Guest communications are a vital part of the guest experience – and the better your guest experience, the better reviews you’ll receive, the more you’ll be able to charge for your property and the more profitable your property will be in the long run.

In this episode we cover all aspects of guest communications including marketing, pre-stay emails, telephone calls, face to face, and post-stay communication.

Show Notes:
The Serviced Accommodation Podcast is a show brought to you by Chris Poulter and Ritchie Mazivanhanga aimed at new and experienced property investors alike. With each show we help you Start, Systemise and Scale your Serviced Accommodation Business.

If you would like to ask us a question or discuss anything in this episode, please join our Facebook group and ask away. To listen to more episodes or get more information go to www.thesapodcast.com.

 

Transcription: 

Hi I’m Chris.

Hi I’m Ritchie.

Welcome to the Serviced Accommodation Podcast.

Today we’re going to talk about guest communications.

 

So today we’re going to be talking about guest communications. But I would firstly like to sincerely apologize about the time it’s taken for us to record the podcast, we have been extremely rather busy in the business.

Yeah August is a very good time to grow your business right?

Good time for money with the Boat Show..

It is in Southampton when you’ve got the Boat Show coming up!

 

However it comes with other challenges. Yes yeah but they are good challenges.

Oh yeah definitely good challenges.

We love a challenge, we grow!

So we’ve been busy with that and we’ve also got a very exciting program coming up which we’re delighted to tell you about

Yeah, watch this space.

Definitely definitely. So yeah we’ve been very busy this end, we apologize and promise that from now on we’ll do our best to make it weekly.

We most certainly will.

No that’s not good enough Ritchie!

I said most certainly!

We will make it weekly right?

Definitely and certainly!

We promise. Hold us accountable.

Please do.

So today we’re going to be talking about guest communications. We’ll firstly talk about marketing communications, the different types of communications you’ve got the pre-stay emails, you’ve got telephone calls, face-to-face communication. You communicate with the guest when they are in the property and after they’ve left the property.

 

It’s been an interesting process preparing for this episode hasn’t it. Because I think when we first did it we were thinking oh well let’s, you know, we’ll talk about what emails you send when and when we actually broke it down there’s an awful lot more to guest communications than just a few automated emails right?

 

Yes. Yeah. We did record this episode previously however the microphones weren’t working, they were a bit muffled. So yeah, we had to do it again.

 

Yes so that’s another reason for a bit of a delay because I think it was about three or four weeks ago.

 

Yes. Yeah. So Chris would you like to kick us off with the marketing communication?

 

Yeah yeah absolutely. Like I was saying we kind of sat down and we thought well guest communications, automated emails and everything like that. But when we looked at the whole process there’s a lot more to it and really the whole guest communications start with your marketing. And you know if you’re doing direct marketing it might whatever communications you have daily or advertisements or your website. If you’re advertising via the OTAs, it would be your listing but this is the first contact your guest is ever going to have with your customer. So actually the message that you’re communicating to them at this point is incredibly important.

Yeah. So obviously one of the key things there is going to be the text, whatever text you have, whether that’s a listing, a website or an advertisement. And so what kind of expectations are you really setting with the text and the photos? And we talk about expectations a lot in serviced accommodation because really it’s the critical factor as to whether your guests have a great stay or not.

Now the reason this is so important with marketing is this is the kind of communication and information which your guest is going to use to make a purchase decision and is then going to go and book in with you. So I’m sure if you think about it in your head whenever really you’ve booked any kind of short stay accommodation be it a hotel or serviced apartment, you’ve always got certain expectations around what that stay is going to be like by the time you book it and at the time you book it you haven’t usually spoken to the company involved yet or anything like that. You’ve usually had a look at the listing, maybe you’ve been diligent and you’ve kind of looked around TripAdvisor, maybe some reviews. But generally most your decision is based on the text and the photos on that listing.

Yeah. So it’s really important that those expectations are correct because if you’re turning up expecting a five star hotel and instead you’re getting a hostel then generally you’re not going to be very happy right?

You know it’s about having the right level of expectations in there. And so that can cause a little bit of a kind of conflict when it comes to marketing. Now obviously you want as many guests to book as possible so you want your properties to look as great as they can but at the same time, they need to be great without being unrealistic. Because if your guest turns up it goes well this looks nothing like the photos then the chances are they’re going to have a bad stay, you’re going to get bad reviews and it’s going to have a negative impact on your business.

 

It’s got to be realistic, you can’t have a six star accommodation photos and then yeah have a two star apartment, it doesn’t make any sense at all.

