The vacation rental industry has seen massive ups, downs, regulatory issues, and disruptions. Those challenges, combined with internal productivity bottlenecks, showed British Columbia-based EMR Vacation Rentals (EMR) where they needed to improve in order to grow as a nimble, profitable, and responsive business. With the right email management tool, they would not only overcome their internal collaborative struggles but position themselves to succeed in a volatile industry.
Now that EMR uses Outpost for their team email, they have been able to increase their bookings, improve email productivity, and realize higher customer satisfaction—thanks to their Outpost shared inbox.
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Challenges due to industry changes
Founded in 2004 with six properties, EMR specializes in managing vacation rentals and corporate rentals throughout Canada’s western province of British Columbia. From Vancouver Island, Victoria, and the Gulf Islands, to Vancouver, Whistler, and the Okanagan, EMR currently manages around 50 properties.
A three-person core support team runs the main office, fulfills all frontline reservation support, and ensures properties are ready for guests prior to arrival. They also schedule and coordinate with teams of third-party private contractors such as cleaners and greeting staff, who are brought in on as-needed.
The 2010s brought major highs and lows for EMR. Riding a wave of high rental demand during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, EMR skyrocketed from 167 to 500 rental properties. After the Olympics, the company gradually decreased the number of properties it managed to around 160. Then, during the latter part of the decade, disruption from short-term rental companies such as Airbnb changed the industry.
“Vancouver basically banned vacation rentals, which made us shut down more than half of our business,” explains EMR co-owner Blake Mackenzie. “We lost over 80 properties in Vancouver. Then the provincial government came out with their own version of a regulatory model to target vacation homes, which hurt us again.”
With these challenges, EMR has pivoted to other BC markets in order to build back up its vacation rental inventory. However, Blake and his team realized that rebuilding and growing inventory would not fully solve their problems, and long-term success would require internal improvements.
Email confusion led to poor customer service
Even though inquiries might initially come through EMR’s primary reservation email address, they would often be managed in each team member’s individual email. The EMR team soon realized that improving their customer service and overall team collaboration as an office was key to using work time more effectively. And disparate email addresses across multiple people, says customer service agent Nicole Cadieux, were a major cause of ongoing extra work and communication confusion.
“The main issue we were having between agents was that one agent would reply to a guest from her private email, but the rest of the team wouldn’t know whether or not that email had been resolved.”
“One agent would reply to a guest from her private email, but the rest of the team wouldn’t know whether or not that email had been resolved.”
The team also struggled with how to keep track of communications and replies in real-time, especially when people were in the field or out of the office.
“When we come in in the morning, we divide our work equally among our individual work emails,” says Nicole. “But we don’t always stay in the office. Let’s say that in the morning I’ve spoken to Jane Smith and given her a quote, and I’ve passed her file on to someone else for finalizing. Then I was leaving the office for the weekend.
However, Jane has emailed me back specific questions about the discussion that we had, and she doesn’t want to move forward until her questions are answered. Jane winds up waiting almost 72 hours to get a response. That is terrible customer service.”
The trouble is that while individual agents were providing good customer support; confusion, misunderstanding, and lapses in communication were happening during the handoffs to other agents. That could make resolutions and reservations take longer than needed, and the overall quality of the service interaction would fall.
“We weren’t able to see each other’s emails,” explains Nicole, “so we just didn’t know where things were with customers someone else was managing.”
As the general manager, Blake was also seeing that tracking and continuity were big problems with the overall team and guest communications. The end result? Extra work and wasted time.
“You’re not knowing if you’re having to double-check, triple-check,” says Blake. “I see a duplicate, triplicate of processes to make sure guests aren’t being missed and falling through the cracks, or if those communications are being lost or left behind. There was confusion about who needed to be looking after that inquiry.”
A shared inbox provides instant clarity and organization
After the ups and downs of the 2010s, EMR had identified that a focus on quality guest service would be essential in helping them grow and succeed. The first order of business? Resolving the internal bottlenecks preventing the EMR team from meeting and exceeding their high expectations for excellent customer service.
