By Chris Lusk
If I have said it once, I have said it a hundred times: automating your guest communication is the standard operating procedure for serious property managers. It’s the norm, the entry-level, the ticket-to-enter, if you will, of our growing industry. There are dozens of third-party software companies that let hosts and property managers connect all of their listings across OTAs, automate their check-in instructions, send reminders to the cleaning team, enable dynamic pricing, and so much more.
But if automation is the norm, how do you stay ahead of your competition? How do you elevate your guests’ experience to new levels? How do you use software to increase revenues without seeing an increase in your costs?
Listed below are examples from companies of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, revenues, and inventories managed, from around the world. Examples of how they are using automation to secure more bookings, improve guest’s experiences, and scale at lower costs.
STRATEGY 1: Answer immediately
Airbnb suggests that hosts respond to inquiries within 24 hours (response time), and that you need to respond to as many as possible (response rate). Okay, seriously, if you can’t respond in 24 hours, or worse yet, can’t respond at all, you have bigger operational issues than this post will cover. (I need to pump the brakes here before I go on a long rant about why Airbnb needs to seriously update their response rate expectations, and reward hosts who answer in under 15 minutes. I will save that for another post.)
So your team responds in an hour or even 30 minutes on a good day? Sorry, not good enough. Not only are you doing exactly what every other mid-sized to enterprise-level PMC is doing, your response rate is still not in line with the prospective guest’s shopping behaviors.
Let’s take a look at some Airbnb stats*:
- The average visitor spends about 12 minutes on the site
- They visit about six listings during their visit
- Half of all users access the site on a mobile device
By the numbers, guests are spending 2 to 3 minutes on a listing, reviewing the rules, scrolling through the photos, and asking questions. What’s more, they are on their phone where notifications of your response are immediate and easily accessible (more on that in a minute.)
In the time it takes your software to automate a reply, prospective guests have visited five other listings, sent five other inquiries, or booked with another host who responded in 60 seconds.
And I am not talking about sending emails. I am talking about sending messages natively, in-app, through Airbnb. Emails not only get lost in spam, but they also create a speed bump in the communication process by forcing the prospect to switch to a different environment for communication.
See that instant response?
And there's more cool stuff. Discover how you can improve your guests' experience.
Keep the conversation in this channel, the one they are captive on, right this second! Engage them immediately and don’t give them the chance to scroll to the next listing.
STRATEGY 2: Automate upsells based on the guest mix
This is one of my favorites: offering services based on who’s coming ( two adults, two children, one infant.) Segmenting the guest mix and identifying it in your communication, creates a powerful connection to the guest, one they recognize immediately. It shows you are paying attention to them and are considering their needs before they ever arrive.
For example, if the reservation indicates an infant is coming, automate a message that notifies the guest that a pack-n-play is located in the hall closet. Better yet, offer the crib as an upsell. It’s one less thing the parents have to pack and lug around.
Automating communications based on the guest mix is a great way to upsell products and services, and improve the guest experience. Some other examples include:
- Kids are coming? Provide the local babysitting service’s phone number
- Two adults and no kids? Upsell your friend’s mobile massage service
- Four adults coming? Partner with a local restaurant to give free appetizer coupons to your guests
- One adult and six kids? Uhhh…a free bottle of Jack Daniel’s?
- And just wait until Airbnb adds pets to the guest mix!
STRATEGY 3: Automate the booking of orphaned dates
This is a powerful messaging rule that, quite frankly, not enough PMC’s are taking advantage of. It’s a little gem that can impact your top-line revenues and, with the right platform, can be completely automated. I call it the orphan date discount rule.
Its the process of offering guests a discount if they add an extra night to their reservation. Your automation platform checks to see if the day before or after their scheduled stay is available, and automatically sends an offer to the guest to add the night to their reservation.
Its as simple as a few lines of text in the reservation confirmation message, the check-in instructions, your “first morning” message, or any other message sent during their stay. It’s an excellent way to show guests you are thinking of their needs while also potentially generating some quick, easy revenues for your business.
STRATEGY 4: Post stay marketing through the OTA
The guest has checked out, the reviews have been left (which were also automated by your software, right?), and now it’s time to make them a repeat customer. You have their phone number and email address, now what?
For starters, do not immediately drop them into a monthly or weekly email campaign that does nothing but offer discounts or “hot buys” on your properties for the upcoming month; they just left your place! So unless your goal is to land in spam folders, increase your unsubscribe numbers, and be seen as just another management company, then don’t do it.
Take a more targeted approach, one that has a much better impact on your audience. Instead of email, send your post-stay marketing messages back through the OTA itself (in-app), relative to their last stay. Send a message just before the listing would normally get booked, or at least 60 days prior to the one year anniversary of their last visit.
For example, if they stayed with you from August 1st to 8th, 2019, automate a message to go out on June 1st, 2020, that reminds them of how great their stay was at X property last year. Let them know the property starts getting booked around this time of year and that you would love to have them back. Maybe throw in a discount or free services to get them to book right now.
So why is this more effective than email? Glad you asked.
First, emails get ignored or lost. They are easy to delete, unsubscribe from, or mark as spam. You are a whisper in a room full of noise.
Second, instant notification. When a message arrives in the guest’s Airbnb inbox, the notification badge appears on the phone’s app icon. Notifications of the message can also appear on the phone’s top bar and lock-screens. Since Airbnb related messages usually only appear when a guest has an active booking, seeing these notification come through any other time of year, will certainly grab their attention.
Third, it’s personalized and emotional. Take a look at some interesting facts about why people travel:**
- 82% of people travel to reduce stress
- 73% want to see or do something new
- 85% to see their child’s excitement about the experience
- 35% to cross off an item on their bucket list
- 60% to improve their outlook on life
Bottom line – emotion sells! Building a message that references last year’s stay gets them excited about this year’s vacation and keeps your property at the top of the list.
Fourth, it’s perfectly timed. Half of all travelers plan their vacations more than six weeks ahead of the trip. Throw in the limited availability and early booking of your property, and people are more apt to start thinking of their travel plans 60 days ahead of time. Your message can build a sense of urgency for the guest that prompts them to book sooner.
Marketing bells & whistles
Join the club starting with a 14-day free trial.
Finally, they are already in the booking environment. You’ve built a message that tugs on their emotions, gets them excited about this year’s vacation, and creates a sense of urgency to book now to reserve their spot. Great! Now all they have to do is click “reserve” from within the app.
What other process automation are you using in your daily short-term rental management activities? How have you used automation to increase revenues, reduce costs, and scale your business?
Leave a comment on our LinkedIn post for this article.
You are wondering how to be an Airbnb host? Anyone can list an extra room on the Airbnb website, and signing up to become an Airbnb host is fairly simple. Still, there’s a number of steps to take and pitfalls to avoid. Don’t worry, we’ll guide you.
Are you thinking about starting a vacation rental business? First and foremost, you need to ensure you understand the industry and all the operations.
If you don’t know where to start, read this article where we discuss the basics. Here you’ll find some must-know tips for vacation rental success.
Planning to start a short-term rental business on Airbnb and are looking for an Airbnb startup checklist? In this post, you’ll find an Airbnb host checklist of essential things you will need to invest in for the greatest experience for your guests.