How to Scale Vacation Rental Operations During Busy Season
Owning and managing a well-run vacation rental means maintaining a solid, responsive team that communicates well, not only with guests and service providers but with each other. But how do you make sure your team can scale operations during the busy season, maximizing efficiency and communicating well?
“Some have seen a trend of lost revenue attributed to lost communication,” says Sharon Keefe of VRMAdvocate. “Expanding service offerings only increases the amount of information required for all parties to communicate. Gone are the days when the focus is getting arrival instructions to the guest. Now the traveler demands we go beyond the basics and include an array, from concierge service to high-touch delivery service.”
We asked experts and fellow vacation property owners and managers for their advice. No matter how many properties you’re managing, here are their top tips to help your team scale and operate in an organized, cohesive fashion, no matter the season.
Get the right messages to the right people
Picking up the phone can seem such an obvious and simple way to have guests get in touch, or for you to coordinate with your team. However, asynchronous communication methods such as email and text can both decrease workload on your end, while also helping guests get what they need quicker.
“When a guest or property owner can report an issue in real-time and it’s sent directly to the team that delivers the maintenance service, it impacts the ability to service the issue,” says Sharon Keefe.
“There is something to be said when you’ve mastered the communication piece in a profession where a portion of your operation will always live on the reactive side of the equation. Thus, the ability to resolve an issue promptly demands communication excellence. Surviving peak season in any market requires a team to be equipped with processes that allow them to surpass expectations and thrive in any situation.”
Successful, efficient customer service teams leverage email, especially shared inboxes, to help them deliver efficient service and move any problems toward resolution. The use of texting has also increased, and together email and texting make for a potent customer service combo. Texting, in particular, has helped decrease call congestion, especially for routine customer information.
“This year, for the first time, we’ve seen large vacation rental management companies embrace text messaging as a communication tool to let guests know when the home is ready for check-in, get early customer feedback, answer questions, provide local information, and give checkout instructions,” explains Amy Hinote of VRM Intel Magazine. “We’ve heard from several of these managers that SMS messaging has helped to significantly reduce the number of calls to the office and hold times.”
While email, texts, and calls are essential tools, the good ole in-person meeting is still a vital team member touchpoint.
“Weekly meetings are still the best predictor of seasonal success,” says Vince Perez of Fetch My Guest. “Meetings do not have to be long, but must be clear and actionable. Our business creates constant friction on a daily basis, with guests, suppliers, etc. It’s making sure we pay attention to details in all these interactions to ensure the best outcome for all parties.”
Use tech, but keep the personal touch
Direct, open, and quick communication with guests is essential to five-star reviews, repeat business, and word-of-mouth referrals. However, good intrateam communication is also key to how well your team operates, says Jessica Vozel of Guest Hook.
“Truly listen to the team’s concerns and ideas,” explains Jessica. ”Have a clear mission statement in place to encourage your team to look beyond the daily hassles to the bigger picture of what you are trying to accomplish together.”
Today’s best-in-class tech tools help you accomplish everything from sharing your team email to quickly responding to issues. However, make sure you and your teammates also keep a courteous, positive, personal touch—not only when working with guests, but with each other too.
“As the season ramps up, so does the possibility of burnout,” says Jessica. “After all, much time will likely be spent smoothing over issues and/or dealing with unhappy guests—all at a time when people would much rather be on vacation than helping others enjoy theirs! A simple acknowledgment of a job well done is a good first step.”
Leverage a voice assistant as a virtual concierge
Sure, your vacation rental has a repository of useful information about the property, the area, suggestions for activities, and much more. Yet time and again, like most managers, you and your team get asked the same things.
“Most VR managers get a lot of repetitive questions. Many of these are actually answered in the property’s three-ring binder, but often guests don’t open it,” says Dana Young of Virtual Concierge Service. “With the emergence of voice assistants like Amazon Alexa, your guests can ask these questions from a virtual concierge instead of pinging you.”
That’s where your property’s smart speaker becomes not just another gadget, but an essential customer fulfillment tool.
“Voice interaction is frictionless. Guests can just ask the question,” says Dana. “These small interactions add up, and you can save a few hours a week of your staff’s time leveraging this new technology.”
Whether Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant or other smart speakers, adding a voice assistant is also like adding a 24/7 virtual concierge to every property. With guest modes and vacation property-specific skills, voice assistants can answer guest questions, give recommendations, and even play music.
