Have you ever encountered someone who exudes passion about their career, hobbies, family, or even the beauty of life in general? I had the privilege of meeting such a person on my recent plane ride home from Peru. The conversation started after Paresh volunteered to switch seats so our family could sit together. I remember talking about family and where we were both traveling to and from (my family on the way home from Peru, he and his family visiting potential colleges) and then our line of work. Out of all of the people I could have been seated next to, it was Paresh Shah who is a keynote speaker, founder of Lifter Leadership, and Partner in The Non-Obvious Company. We connected about topics on the women's movement, trust in the workplace, creating innovation through Non-Obvious thinking techniques, amazing new approaches to effective leadership, and my favorite topic, gratitude. At the end of the flight, he gifted me a little bracelet and his card sharing with me his TedXYouth talk on Lifter Leadership. After being drawn to this simple purple bracelet with little whales and continuing to wear it each day, I realized I needed to watch his talk. That is when I understood completely his message.
TedXYouth invited Paresh to come to Hong Kong and present his Lifters talk to the youth of the region because they believe the young generation will start to create change in our world. They felt so strongly that young people needed to hear his powerful message and his talk was streamed live to elementary, secondary and high schools. I, too, resonate deeply with the four “Mindshifts” which organizations must make to embrace Lifters Leadership and realize the power it has to engage today’s workers, drive innovation, build trust with customers, and change the world. What struck me was how the Lifter Leadership approach was universal, so relevant to today’s times of broken leadership and how it could resonate with all people, young or old, men or women, senior leaders or front-line workers, and people from all cultures. When he shared the inspiring stories of Lifters he met on the road, he lit up like fireworks at 30,000 feet knowing his Lifter message was changing the hearts and minds of CEOs, governments, line workers, and youth everywhere--his was a man on a mission to change the world. A Harvard MBA and leadership guru, deeply studied in mindfulness, yoga, and ancient wisdom, was now shepherding a message and practical methodology on how positivity, purpose, compassion, and creativity were not only compatible with success, they were essential to succeed and survive.
It reminds me of a story recently shared by a client. A vendor in the Vacation Rental Industry told a homeowner how lucky he was to work with Bennington Properties who manages his home. He said, “I would follow the owner of this company into a burning house,”. Why? Knowing Robert Bennington, I knew exactly why! It is because he is a Lifter! His leadership team and employees are so loyal and appreciative of him. He uplifts his employees, his customers, his partners, and his community. They will follow his lead anywhere, knowing his integrity and intentions are always positive, and many of his team have worked there for decades.
Lifter Leadership can help solve the five biggest problems companies face:
I personally see each of these challenges in companies I coach. It is real and takes a toll on employees, leaders, company performance, and all of their futures. I am watching middle managers struggle with the stress and how to manage in each of these areas. Many want a quick fix- common in today’s world. Yet, progressive leaders understand that working through these challenges takes a systematic approach, inner reflection, a consistent message, patience, and a desire to make a difference and be purpose driven. After hearing 70% of our workforce in 2020 will be millennials, it supports the need for this major shift even more. As Paresh points out in an entertaining and endearing dig to his Indian father, “Older generations have always criticized younger people, and much of the criticism of new, younger workers is misguided and unfair because we are leading them with outdated approaches... This generation wants to work with companies with strong Lifter cultures that have purpose, positivity, authenticity, and integrity ... -- they simply won’t stand for less any longer and they really shouldn’t.” We cannot do things the way we have in the past because it no longer works, and we must embrace this change NOW and the Lifter Leadership model our new frequent flyer friend shared with us, is the first holistic, teachable way to address all 5 challenges above. Solving these problems will not happen overnight, but the Lifter principles and skills make sense and many practices can be conveyed in a short hop from LA to Seattle, with still time for some Netflix.
