I absolutely love the hospitality industry and everything about it, yet it took me 30 years to learn how to love it and thrive in it without burning out every two years. As entrepreneurs, we know how draining building a business can be, especially being the people pleasers, we are with perfectionist tendencies. When the pandemic hit in March, my business came to a screaming stop. Clients who had agreements with me and already had paid asked to pause. I was six years into my business where I worked second jobs the first couple of years until I could do the consulting full-time and then my daughter came through an adoption with a phone call on a Tuesday afternoon and I had a full plate of business that I needed desperately to cover the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) bills and final adoption payments. I lived with friends three hours from my home in Bend, Oregon and I woke up at 5am doing coaching sessions for an east coast client five days a week and then went to the NICU to be with Chela for another 10-12 hours a day. My husband came for two days a week where I then met with my other clients on the west coast. I did this for two weeks with adrenaline that came from the excitement of finally being the mom I had dreamt of while waiting in the adoption pool for four years. The year she was born was my highest revenue producing year to this day. I called her my Irish lucky charm and did not say, “no” to anyone who asked for my services. The next couple of years were still very busy and I was getting tired and ready for a break. Then the Pandemic hit. I embraced this time and knew business would resume at some point. I decided I would make the best of this time and see it as the maternity leave, I never took. I leaned into self-care like I never had before, and it has been amazing and transformational!
There are very few people I am encountering currently, who are not feeling challenged at some level. The most common in the Vacation Rental Industry, is the feeling of being overwhelmed. For many companies, the silver lining is that business is still booming. The challenging part is that people are feeling exhausted. Even being closed for time periods during the pandemic, it was not a time of rest for everyone. A pandemic is trauma experienced by all at different levels. It can be really challenging for owners and managers to have their best leadership hats on when they themselves are experiencing their own trauma.
Recently I read about the idea, “If you want more from your team members, you must give more.” After I spent time thinking about my experiences, I came up with six tips on how to lead with compassion and create the ownership culture you want to make for a business to thrive.
Praise your people!
The rule of thumb is five praises for every discussion on areas of improvement. Paying people is not enough. Specific praise on how they communicated during a zoom call to another employee or their ways of thinking outside the box and being innovative down to how they took the lead with a customer complaint and smoothed everything over. Praise them when they act in line with the company values. Then most importantly, having empathy about how they are working from home with their spouse who is working from home and having their mother watch their toddler, while managing the online schooling for their first grader. Some people do not have enough tables in a house to make three remote workstations, more or less separate rooms for concentrating.
Check in with your team members and ASK them how you can support them.
Do they need to adjust their work times or take specific timed breaks? Are they having a challenging guest or coworker situation? Remembering not to take on the challenging situation for them, instead coach them on how to resolve the issue at hand first. If you as a leader keep taking on the challenges for your team members you potentially create situations where team members will always come to you and not feel confident doing it themselves. Is the internet connection at their house not enough, making their days harder, because it is going out or being overloaded with all the family members on at the same time?
A little goes a long way.
Send handwritten thank you notes, offer door dash credits or imperfect food deliveries to their homes. Make sure they have the mental support they need, one on one coaching to handle their stress or a list of in-network therapists. Resources for free in-home exercise options. I felt like I was losing my mind when I was bound to the house for 10 days last month. A simple free Pilates YouTube made all the difference mentally for me.
Create a culture of ownership.
When you offer a monetary incentive to employees, they feel ownership in many areas of the company. I remember working for a company where I was bonused as a leadership member and it was based on the overall company budget as well as my specific area. As a restaurant manager in the organization, my area was dishware. If I could keep under or in line with the budget, I got my potion of my bonus. I inventoried the dishware to ensure there was not theft or too much breakage. This company was crazy successful. I also know an awesome local taco shop that offers stock in the company and makes sure all employees have health care. Their tacos are fabulous, yet this company thrives because you feel it in every interaction you have and every bite you eat.
“Clear is kind”- Brene Brown.
Share what is happening with the company. This is a time of fear. If team members think the business might fold because you are starting to focus more on overtime and run a lean business, they will be fearful of their employment with the company. Instead bring them into the mix and maybe they will offer suggestions on how to run lean that you had not even thought of.
Know your values and walk your talk.
It is okay when you do not live up to a value, the key is to be transparent about it and share with your team how you are working on it. Take all actions back to values when shifting to new business practices during these changing times.
The concept, “People don’t quit their jobs, they quit their boss,” is true. There was only one time that I did not quit my boss and it was when I decided to exit the restaurant industry completely because of burnout. Yes, there was a nice boost in the unemployment payout until the end of August, yet if employees truly enjoyed their place of employment, felt valued and respected who they worked for, I do not believe money would compromise their desire to work for you and your company.