Even more importantly? Like any good concierge, your voice assistant can boost your guest’s experience.
With a voice assistant in your property, says Dana, “Guests can get your recommendations on favorite restaurants and activities that they may not have otherwise heard, increasing satisfaction and the potential for positive reviews.”
Smart home technologies help you catch problems early
Voice assistants aren’t the only way to smarten up your vacation rental property, says Matt Landau of VRMB.
“During the busy season, the most efficient vacation rental managers leverage technology in order to free up their time and focus on the hospitality or human activities that create memories for their guests.”
Smart-home systems such as PointCentral can automate and give remote oversight and management for keyless entry, smart thermostats, and even water sensors, which can let an owner or manager know quickly if, say, the water heater starts leaking.
“These preventative functions allow management teams to focus on curating memorable vacations,” says Matt, “and not get bogged down when it matters most.”
Invest in tech services that streamline customer service and property management
Efficiencies, conveniences, and problem prevention aren’t just for guests and the property itself though. Teams can leverage an array of state-of-the-art tech services focused on helping vacation property management teams be more productive and work together as a tighter team.
“There are so many things that have helped my company become more efficient over the years,” says Daniel Eby of Destination Leavenworth. “VRScheduler.com is a comprehensive scheduling program that tracks hours, homes and maintenance tasks so that there are no loose ends. It has streamlined our housekeeping and operations department to a point where it’s resulted in major savings both in labor costs as well as management time.”
Digital welcome books such as Touch Stay also help property managers set expectations with guests from the moment they receive their reservation confirmation, says Tyann Marcink of Missouri Haus and Branson Family Retreats.
“Guests who know what to expect are happier guests, even when their stay isn’t 100% smooth,” says Tyann. “In my Touch Stay book, I am able to clearly communicate expectations in detail about my property and the area.”
“This is not information a guest is interested in before booking my property,” he says, “but information that is important for their stay, including the location of the first aid kit, how many rolls of toilet paper are provided/when they run out, a list of kitchen items, recommended restaurants, access instructions, details on grocery delivery options, and much more. By giving my guests important information in an easy-to-digest format, I am able to prepare them to have an incredible experience during their stay.”
If your property offers guests wireless internet access, your wireless landing page can also become a useful guest and marketing touchpoint, adds Amy Hinote.
“The use of wifi landing pages to get contact information from all the guests staying in the home—not just the person who made the reservation—helps managers communicate with all guests in the party,” she explains.
“With vacation homes that sleep eight or more guests, getting this information has been a big help in email and SMS communications. Plus, there is an additional benefit in being able to market to all of the guests after the stay.”
From team planning to maintenance followup, housekeeping scheduling to inspections, vacation property tech services can help your team with practically any aspect of guest services and project management.
The key is automation, says Resha Shroff of Lynx (formerly Virtual Key). “Identify any and every activity you are doing for every stay, anything that is time or resource consuming or follows a pattern,” explains Resha.
“Find a software that can do it better, consistently, and reliably. If the software improves your guest experience in the process, even better. Automate operations workflows and use smart internet-of-things (IoT) devices to get you real-time data from the field. Monetize gap stays and early check-in or late check-out. You should do less work and make more money.”
Use the slow season to train for the busy season
All systems and procedures take training, especially once you’ve invested in new tech tools to help your team be more cohesive and productive. Any slow seasons in your rental year are the perfect opportunity to review guest feedback, run through procedures, train on new systems, and make sure your customer service and property management resources are ready for whatever comes your way in the next high season.
“No matter what system or technology you use, practice your procedures during the slower season so your team is developing good habits before you’re in high season,” suggests Amanda Creeden of Shores Vacation Rentals.
“One detail that can be overlooked: Practice saying ‘please,’ ’thank you,’ etc. Those simple courtesies can make all the difference when communicating to your teams in the midst of your most stressful season.”
Today’s guests are tomorrow’s testimonials
Cutting-edge tech services and good ole-fashioned courtesies are a powerful combo. They help you give guests a great experience today, that they will turn into testimonials and word-of-mouth referrals for tomorrow.
“Our guests look to us as the experts on our industry. The investments we make in our guests during the busy season always pay dividends,” says Vince Perez. “Every guest is not only a potential repeat guest but a ’testimonial’ for friends and family.”
Posted in Vacation Rental