Is Your E-mail Inbox an Untapped Distribution Channel?

    By now most vacation rental companies have long recognized the potential of outbound e-mails as a marketing tool and have actualized their potential in that area. However, too many still overlook their e-mail inbox as being a distribution channel worthy of attention. While we may prefer that guests book online or contact us via telephone, many guests prefer to just click over an e-mail to the “rentals@...” address posted on your website or to fill in an inquiry form. 
    After all, websites can be confusing, phone lines sometimes ring busy and, for whatever reason,e-mail inquiries seem to be especially prevalent in the era of texting rather than talking. It doesn’t matter what a renter’s motivation is because, in the end, they are the prospective customer and get to decide how to reach us. 
    The true measure of your organization’s commitment to e-mail as a distribution channel is exemplified in the reaction of whomever opens the e-mail box first in the morning. Do they sigh and feel bombarded with e-mail correspondence or is the first staffer to encounter this untapped revenue stream excited to get even more communication? The negative mindset is mostly the result of leaders who have not yet recognized this opportunity nor re-organized their operations to support it. 
    Whether your vacation rental company has already embraced e-mail sales as a distribution channel, or you are in the early stages of recognizing the missed opportunities, here are some training tips and suggestions for your next meeting or in-house training session: 
    Make e-mail everyone’s job and respond promptly. Especially for smaller companies, all reservations sales agents should be part of the e-mail sales team. Larger organizations who can staff to their skillset level and maximize the talent of those who type better than they talk should do so; yet all agents should be cross-trained for both voice and e-mail sales. By making e-mail everyone’s job, your team will be able to respond well ahead of the industry’s minimal standard of 24 hours. Better yet, respond immediately or within a few hours.
    Budget and staff for e-mail sales and service. If next year’s budget calls for an increase in e-mail marketing campaigns and other online advertising, plan accordingly so you have the resources in place when the responses you are planning on start to come in. The additional inquiries you will convert will generate an ROI many times over. 
    Sort and prioritize responses. Especially for companies receiving a high volume of e-mail inquires from numerous distribution channels, it is essential to sort and prioritize responses so that a balance is achieved between the quality of the response versus its timeliness. To sort and prioritize, consider:
    • What is the source of the inquiry? Generally, direct channels (such as your website) should be a priority over those arriving via third-party listing sites.  
    • How much information did the sender include in the “remarks” or “comments” fields? The more time the sender has invested in voluntarily divulging their travel plans, the higher priority we, as a team, should place in responding. 
    Personalize the response. Although it is always a good idea to prepare your team to respond with templates, it is important to personalize the templates to the extent possible. Again, by sorting and prioritizing according to the above principles, the responder can pick the template that best applies, and then personalize it as needed. Personalize responses by:
    • Opening with a greeting and signing with a name;
    • Re-stating the sender’s needs as they have originally indicated to show that we have actually read their message and to make sure we have the details correct; and by
    • Ending with an invitation to become a guest.
    Mirror and match the sender’s style and commitment level. Just as voice reservations are trained to do, e-mail sales works best when the responder responds with the same style and tone of writing as the sender. In other words, if the sender has taken time to send personalized remarks about their plans, the responder should do so as well. Likewise, a longer description of their travel needs and details in the “comments” field calls for a more in-depth and informative response.
    Be specific on what is promised and precise on the terms. Given all the opportunities with recognizing e-mail as a potential source of additional revenue, it is also important to reiterate the importance of having your team provide accurate information since it will be in writing.  Encourage them to error on the side of caution; this means rather than just saying, “We have received your request for an early arrival…,” make sure your staff adds a friendly reminder such as, “Please keep in mind that we cannot guarantee this in advance.”
    This is not to say that we shouldn’t pick up the phone and call someone who has sent an e-mail inquiry if their question or concern involves a complex scenario. Even if your website’s contact form has a mandatory field requiring a phone number, those who don’t want to be called for whatever reason typically enter a fictitious phone number. Chances are, the sender will be impressed that you care enough to call to clarify their needs.
    By focusing your organization’s full attention on e-mail as its own unique distribution channel, your vacation rental team will be able to outsell the competitors whom the sender is also contacting during their online search.  
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