“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” – Simon Sinek
A couple of summers ago I was reading a book called, “The Whole Brain Child,” by Daniel J. Siegel. I found it very interesting how when children are acting out emotionally it is crucial we hang out in the right side of the brain with them, empathizing and validating their feelings before bridging to the left side of brain where we talk about the “why” or logic. Totally easier said than done. All I could think was, “I wonder how this applies to adults?” A few months later, because anymore, it takes me this long to read books, as a new mother. I am camping with friends and the book was on the table. My friend sees the book and says, “Oh, you are reading a Daniel J. Siegel book, that man is brilliant!” I responded thinking she also read the book because her child was four years older than our little girl. That wasn’t it at all though, she had produced a course for the author with the production work she does for her career. We started talking and she shared that she had to read multiple books of his to understand what he was talking about in his course. That was the beginning of the path I went down to understand more about his findings and how actually, we should be communicating the same way with adults by hanging out in the right brain before bridging to the left. It follows the same concept I talk about with empathizing before educating, yet it explains more of the “why” behind it. As humans, we cannot hear or grasp left brain thinking until we feel heard, validated and empathized with. Once we have this type of connection, our brains can relax and hear the next steps for resolving the issue or situation at hand. He shares that communicating this way will help in living balanced, meaningful, and creative lives full of connected relationships. Sometimes I feel like adults are similar to a bunch of children running around on a playground lashing out at one another with frustrations. I am not convinced a high population of parents in the 50’s-70’s were reading such books. Here we are as leaders seeing that we must change how we communicate with our team members and in turn coach them on how to communicate with guests.
Listening to recorded calls for reservation sales and guest services offers so much insight! Often, I hear supervisors say they can hear their team members in the office and that is all they really need. I am always excited to hear that supervisors are paying attention and listening to team members, yet there is so much to be heard when companies take the time to listen to recorded calls. Coaching employees on how to grow their soft skills and create better relationships is a wonderful way to build trust with your team and make them feel valued. Recently when working with a large team who has homes in two unique markets, an employee shared that she was so touched that the owner valued her enough as an employee to invest in her and have someone coach her. The owner was equally touched and very grateful that his team looked at the coaching opportunity in such a way. In order to build solid relationship building teams, it is important to hire for values and then coach additional soft skills. There was another employee who excelled significantly after coaching. She told me she just wanted guidance, so she knew what worked in calls.
Over the years I have updated and altered the sales and guest relations, service points from what I have learned listening and scoring thousands of calls. Following are some areas I see as critical for creating loyal guests who want to book direct and come back year after year.
Greeting the Caller
It is nice if you are able to ask the caller’s name in the original greeting, yet often it is a mouth full and not everyone feels they can be authentic and can feel robotic. Instead make sure the name is asked in the first minute of the call. If the caller offers their name right away, I suggest the caller’s name is repeated just like a verbal handshake. Using the caller’s name in calls has so many benefits. Research shows, as humans, we judge people in the first seven seconds of meeting them and if you use their name, they will listen to the next 15-20 words.
I feel the foundation of any call includes asking two open-ended questions. I am a fan of the following questions.
“What is bringing you to the area?”
“What are you looking forward to enjoying while you are visiting?”
“What is important in a home for you and your family?”
“What traditions do you enjoy this time of year?”
“What did you enjoy most the last time you visited?”
It is good to let the caller start with what they are calling about, and then transition to asking the above questions as you look up the details they are asking about. Also, great questions for when your computer is taking its sweet time. There is a ton of researching showing people like you better if you ask them questions. I have tested the theory out and it works. I talked with a woman for 15 minutes for the first time ever meeting. She knew a few things about me, and I knew a ton about her. She hugged me when we parted.
If you truly understand your caller and what is important to them, often you can eliminate additional calls, emails or texts taking place because you chose to make assumptions that were not correct. Often two questions allow you to really understand someone. It also eliminates the series of close ended questions that can make people feel disconnected. Such as, how many people are coming, how many beds do you need, are you bringing any furry friends, do you want to be near downtown. I am sure you know what I am referencing.
Another great technique I like to bring in, is under standing behavior styles by doing the DISC assessment and using sales techniques. By listening for what, who, how and why questions you can narrow down the caller’s behavior styles and know if they are Dominant, Influencer, Steady or Compliant styles, honing your techniques to what they like. For example, the Dominant style does not want to hear about the sand between their toes and the smell of the ocean, yet they do care about how many steps to the villa or how the travel insurance can benefit them in a factual way. Whereas the influencer enjoys when you paint the picture of them sitting on the deck with their morning coffee looking out at the ocean.