 

Exactly exactly. So it’s getting this balance between getting as many bookings as possible from having great listings but also setting the expectations right to make sure you have happy guests. And you got to get the balance between the right two and in the long run to kind of make it sustainable really.

 

Yes. Once a guest has booked in, we communicate with them via email so we have pre-stay emails. And this the first bit of direct contact that we have with the guests. So we try, to be honest you know what they say about first impressions, we make sure that we have it on point. Our communication has to be excellent. Everything you couldn’t get on limited communication like on booking.com listing where you’re limited to the wording that you can put it on there, whereas in an e-mail you can let it all out, let is all loose. That’s how we do it, just describe everything about the property, how they get there, everything on there.

And like I said it’s the first bit of direct communication and direct bit of contact that we have with the guest, it’s very very very important. And Chris just touched on with the marketing communication, you need to also set clear expectations for these guests, realistic and clear expectations and you need to also manage the expectations from start to end. Otherwise you would get bad reviews.

We send automated emails when the guest books in and we also send more communication emails two to three days before they arrive and we send another email on the day of check in.

So it’s a constant communication pre-stay, we just make sure we keep and maintain that relationship and guests tend to send back communication as well because they sometimes have requests and inquiries that you need to respond to. We tend to respond to these within 15 minutes time frame, it’s 2017 we’re in now and people tend to expect an immediate response. So we leave a 15 minute window and we think that is very appropriate because a guest would not have turned off by then.

Yes. And when we communicate with our guests, even in emails people say you can’t be rude in an email oh yes you can. Some people say you can’t be rude to a customer or guest or whoever without writing bad language in an e-mail. But it’s how stuff is worded you know, your emotions then to come out when you type up an email. So just always be polite, always be polite you know even if the guest is rude to you don’t have to be rude back. You might win an argument but you lose a guest.

And you should always go out of your way to help people like go the extra mile. We had an incident well yesterday where we had a guest who is booked in for 27 nights and they phoned the property manager who’s head of operations, they called him and asked him also you know would I be able to stay or check out later on the last day because I’m finishing work at 1.30 and he was like yeah, we’ve got a yes culture in our company so straightaway it was like oh yes yeah that’s fine. You know he figured out how he would do it later on and how to move the cleaners in and around and when the cleaners would be coming in but his first response was yes because we’ve got a yes policy in the company. And so you should just always go the extra mile for your guests, there’s no point in losing a 27 night booking because you want to check him out bang at 10.00, it doesn’t make any sense does it.

 

Yeah exactly. And even if it’s not something they cancel over, I think it’s very much you know a culture of making your guests feel welcomed and like you’re looking forward to having them stay there and that you genuinely care about the you know the quality of their trip isn’t it. You know I also, think for 27 day booking if the first thing you said was yes that’s no problem, that would be x-amount of money, then again I just don’t think that has the same impact.

 

No, so it’s about making them feel special at the end of the day you know having that personal contact with them making it feel like it’s a personal relationship.

 

So as well as e-mails you’re likely to have telephone communications within your business and probably the first thing I’d say about that is don’t just put someone’s mobile number on there. Now there’s a couple of reasons.

First of all if that person isn’t available they’re not going to be able to answer. And second of all I just don’t think it looks massively professional. Exactly. And it’s very easy in this day and age to get an Internet based number which will divert to to whatever mobile number or a landline number which you need at a particularly given time. Therefore if you could give that out to your guests then it looks a lot more professional and you have control over it. If you’ve got one person working you make sure it’s forwarded to their number then if you’ve got another person working, you make sure it’s forwarded to theirs.

 

Yes. Yeah and we use local numbers so we’ve got we’ve got properties in Southampton So we use the Southampton number for those units. And if you’ve properties elsewhere ,use a local number. It’s a lot more professional as you say.

 

Yeah. Yeah definitely. And you know it costs so little to have you know four different local numbers for four different areas if that’s where you operate. It’s a bit of a no brainer.

 

Yeah even out of hours when you’re not in the office you can get those numbers diverted can’t you?

 

Yeah absolutely. That’s another thing that we do is that we set it so that if the number isn’t answered within five or six rings then it will then divert to say a call answering service who can take a message and make sure the right person calls back. So there’s a lot more flexibility once you actually have an internet based number. So I’d suggest doing that fairly early on because otherwise the wrong numbers kind of get out there and once they’re out there on the Internet it’s a lot harder to bring them back in. Yeah.

The main thing you’ll be dealing with on the telephone is usually guest inquiries and requests. It’s very simple really how you deal with these. Just make sure you listen to the guest but you actually listen to them.

 

Yes, listen to understand and help them out not just to respond, because lots of people listen but they just listen and they’re waiting to respond to you. Yeah you’ve got to listen to them actively.

