.
As hospitality industry leaders, we have the ability to have a positive impact on many people that we encounter. I encourage you to practice the art of empathy for your own well-being and to spread positivity out into our world.
“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.” by Daniel H. Pink
Having grown up in the Hospitality Industry, I was taught to always put the guest’s needs first. This mindset then flowed into putting everyone’s needs first. This included characteristics such as watching my tone and words to ensure that I am never offending anyone. Examples include not saying “you should” or “you need to” when talking with people, after all, who likes to be told what to do? Even overworking myself to ensure the guest’s expectations were over exceeded. Yet in all of my efforts to ensure everyone else is taken care of first, I forgot how to take care of myself. Obviously I am capable of simple hygiene and ensuring that I appear professional, especially in the guest’s eyes. Yet I am talking about emotional care. After recently listening to a reservation sales agent share that she cried about how she was talked to by a customer, I wondered how I could help her. The concept that came to mind, was “not taking things personally”, when encountering a challenging customer or some random person who decides to take their bad day out on the next person they encounter. For years I have been beating myself up, wondering what I did or what I could have done differently to ensure they liked me, just like this agent… In the end, it wasn’t about me. I think it is very easy for us “pleasers” to get in this mindset. At a certain point I made a change to take care of myself first.
I would like to introduce a book that offers hospitality “pleasers” a way of providing self-care AND giving top notch service to everyone. This book is called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Following are Don Miguel Ruiz’s agreements.
We are living in interesting times with new territory when it comes to customer service. More than ever, the customer has a voice and they are using it. Those customers that might not say anything about not being happy at the time of their service experience are now using their voices on Social Media websites. Websites that are reaching large audiences and those audiences are listening! Consumers have many options these days and they don’t have to do business with companies that don’t make them feel valued. Then there are customers that are saying something to the company about their unpleasant experience and following up with Social Media outbursts after if they didn’t get the answers they wanted.
So the question is… what should companies do? First, hire the best company representatives you can find, making sure that company values align with the representative. Communicate company values consistently by walking the talk. Then continue to have a pulse on your business. Do you really know what your representatives are saying to the customer? I am not saying listen to every call or micromanage all of their communicate pieces. Yet I promise you that if you listen to a handful of calls and find that your representatives are not acting in line with the company values, there are many more calls where they are saying the same things. Then follow up with coaching your representatives and have continued training on how to work with challenging guests. Ensuring that they understand what company guidelines are flexible so that customers aren’t constantly being told “no” due to company policies.
So what do we do when everything was good with the experience in the beginning and then something bad happens? A human error that can happen to anyone of us takes place. Let’s use the example of a vacation rental management company overbooking situation.
Step 1: Apologize for the situation and any inconvenience that your guest is going to feel. Making sure you are sympathetic and communicating this by phone and not over a voicemail or email.
Step 2: Listen to their reaction. If they scream, let them scream. If they cry, practice active listening between their tears and gasping for air. Active listening, being, don’t be so quiet that they think you hung up on them.
Step 3: Have a couple of solutions to the problem. This could be different dates for their stay or another place for them to stay during the same time. Let them select the option that works best for them so they feel empowered with a situation that can make guests feel helpless and frustrated. Keeping in mind to only offer two fair options, this way they don’t feel overwhelmed with making a decision that they didn’t see coming.
Step 4: Offer atonement. A gift certificate at a favorite local restaurant, ski lift tickets or whitewater rafting, etc… Since your reservation sales agent was such a super star, they have great notes on the reservation outlining details about the guests that will help in deciding what gift certificate would be the best fit. I know that everyone says do a discount for your next stay so they will be sure to come back… I disagree. Give them something that will create a memory that they might not have had if you hadn’t given it to them. That will go much further in their loyalty then making them feel like they have to stay with you again.
Step 5: Keep your promise. Set up the new reservation for them, with special notes that they are VIPs. Get them the gift certificate that was decided on with a hand written note thanking them for being so understanding.
Step 6: Follow up. Call them during their stay with someone else or with your company, making sure that they received their gift certificate and ask how they are enjoying their stay so far. This piece is one of the most crucial and forgot steps. It can be scary, because they might say that they aren’t happy. Yet it is a crucial step to the recovery process.
Always keep in mind that customers complain because they want to keep doing business with you, they just don’t want it to be so painful when doing so. Spin the customer challenges around and see them as opportunities for growth instead of one more upset customer that you have to deal with. In true entrepreneurial spirit, that is why you own your own business, right?
“Life is Relationships; the rest is just details”. The DiJulius Group