Relationship Building and Connecting
People want to do business with people. I have listened to so many calls where the team member shared something simple like being from the same area or having children similar in age. The caller’s tone changes, and they ask how they can make sure to talk with the representative again. We are living in a disconnect world and as humans we are put on this earth to connect. It is what fuels us and our inner soul, although I have never heard someone say, “Hey, I want to connect today!” They do say at the end of a call where connection has happened, “You are the nicest person I have talked to today.”
It is essential to empathize with caller’s when they have shared something personal or have called due to a problem. I have listened to many calls where a caller shared a loss of family members or something sad and the team member didn’t acknowledge it at all. Supervisors don’t hear this on one sided conversation, and it is a huge trust breaker and creates disconnection. No one likes to have someone completely ignore the fact they took off their mask. My favorite saying… empathize before educating. For scoring guest service representatives, I have empathy specifically be a service point.
Putting the Caller in the Moment
The key is to say “you”, and have it directly related to information they shared with you. This could be wanting an ocean view, needing time in the warmth of the desert, wanting to walk to all their activities, having a pool at the home or house layout, number of steps, cancelling the previous year due to an emergency. When describing the home, you say, “You will be able to sit outside into the late evening with the most pleasant temperatures.”
Most companies I work with have insurance with good reason. We are having many big weather changes in our world and it is important to let people know their options. Recently I had someone tell me that they don’t feel they need to share it when callers are concerned with pricing. I think the opposite. How is this caller going to feel if they are already feeling financially stretched and they end up having a death in the family and can’t make their trip and lose thousands that they didn’t feel they had in the first place. I promise if they choose to not take the insurance, they won’t be nearly as upset as if they were never told at all. There was a call where the representative said she would take off the travel insurance to lower the price and the caller stopped her and said, “Don’t take it off, with the amount of kids we are traveling with, we always buy the insurance.”
Professional Words and Tone
I am one of those people who thinks about the words we put out there in communication and strives to build relationships with compassionate tone and warm words. I often hear industry verbiage such as “units” and “properties”. It feels the same as fingernails scraping a chalk board, for me. I understand that we have the word “properties” in company names and all over websites and technology platforms, yet we can always say “house,” “villa,” “cottages” or “cabins.” Notice how much softer and inviting it feels. This also goes along with saying “cheaper” or “expensive.” There isn’t anything soft about those words, yet instead saying “most economical” or “best price point,” even “high end” or “luxury.” I like the technique often used when one struggles with too many “ums.” Write the word and draw a ghostbuster sign over it. Do this daily and see what happens.
Another detail about professionalism is not bad mouthing third party booking websites about their added fees and altering of emails, making it hard for consumers to contact companies directly. When we talk badly about others, the bad talk does not transfer to who we are talking badly about, it reflects on us as people. Keep it positive and simply state that the best price is always guaranteed when you book directly with the property management company.
Asking for Commitment
When asking where people are at with commitment levels, it doesn’t have to be pushy. I am a fan of simply asking, “How does The Cozy Cottage sound for you and your girlfriends?” The key is to do so right after stating the price. Too often I hear this awkward pause after sharing pricing, like stating the price was a question. It isn’t a question. The next step is to remove the pause and ask for commitment in a kind way. If they aren’t ready, the best next step is to offer to email them the details, so they have them on hand. This way you are also getting valuable information for your database.
Closing the Call
We are in the hospitality industry, so it is up to us to make it easy on people. The best way to do so, is to ask, “When are you looking at making a decision?” Then follow up with, “Can I call you if I don’t hear from you before?” This makes it easy for managing leads and more times than not, the caller is grateful for the offer. Then ensuring we are using the caller’s name in the closing and re branding the company name. Re branding the company name is so important these days with all of the multiple booking platforms and how confusing it is to consumers. I also see it as a form of gratitude. Consumers have options and thanking them for their business, is essential.
It is so easy to be service providers by answering questions and having a smile on our face, yet being a hospitality enthusiast is another level and requires mindfulness and self-reflection with how we communicate and be the person we want to be in life. I encourage you to take the time and ensure your people are getting the personal development required to be true relationship builders.
“True hospitality consists of giving the best of yourself to your guests.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
The Vacation Rental Industry has an amazing foundation of relationships, which is why I was drawn to it and continue to enjoy working in it, complimenting my hospitality spirit. I watch how company owners and leaders connect and are quick to offer help to one another with advice on technology and new implementations. The real struggle I see is having the relationship building mindset flow to the internal and external customer in companies. I feel the key piece is that it takes intentional focus and time. As we navigate this fast pace world where everyone wants everything now, it becomes more challenging to slow down and work on your businesses instead of in it.
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