 

Active listening is definitely a skill and you just see it so much particularly at networking events. I talk about this a lot but you see someone in a conversation and it’s like they’re like holding themselves back.

 

And the thing is the whole time they’re holding themselves back they’re not listening to anything the other party is saying, nothing is going into their head, they’re just repeating what they want to say in their heads, they want to let it out, let it out.

 

And then when you talk to people like that it’s very frustrating because you just don’t feel valued do you? You don’t really care about me you just want to talk.

So so very importantly actively listen, that you’re polite, you ask the right questions and it’s only really once you’ve fully understood what their inquiry or request is that you kind of start to address it. Because I think it’s very easy to kind of jump in quite quickly and without necessarily fully understanding what they’re saying and the context around it.

Now the other thing you have to do is quite often on the telephone is kind of payments and invoicing. And I think as a kind of serviced accommodation operator It’s quite easy to forget that yes for you you’re wanting payment for the property which someone has booked, but for a guest it’s stranger that they don’t know, who they potentially haven’t spoken to before, phoning up and asking for credit card details which obviously can be a little bit disconcerting. A lot of people are still very wary of giving out a card details over the phone and so really you need to be able to offer guests as much security around this as possible. So presenting yourself in the right way, being polite, professional, phoning from a landline number if that’s the number which you’re using within the business rather than a random mobile number which could be anyone.

If you are sending someone over an invoice and asking them to pay it by email then you probably want to make sure there’s been some personal communication there first so that they’re not just getting an email which they think like spam or phishing e-mail trying to get my card details so I’m not sure about this.

The other thing is that for instance quite often you might be missing a CVC code or something like that from a card in order to process it, in that particular case when you phone up the guest you should always give them the last four digits of the card and then ask for the CVC code as opposed to phoning up and saying I don’t have the full credit card details, can you give me your details please. Because it’s a very different thing from a security and comfort point of view to say I’ve got your card here ending in 4416, would you be able to let me know the three digit card on the back so I can process your payment as opposed to you know it’s such and such from here and your credit card didn’t work so can you please give me your credit card details when I could be anyone.

 

Yes. You could be the bloke from Fonejacker.

 

Yes. So that’s the thing, you could be anyone really so the fact that you’ve been able to give them the last four digits of their card, kind of gives them a level of security and you’re not just random Joe off the street.

So another area you may need to address when you’re on the phone is instructions whether that’s check in type instructions or whether that’s using the apartment for instance getting the TV to the right channel, this that or the other. Now you’ve probably already got these instructions written down for your guest but ultimately however frustrating you might find it, it’s the law that people, some people will always not read the instructions and will kind of end up phoning you up instead so there’s no point kind of getting pissed off about it or you know taking it out on the guest or even saying to them well we’ve got full instructions there. If they phone up be polite, be friendly, just talk them through it and be done with it because even just saying oh there are instructions in your welcome book you know, it makes you feel like you didn’t want them to call them. And even if that is the case which may well be so, that means that you’re saying to the guest that we don’t actually value you and suddenly you’ve taken a massive amount away of the enjoyment of their stay and how they rate you as a business. It’s really important with something as simple as just giving instructions, you’re just friendly and polite, ignore the fact that it’s already written there and then just say yeah no problem, here’s how you do it.

So finally and hopefully you don’t have to do this too often but when you’re on the telephone you will occasionally need to do some problem resolution. And I think when it comes to that then really it’s about the things we’ve already talked about. Active listening, being polite, asking the questions and then only when you really understand where they’re coming from then you start to address what they’re talking about.

 

The other method of communication is face to face which is in person. We don’t have much of this because all our check ins are automated, we’ve got the keyless entry systems but other people do have face to face check ins where they go and meet and greet. And for people who do the meet and greets, have a smile on your face, be polite, mind your Ps and Qs, be friendly you know.

 

It sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how often that’s not the case.

 

You’d be surprised, sometimes people just take the jargon they’ve had at work or business or argument that they had with someone else and they just carry that on their shoulders for the rest of the day and then that comes across when they speak to guests. So leave all your baggage in the car, leave it in the train, leave it elsewhere and then be polite, be friendly when you speak to guests.

Don’t take too long when you’re checking them into the property. It might get a bit uncomfortable when you’re showing them around the property, showing them the instructions and what they need to look out for, how they get in and out of the property. Just don’t be too long.

