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Setting boundaries in customer service

With short-term rentals expected to make up almost 15% of global hospitality room sales by 2022, how can new hosts establish boundaries in customer service. Click. explores

From seasonal side-hustlers to established hosts extending their reach via Online Travel Agencies (OTAs), the vacation rental sector is booming, bringing a new generation of hospitality professionals. But without the robust structures of corporate training programmes and standardisation, how can sole operators establish boundaries in customer relations that hit the sweet spot between personal service and running a business.

Managing expectations

One of the USPs of this kind of accommodation - and a significant contributor to the category’s growth - is its ability to connect guests with a local experience. Indeed, global travellers believe that staying in a home-type accommodation enables discovery of areas they wouldn’t have otherwise explored, with 49% stating that living like a local is key to their experience. Helping guests ‘live local’ often requires a more personal approach, from sharing hidden gems overlooked by tourist guides to providing home-cooked meals. In essence, going the extra mile. 

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Photo: Goh Rhy Yan, Unsplash

Photo: Goh Rhy Yan, Unsplash

Being clear about this service from the outset can help avoid any mismatch in expectation down the line. “The most important thing is to get the basics right,” says Gianbattista Vespucci, Commercial Director Partner Services at Booking.com. “Remove any friction from the start of the guest’s journey and then you can concentrate on the experience itself. Sometimes hosts can underestimate the fact that guests are already asking questions without any contact and they are answering those questions without talking to the guest - simply through their property listing.”

“Between the booking and before check-in, there is a space where the host can really engage the guest. Ask questions on the group composition, what kind of beds they prefer, give hints on in-stay services you offer. Is there a chef who can cook an amazing meal for them, are there bikes they can hire to tour the local area? We know that guests aren’t just booking the apartment but the wider experience.”

Customer service expert and author Shep Hyken stresses the importance of living up to these promises. He says: “If you are going to put something out there and set an expectation, you better not only deliver on this but you also might want to consider what you can do that makes it a little bit better than the customer expects.”

Setting your approach to customer service (and its associated boundaries) is as important as the promise itself. “Take a look at the companies you admire and those you most like doing business with. What are they doing and is it something you should be doing, or doing even better than them?” says Hyken. “Customers no longer compare you to your direct competitor, they compare you to the best service they’ve ever received - that could be from another hotel or it could be from the grocery story or the automotive dealership.”

Combining personal with professional

On arrival, the relationship should be maintained. “Guests are really different. There are some who are really willing to engage with the host but there are some who just want to stay on their own,” says Vespucci. “The host needs to understand the first interactions, find the right balance, and think about the full journey for the guest.”

The customer is not always right, but they are always the customer

“It is very important that the guests feel that they are truly welcome,” says Darko Milovanovic, Owner of City Centre LUX Apartment in Belgrade. “I personally check the apartment before the guests arrive. If the guests have a late check-in, we wait for them with dinner. My personal experience has helped me greatly to become a better host by foreseeing what the guests may need during their stay.”

For Michael Beeston, Owner of The Pinnacle Apartments on Australia’s Gold Coast, clear communication is integral. “The more information we provide covers all bases and eliminates any misunderstandings and disappointments to the guest and host alike. We personally meet the guest upon arrival. We do this ‘meet and greet’ service to better understand the guests and give them a very personalised service, which is highly appreciated.”

Sometimes, despite all the groundwork and expectation management, boundaries can be pushed - but these moments needn’t result in distress for either party. Beeston says: “Be professional, have a good attitude, show warmth, humour and plenty of patience.”

“The customer is not always right, but they are always the customer - so you need to let them be wrong with dignity,” says Hyken. If pushed too far, a host should give the guest context around why certain demands cannot be met, but endeavour to make the guest feel acknowledged. “Some are going to be more demanding than others, and you need to recognise that. Go above, but not necessarily beyond. Sometimes you just have to lay it out there but you don’t want to embarrass the customer.”


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Hero image: credit to Rawpixel, Unsplash

Takeaway
  • The home-rentals sector is expected to make up 15% global room sales by 2022
  • Establishing effective customer relations starts by providing comprehensive basic information that answers anticipated questions during the search process
  • Clear communication pre and during stay maintains this level of service and helps set boundaries
  • In the event of a challenging situation let the guest be wrong with dignity, remain patient and committed to providing a great experience

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