The vacation rental industry has an amazing foundation, one built on relationships and communication, which is why I was drawn to the industry and continue to enjoy working in it; the industry complements my hospitable spirit.
I watch how company owners and leaders connect. They are quick to offer help to one another and give advice on technology and new projects. The real struggle I see is facilitating the relationship-building mind-set for the company’s both internal and external customers. The key takeaway is that relationship building takes focus and time. As we navigate this fast-paced world where everyone wants everything now, it becomes more challenging to slow down and work on our business instead of in it.
When I work with companies that want a relationship-building culture, I often see that the key challenge is a lack of communication and direction for employees. This relates to employees’ lack of trust, as they often lack motivation to build relationships internally or externally. Because of this, communication and direction require the most focus time from company leaders.
I recommend beginning with the building blocks of trust. We can break this down to a simple formula that speaks to internal and external trust building, which includes frequent communication, openness, warmth, truth, and confidence, as Ron Zemke outlines in his book Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service.
Once teams understand the main concepts of trust building, I like to bring in values, either personal or professional. I share my values of transparency, integrity, the platinum rule (treating others the way they want to be treated), respect, passion, and love. Discussing values also reveals what doesn’t align for employees, which can create potential friction and take away from relationship building.
Then, we talk about their values and what emotional triggers they might have. I had an employee share that she struggled with being yelled at. She said she didn’t know how to handle being yelled at and would feel upset and not know what to do. I explained, when people are upset, their IQ can decrease by up to 50 percent. When they act emotionally, they do not act as their best selves, and this has nothing to do with the service provider. I often feel that I am part therapist when coaching, but this is necessary because employees need to understand why they feel these emotions before they can use the right tools to change the situation.
All of us have different emotional triggers. Being mindful of those triggers allows us to acquire more tools for working through the friction that arises when we are triggered.
The next step is bringing in behavioral assessments. I recommend the StrengthsFinder model and its top five strengths; this model helps illuminate the areas where employees thrive and focus attention on those areas. It also assists an employer in looking at other departments in the company that could be a better fit for an employee.
Another favorite is the DISC assessment. This creates conversations on the behavior types that can be unsettling for some individuals. Using both assessments allows for team building because they help people understand others as well as their own strengths and weaknesses, which can create trust in internal relationships.
Once we have a solid sales team in place, I like to recommend a detailed sales IQ assessment that shows 16 areas in which employees are either highly developed or require development. These areas include preparing for sales, connecting with the head or the heart, collaborating with the buyer, and managing oneself.
During this assessment time, we also score employees during reservation sales, opportunity calls, and guest and owner services calls. We have one-on-one webcam coaching sessions to enhance their skills, and monthly employee-wide interactive relationship-building topics and a focus article or video supplement this.
Individuals revert to old behaviors after two weeks, and they usually retain only 20 percent of what they learn; therefore, I am a fan of providing additional focused content on a specific goal an employee is working on. I also suggest they self-score a call between coaching sessions so they can hear how they sound and where opportunities for improvement lie.
When creating change, it is essential to have the people being coached own and drive their change instead of have a supervisor tell them what to do. Sometimes an employee will ask for guidance, however, and I will make recommendations. When they say, “Just tell me what to do,” I have a conversation about their growth mind-set and their buy-in to the process.
Years ago, my good friend Sue Jones of HR4VR said to me: “I can coach skill, yet I cannot coach will.”
We cover various relationship-building sales skills. One specific skill is checking in with callers and asking if they have time to review different homes instead of assuming that they are too busy or want to have home links sent via email. We also discuss the importance of asking a minimum of two open-ended questions, which offers potential areas for relationship building through sharing commonalities and creates an emotional picture of how callers will experience their time in the area.
It is important that we understand why the guest is visiting, not make assumptions. For example, we wouldn’t build relationships if we talked about how much fun they would have at the home because it is next to a beach or ski mountain if they were coming for a celebration or business trip.
We should focus on hospitality and makes booking easy for clients by offering to call them back; this way, they don’t have to worry about calling us when they are living busy lives. I often hear, “I am not comfortable offering to call them back because I don’t like callbacks.” This is when we cover the platinum rule. The golden rule is about treating others the way we would like to be treated, whereas the platinum rule is treating others the way they would like to be treated.
A better technique is to ask the prospective client the following: “When are you looking to make a decision? If I don’t hear from you before then, can I call you?” Relationship building is soft and focuses on offerings, not hard pushes. We separate ourselves from third-party marketing sites by showing our gratitude because we recognize that our clients have many booking options.
By holding monthly interactive, company-wide webcasts, we allow multiple departments to learn about how their coworkers think about concepts such as showing empathy, building relationships through hospitality, practicing conflict transformation, and creating buyers by empowering self-care in a service industry. When we offer duplicate presentations, most supervisors like to attend both because they learn so much about their team members through those members’ questions and comments.
The goal is to bring all employees in for education and team building in a way that learning can happen and employees can connect internally. My goal is to have employees later approach each other about topics for support and to enable friendships that might not have otherwise happened. A happy and fun work environment motivates employees to stay at the company and continue to grow with it.
A relationship-building culture comes from within the company. First, we offer employees the tools and education they yearn for, although sometimes they don’t even realize they want it until they experience it. Relationship building then flows to guests, who hear and see it in the company during their stay, and this makes them want to return year after year because something about their interactions with the company feels good and creates a sense of belonging.
The leadership team requires mindfulness to continue internal development efforts. Possible options include mixing things up by bringing in a financial coach to share how to reduce debt and save for retirement or inviting a dream coach who can teach employees how to accomplish their goals. Other options could be creating book clubs or a platform where employees can share their successes. When building trust in relationships, the common theme throughout is communication.