“It was not a good feeling to have dropped the ball because our emails didn’t have the best organization,” says customer service agent Reanne Goulet. “We had frustration, and so did the guests, homeowners, and everyone else we deal with.”
Then, in 2019, EMR discovered Outpost.
“Outpost immediately made a difference in how organized we were.”
“We were very interested in how Outpost could give us an enterprise view on our email,” says Blake. “With Outpost, we could manage email across the organization, but not at the expense of losing the individuality of each of our people. Each of the staff can use their own signatures, for example. Outpost is individualized, yet it’s still shared email coming to the same collaborative inbox. The team can see those communications and track them. That was really important for us and it’s what attracted us to Outpost.”
“With Outpost, we could manage email across the organization, but not at the expense of losing the individuality of each of our people.”
“At peak times such as July and August, we are at our maximum,” says Reanne. “Outpost immediately made a difference in how organized we were and how much more we stayed on task. We’ve been able to get more things done—the whole team is on the same page.”
A simple tool boosts team productivity
“Just having the internal notes in our team email has made a huge difference,” says Nicole. “I used to have to talk across the office, be like, ‘Hey, did you get that booking? Did you do that review?’ Now everything is tagged and organized. People can fill out their notes and everyone knows what follow-up is needed. From day one I could see how easy it was to use Outpost, and how much easier Outpost was going to make our jobs.”
“From day one I could see how easy it was to use Outpost, and I could see how much easier Outpost was going to make our jobs.”
Not only did EMR see the benefits of Outpost in day-to-day interactions, but from a managerial level, Blake immediately identified communication bottlenecks and where duplicate work could be eliminated.
“Using Outpost brought the productivity level much higher right off the bat,” says Blake. “Plus, it was really easy to learn. We have used various software in our company. Some of them take forever to onboard and learn, and are very complicated, but Outpost is very simple.”
Fast response times improve guest satisfaction
With over six months, including one peak season, of Outpost use behind them, EMR has dialed in the shared inbox software to the needs of their business.
“Building in the shared email templates has sped up our response times,” says Blake. “Having common, yet customizable, responses in a template has helped our team and it’s helped me personally. I look after a lot of our homeowner listings and send contracts and instructions out to people for signing. It’s been really handy to have those templates built out, along with typical responses to specific questions.”
Outpost has helped the entire team be more nimble and collaborative, both with guests and with each other. They’re also realizing the improvements in customer service that EMR knew that they needed to realize in order to successfully grow.
“Before Outpost we weren’t able to clock our response times,” he explains. “Now we can make sure no one is falling through the cracks.”
“We are able to answer customers right away,” says Nicole, “and anyone in the office can answer any customer’s questions. That way customers aren’t waiting or getting frustrated—which means we’re not losing revenue because someone decided not to move forward with a booking.”
From a managerial standpoint, Blake has been relieved to have visibility into how everyone is responding to inquiries.
“Before Outpost we weren’t able to clock our response times,” he explains. “Now we can make sure no one is falling through the cracks. Action items aren’t sitting too long. You get to see people responding. Plus, team members can now comfortably walk away, knowing that the person who’s watching the dashboard is going to pick up any communications that come through there.”
Outpost’s shared inbox saves this team 40 hours every month
Now that they’ve had some early wins, the EMR team is looking ahead for how Outpost can do more for their team, their email productivity, and their business goals.
With the gains they’ve made from Outpost, they’re “going to hire a part-time person for our busy season,” says Nicole. “Being a small staff, it’s important that everyone is on the same page with communications and service, and you can do that in Outpost.”
EMR is also better positioned to continue adding properties, enhancing their guest service, and improving their overall operations—starting with significant amounts of reclaimed time.
“Outpost is saving us a minimum of eight hours a week,” says customer service agent Candace Millyard. “We’re probably looking at a good 30 to 40 hours a month that we now can utilize for more important things.”
More Outpost Customer Stories: See how one nonprofit uses Outpost to manage their shared inbox.