 

Yeah. And I’ve had that before where it’s been 10-15 minute check in and it’s just it can be uncomfortable you know for me the perfect length is two or three minutes. People know generally how to use a kitchen. You know most know, where to find the living room basic stuff like that you don’t really need to give them a full tour, just the basics if there’s any particular quirks like the best way of getting the shower going then by all means give that to them but then say if you haven’t got any more questions I’ll leave you to it kind of thing. I think two or three minutes is the perfect length unless you have lots of paperwork to sign or you’re in a genuinely engaging conversation.

 

And if you do meet and greets and I’ve seen lots of posts on Facebook and that where people are waiting for their guests who arrive and they’re like oh these people are taken an eternity. Surprising enough guests are going to be late, people will be late they’re human beings. Then of the day they get stuck in traffic, some delays here, some work, their flight was delayed. They’ve got various reasons but they’re human beings, people are going to be late. And when they arrive late, don’t mention that, don’t bring that up at all. You’ve got to ignore it. They’ll bring it up of course, they’ll apologize and you’ll accept the apology. If they don’t apologize, that’s fine. They’re your guests, they’ve paid to be in your property. So you know just be on your Ps and Qs again and just don’t mention them being late.

 

Because you’ve probably been sat there like getting frustrated. Yeah and so your inclination might be to mention it even if you’re not being rude about it. But just don’t, it’s going to impact how they view you, it’s going to have negative impact on your relationships, they’re not worthwhile.

 

Yeah yeah, there was an incident not long ago over in Holland I think it was where a gentleman sorry a host to pushed his guests down the stairs and please just don’t push your guests down the stairs people, just be nice!

 

Thank you Ritchie, that’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve even given on the podcast!

 

There we go, don’t chuck your guests down the stairs!

I’m basically saying, don’t get too emotional about it.

The other people who might come into direct face to face contact with your guests are maintenance teams, people resolving problems and cleaners.

So with the maintenance teams we always train ours to be polite, to be professional and set expectations when we arrive at the property.

I advise the guests what they are there for and how long are they going to be, why they’re there, what they’re going to be doing everything in a step by step process. And we always ask them to have ID from the company.

Our property manager advises the guests that this person from the maintenance company coming over. It also gives the guest some peace of mind, not just having clear expectations about what’s going to be going on, they actually have the peace of mind of being comfortable letting that person into the property with all their belongings in and around all day, children and that you know.

 

Yeah because that’s tricky as well isn’t it? Is that okay, it’s a serviced apartment but if someone’s staying there for a week then essentially it becomes their home for a week. And you’re asking to send some stranger into their home. You know it’s important to give them that security.

 

It’s an invasion of privacy kind of thing isn’t it?

 

So you need to deal with that as tactfully and as clearly as you can

 

Most definitely. And one question I would like to pose to all our podcast listeners is have you trained your cleaners on how to deal with guests?

 

Uh yes!

 

No it was not a question for you Chris, it’s for our podcast listeners. I hope you’ve trained your cleaners now to deal with guests because we have! And because sometimes they come into contact with guests when they well oversleep and they want to check on people who haven’t come out or when we have a long term booking and they go in there once, twice a week just to freshen up the property and yeah they bump into guests and they’ve got to talk to them.

 

Yeah. It’s the little things like you know anyone who’s trained in a hotel knows that you kind of knock on the door a couple of times and shout “housekeeping” and that kind of thing before you go in there even if the guests aren’t meant to be there. It kind of avoids unwanted surprises and it means that the cleaner is a bit less shocked if they come in and there is someone there.

So you might not think that this won’t actually it’s probably quite a lot of in-property communication with your guests in terms of the welcome book and instructions. And actually that’s a really important element of it because it does reduce the amount of communication you need with the guests and particularly reducing the amount of calls reduces costs and the overheads for the business. So very important, it also of course makes their life easier. What’s the usual one we have Ritchie? Where’s the iron? How many times we have been staying in the serviced apartment and like gone I wonder where the iron is and so you kind of go hunting around the entire apartment.

 

We had that last week this, well I had that last week because of you obviously iron before you left your house. But yeah I had that and I was on the phone to the other half until well pretty late and then just before I went to bed she was like oh yeah have you ironed because you left in the rush and took your shirt and trousers but didn’t iron them, I was like oh no and started looking for the iron late at night. It was a mare because you couldn’t open up, they didn’t have any door handles to some of the cupboards and I then had to improvise and get a knife from the kitchen, then slice it in the middle then unlock the door and open the door and there was an iron and ironing board in there and I thought to myself, is this just meant to be for the cleaner, the person who does the ironing when they come in, is this not meant for guests what’s going on? I used it anyway but please label it,  make it easy for people to find things like the iron and the ironing board.