Lifter Leadership creates engaged, innovative, loyal ambassadors for your organization by applying the Four Lifter Mindshifts. Paresh conveys, “Mindsets often can be too rigid, people get fixated and rigid when in fact, we all need to adapt and evolve. Society is rapidly going through a major transformation, just look at the contrast and chaos in the world. It’s a clear indication that the world is shifting into a new era. A Whole New World. We need to evolve the way we think, speak and behave and it doesn’t happen overnight. Like anything new, it takes practice.” The Four Lifter Leadership Mindshifts Paresh shared harkened me back to one of my favorite books which I use as the foundation of relationship-building sales, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The Four Lifter Mindshifts are: The Hunt is Over, Tune or Consequences, Be a Yes AND Leader, and Take Invictus Action. Here’s my take on them:
#1: The Hunt is Over - In the outgoing model, much of business has been about exerting power over others (customers, employees, suppliers, competitors). Lifters move beyond being transactional and bring purpose and positivity to serve those around them, rather than see them as prey to hunt. Robert recently proposed the following purpose to his leadership team, asking for their feedback. “Change people's lives, make dreams come true, and live lives of abundant, overflowing joy.” He shared that he is working to have a full-time coach on staff to work with his leadership team on aligning their individual purpose to corporate purpose. Decades ago, few executives would have been so bold as my client, today it is more commonplace and not so far-fetched from a bottom-line perspective. Newsweek recently published an article outlining that people with a sense of purpose, live longer. They defined purpose as, “a self-organizing life aim that stimulates goals, promotes healthy behaviors and gives meaning to life.” Who wouldn't want that in a company they work for? Scientists aren’t able to identify the exact link with living longer and having a purpose, some suspect that it could be due to preventing genes linked to inflammation, a major factor is disease, pain and workplace absenteeism and presentism.
#2: Tune or Consequences – This Second Lifter Mindshift is all about embodying authenticity and integrity in every aspect of your business - - your products, marketing, internal processes and how you treat people. Paresh talked about how sensitive today’s younger generation is to inauthenticity and especially attuned to authenticity. These young workers have no tolerance for companies Instagramming pictures of their executives doing ‘socially responsible’ deeds on one hand while treating workers unethically across the globe or dumping toxins in the environment. Customers and workers will proactively, or often subconsciously, move towards companies they feel are authentic and shy away from those they feel are (two-faced, dishonest, fake). I have been working with Robert and his team discussing the company values and how his leadership team can embody them during 2019 as a goal for the company. We dig into how employees are living the values and what it looks like when they are compromised. The goal is to celebrate the successes and coach employees on the opportunities, striving for living the values in all ways.
#3: Be a YES AND person – This is one of my favorite Mindshifts and speaks straight to my heart. In the outgoing model, organizations would box people into specific role types and stereotypes -- front line cooks and cleaners, quantitative people, salespeople, operational people, etc. Jobs would be defined in such a constrained way that left little room for people to express their unique aspects of creativity as a person. Who wants that? With so many organizations struggling with diversity and innovation, the Lifter Mindshift gives people permission to express their “Yes AND” gifts and skills. It helps organizations recognize, tap into and skill up to benefit from encouraging their team members to align their own passions, interests, and uniqueness to their responsibilities. Part of why so many workers are disengaged is they feel they are treated as automatons who do not think. When Lifters leaders help employees apply their unique gifts to their jobs, even in the smallest of ways, they unlock a treasure trove of commitment, innovation, passion, and drive that they never saw before. When I look at Robert’s “Yes AND,” I see a business owner, father of six who homeschools his children once a week and takes his boys sailing to learn about math, physics, geography, oceanography, government, and marine biology. His leadership team is constantly in “ah” of him and his dedication to the business and his family.
#4: Take Invictus Action: Lifters take action in compassionate ways and seek ways to have everyone win, not just a few. One of the skills taught under this Mindshift of Taking Invictus Action is “Redefining victory”. For many business owners, having a thriving business is a victory. For Robert, supporting and growing the people who make his business thrive is victory. This action, in turn, creates a leadership team who does the same with its members in their individual departments. The members then flow this same purposeful action into their everyday encounters with coworkers, guests, suppliers, their community, and even with so-called competitors who they cooperate with to serve customers if needed. Everyone wins! This Mindshift was inspired by Nelson Mandela’s campaign to forge unity in the divided country of South Africa -- creating true beauty, harmony, and victory of a new kind.
This is a high-level overview of the Lifter Leadership approach and the Four Lifter Mindshifts Paresh shared with us. What I resonate most about these Mindshifts, as it applies to all levels of employees from owners to front-line staff. Each Mindshift has specific teachable, and learnable, skills and practices anyone can learn, and teams enjoy practicing. We know the Lifters in our lives and workplaces. They make things better and people are drawn to them.
