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 – touch on the following ways to keep your business at the top of the consumer’s mind.
- Let customers know what you are doing for them to ease their worries.
- Write personal handwritten notes frequently to stay in contact.
- Keep it personal by picking up the phone to talk instead of relying on an email.
- Remember special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries or holiday cards.
- Pass on information such as an article or book that they will value.
- Consider follow-up calls business development calls for leads on new business.
Notice that out of these six points, half of them are personal touches. We are in changing times where we have a new generation that are quick to text rather than pick up a phone and struggle with relationship building as pointed out by Simon Sinek in his video, Millennials in the Workplace. That is why it is important to teach and to educate this generation on the importance of customer service and relationship building. Millennials are the up and coming generation of customers, yet there are multiple generations of consumers that want the personal touch and prefer to do business with people not companies. The main challenge for front line service staff is making an emotional connection with potential guests. Having been in customer service for over 28 years, I was raised with the mindset of relationship building and emotionally connecting with customers to build trust and long-term relationships with them. I use different techniques with employees, educating them on why it is important and what emotionally connecting with a consumer sounds and looks like. It can be as simple as bonding over having the same breed of dog or growing up in the same small town. Technology has made it easy on us to track customer preferences and history. We simply need to slow down, take the time with customers and genuinely care about their needs and desires. This is an important tool for building successful businesses as well as having positive connections and feeling good about our experiences with people. A good interviewing question for your front line service staff is, “Share with me a customer service experience where you feel you really connected with a customer and created loyalty.” If you hear and see them get excited when they share with you their story then that is a good indication that they understand the value of great customer service and should be your newest employee!
Following is one of eight positive reviews shared by an owner of a small vacation rental company where her staff was highlighted:
“Dream come true! A special thank you to Faye. She went above and beyond all expectations. Thanks to Faye we will have a memory that will always be cherished, recommended and told to friend’s future kids.J Love the beautiful Sandy River home and plan on going back once a year!”
This is what real customer loyalty sounds and looks like. After all, people enjoy doing business with people and want to feel special. Notice the customer didn’t mention the company name, he/she used the employee’s name and referenced the “home,” not “property.” Imagine what your company would look like if a high percentage of your customers that visited every year received the same personal touches and attention.