 

It just gets stressful otherwise doesn’t it? You know we could have called the host too if we’d got stuck but actually worse than the calling is the not calling because then you kind of go away with a really poor impression of the property and more often than not that finds its way into your review score.

 

I wasn’t going to call them at just gone midnight.

 

No. No of course not but that’s that’s kind of a point isn’t it? Instead you would have gone yeah well you know it’s a bit of a rubbish property, you know I had a few problems couldn’t find this, couldn’t find that. Not a great review score.

As well as the welcome books and instructions we tend to communicate with guests after their first night of their stay, just to check that everything’s all right for them. You may have heard us use the particular phrase “is there anything we can do to make your stay more comfortable?” And again that’s very very carefully worded to make sure that it applies both to negative situations where there may be missing something or something isn’t up to standard or positive situations where they say oh it’s really nice apartment but even better if X Y Z and that just gives you the opportunity to improve their stay while they’re still there so that you are then able to reap the rewards in terms of you know a better overall guest experience and of course a better review score from it which is ultimately going to feedback into your profit margins.

 

So when guests have left the property and you’ve been in constant communication with them and you’ve been getting feedback like Chris said not long ago, after the first day you’ve asked them if there’s anything we can do to make their stay more comfortable. If you’ve been maintaining that communication and keeping a dialogue going, it’s easier to ask for feedback and you know that the feedback that you’re going to get is more positive. Because it’s about keeping the communication going, keeping the constant communication so post-stay communication, we always ask them for feedback and we can do this via email or we call the guests.

If you listen to one of our episodes on reviews getting better reviews. We talk about net promoter score where we ask on a scale of 0-10 how likely would you be to recommend us to a friend or family member? And if the score is between 8 and 10 you can then request a review because you know it’s going to be a positive review and if it’s anything less than that you then communicate with the guests and find out if there was anything you could have done to improve their stay, what they found was a problem and then you resolve it for future guests and you thank them for the feedback they’ve given you and you let them know that okay right we’ll be doing this to improve future stays.

The other way of communicating with guests is responding to reviews. And when I say communicating with guests, when you’re responding to a review you’re not communicating just to the reviewer. This is for the benefit of the readers and potential future guests.

So what we tend to do is when we communicate and respond to reviews we use this language where we thank the guests, we mitigate the problem and then we thank them again at the end. Chris, put you on the spot. Could you just give us an example? A real example, something that actually happened?

 

Okay so a sofabed is always a problem somehow. Well somehow we always end up talking about sofabeds in our mastermind groups. It’s quite funny. But yeah that’s something where we started off using a particular model of sofabed which clearly wasn’t very comfortable for guests. We started getting some feedback from people that they hadn’t had a great night’s sleep and it wasn’t very comfortable. So for instance if someone had left a review saying you know really nice apartment, good communication but I had a really crap night’s sleep because of the sofa bed then our sandwich would be, “Thanks a lot for your review, we’re really glad that you generally enjoyed your stay. Thank you for the feedback on the sofabed, we’ve actually decided to replace the sofa bed now for something much more comfortable and the feedback we’ve had for recent guests is that this is much better. So thanks again for your for your feedback. And we’ve used it to help improve experience for future guests.”

 

Thank you very much. That is exactly you know the sandwich where you thank, you mitigate it accordingly and thank them again at the end.

 

Yeah exactly. You’ve mitigated the potential damage from something negative they said and anyone reading that thinks okay I don’t need to worry about that now. So it’s as good as not having that review there.

 

Yeah because we’ve just told the potential future guests that yeah we’ve got comfortable sofabeds now and yeah we improved them because of this guest stay.

So if guests stay in our apartments we capture their information, things like email addresses and when you get an e-mail address you can communicate directly to get direct bookings. We communicate with them in and around the time they are likely to be around again, in and around Southampton so we send them special offers of any deals we may have at that time and moment and newsletters, you can send out newsletters and things of that nature. And just keep the dialogue going, it’s about constant communication, it’s about mindspace isn’t it?

 

Definitely yes. So when it comes to guest communication it is about maintaining that communication all the way through from before they’ve even booked in with setting your marketing messages and making sure you’re setting the expectations right. All the way through to pre-stay e-mails to any telephone or face to face contact you might have with your guest. The in-property communication is really important although you might not think of it that way. Actually it forms a very important part of what you do with your guests. And of course the post-stay is your opportunity to harvest feedback and review your business which will help push it forward and make it more profitable. And of course to look for more direct bookings for future.

 

Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast to hear the latest on serviced accommodation.

If you’re looking to start systemize or scale your serviced accommodation business visit www.thesapodcast.com to see how we could help you further.