“It’s a whole new world being created, and Lifters are the New Leaders of this world” -Paresh Shah
According to LinkedIn data, 57% of senior leaders feel soft skills are more important than hard skills. Interviewing candidates on hard skills is easy, whereas interviewing on soft skills takes questions where the candidate gives examples of how they applied such soft skill. Hard skills are fairly simple to train a newly-hired candidate. They are skills that are teachable abilities or skill sets that are easy to quantify. A trainer sits down and shows the new employee how to navigate the technology platforms such as the property management system, company website, lead management system, phone system, etc. The new employee then navigates the systems as the trainer watches and assists when they get hung up on the next step. Sometimes there are short quizzes at the end of the day to test their knowledge on the hard skills, as well as documents for the employees to reference during their first few months until system navigation becomes second nature. I recommend training on the hard skills first, so the new employees feel confident in their day to day routines, then introduce soft skills. Soft skills are known as “people skills” or “interpersonal skills.”
For 2019, the most desirable soft skills for employees according to LinkedIn are creativity, persuasion and collaboration. It is said that creativity assists in conceiving solutions. We know solution-based thinking is always valued in any company. Persuasion is another and speaks to sales skills with getting people excited about the product of focus. I am a fan of relationship building skills focused on empathy, compassion, personally connecting, and drawing a visual picture to emotionally connect the experience. I have found the best way to build these skills is to dig deep into their meanings, sounds and how to communicate them. I have found reading articles or watching videos as a base to assist with such skills is helpful. Listening to company sales and guest service call recordings and viewing email and text communication shows when these skills are being practiced and when there is opportunity to communicate them in a way where the guest feels understood, supported and excited.
One of the most challenging soft skills I have found to coach on is empathy. Some data says you are born with it or you are not. We know that the prefrontal cortex in the brain houses the ability to have empathy and that can be compromised in many ways, such as head injuries, many years of drug and alcohol addition, lead poisoning, incarceration, etc. With that said I have watched an employee develop empathy over a two-year process with consistent coaching as well as breaking down personal barriers and experiencing a very difficult life experience. After all, how do we know how to empathize if we have never experienced pain and grief? These soft skills do not appear overnight, they take time and patience to develop. I also recommend not mixing the soft skills coaching with hard skills or human resources topics. Soft skills take real focus and processing. When they are mixed with other areas, the content can get lost and not be as effective.
Collaboration and adaptability are other sought-after soft skills. We need to be able to pull from others’ strengths and not assume we have all the answers. This plays into team work and respecting the knowledge that others have that we may not. Adaptability compliments collaboration. Our world is constantly changing with the amount of technology we rely on and upgrades of such. We don’t do things the same any longer and to keep up in business we have to adapt and be open to change. After all, if we aren’t uncomfortable, we aren’t growing.
Finally, I will discuss the skills of time management . I have yet to coach a leader who hasn’t asked for tools on this subject. The industry of hospitality fosters a heavy work load, and the new day and age of quick responses is at an all-time high. I watch people suffer with anxiety from such pressure, and I find myself talking a good amount about being in the moment to relieve the anxiety and to be present with one’s self, as well as relationships. It is up to us to manage our time so we don’t find ourselves spinning because we can’t live up to the quick-response world. We need to create healthy boundaries so we can be present with our relationships.
Out of 25 hard skills that companies are looking for the most, a few of my favorites most applicable to the hospitality industry include people management - the idea of coaching and empowering instead of “command-and-control,” sales leadership, which shows to be more challenging to find these days, and customer service systems. One unsavory tweet can ruin your business, so how will you keep your company on top of service levels? These three areas speak to understanding trust-building both internally and externally, and how our world is very different from when we were being groomed in business 20+ years ago.
Training Industry.com pointed out in January of 2019 that, “not only does soft skills training help when it comes to succession planning, but it also improves motivation across the entire organization and creates a more harmonized, cooperative working environment.” They recommend focusing on the following topics: communication skills, leadership skills, time management, team-working, problem-solving and change management. It is beneficial to offer such training to every employee in the company.
There are different types of situational learning to assist with growing soft skills. One is having a mentor in the company. The mentor can help guide and support the new employee until they feel confident in the specific skill. This also helps build skills with negotiating time availability and commitment for each person involved, as well as the overall feeling of support in a new working environment. Other companies offer apprenticeships relying on mentors and good teachers. It assists with internal company dynamics of working with peers who are open to learning interpersonal skills.
Another great team-building way to assist with soft skills is by offering group activities. This can look like a leadership development program where you bring in blended learning with classroom topics, reading and homework followed by ongoing group activity assignments. Each leader can present to the group and receive an evaluation by peers and instructors. Peer evaluation can speak to developing transparency as well as vulnerability in an organization. Bringing in the different situational learning will help make soft skills feel easy to learn and not so challenging as some may perceive.
“They aren’t called soft skills, they are called courage building skills.” – Brene Brown
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