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.”