By Jasper Ribbers
Founder of Get Paid For Your Pad and Smartbnb user
Communicating effectively with guests improves the guest experience. This leads to better ratings and reviews, which are crucial to be successful as a short term rental host.
The importance of communicating
Why is it so important to communicate with short term rental guests? Traditional types of accommodation usually don’t require any contact beyond a booking confirmation. How often have you called a hotel to ask a question about the Wi-Fi, the check-in process, or if towels are available?
The reason is that there are industry standards for hotels, B&Bs, and hostels. A 24h reception, concierge services and amenities such as toiletries and towels. They are easy to find on Google Maps, and taxi drivers know how to find them.
Guests are aware of these standards and know what to expect. This creates a level of trust and removes any worries guests may have.
Lack of industry standards in the short term rental niche
In the short term rental niche, there are no industry standards. Check-ins can be anywhere from a self-check-in solution to the host meeting the guest. Check-in windows are often limited to daytime hours. Addresses can be hard to find. Often it’s not clear how to get access to the property.
There’s also no standard when it comes to what’s provided. Towels, Wi-Fi, toiletries, slippers, extra blankets, pillows, tea, coffee, breakfast. These are all unknowns. For shared accommodations there are even more questions. Which of the common areas can the guests use? What does the interaction with the host look like?
Relationship with the host matters
In the hosting industry, there’s a rule called the 10/5 rule. It defines how a staff member should act when within ten and five feet from a guest. This is to build a relationship between the hotel staff and the guests. These relationships are of a very superficial nature, though.
In the short term rental niche, the relationship between the host and the guest plays a more crucial role. This is because the guest relies more on the host for the experience.
Short term rental guests are often looking for a more personal experience. That’s one of the reasons they choose to stay at an Airbnb instead of a hotel.
Communication serves to build this relationship with the guests. It improves the guest experience by creating comfort. It’s like staying with a friend versus staying with a stranger. It leads to better reviews as we judge a friend more positively than a stranger. People don’t complain about a minor issue to a friend. But they would to a stranger.
In short, guest communications serves two purposes:
(1) to improve the guest experience by providing accurate information
(2) to build a relationship with the guest.
Communications can make or break a short term rental stay. But how should we communicate? How can we achieve these two goals?
What is outstanding communication?
To understand how to communicate with our guests, we need to first understand
1) the different communication phases
2) the different aspects of communication
and how they contribute to the guest experience and the relation between the host and the guest.
Different communication phases
The communication window starts the moment the guest sends an inquiry. It ends when both guest and host have left a review, or when the review window ends. This happens 14 days after check-out.
There are four distinct communication phases:
Let’s take a look at each phase to see what the goals are and how you can achieve them.
The pre-booking phase
The goal during this phase is to find out if the guests and the host are a good fit and to secure the booking. Communication isn’t only the messages that you send. It contains all the information on your listing, such as the description, photos, and captions. It’s important that this information is accurate. Don’t oversell your place.
During this phase, it is crucial to respond fast. Users often inquire with various properties. The first host to respond has the best chance of bagging the booking.
It’s also important to be polite and comprehensive. Don’t respond with short answers like “you’re welcome to stay” or “yes, we have Wi-Fi.”
Between booking and check-in
The main goal during this period is to provide information. Be comprehensive and make the communications easy to absorb. Avoid emails with long stretches of text. Use short paragraphs, bullet points, and images.
Deliver the information in a printable pdf or use a digital guidebook. This enables the guest to access the information offline, in the plane, for example. If they are traveling from abroad, they may not have data after they arrive at the airport.
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During the stay
Communication during this phase should focus on detecting potential issues. Not all guests will tell you if they experience a minor issue. You don’t want to find out in the review! Encourage them to let you know so you can fix the issue.
Contact your guests a few hours after they’ve checked in. Make sure everything is as expected and let them know you’re there to help.
Repeat this the next day. A good night of sleep is an essential part of the guest experience. Confirm with the guests that they didn’t face any difficulties.
Your main goal is to encourage your guests to leave you a review. Not all guests understand how important reviews are for us hosts.
As soon as the guests check-out, I recommend you leave a review for them. Airbnb will send them a notification, which could trigger them to leave you one.
The day after, send them a thank-you message and let them know you left them a review. This could motivate them to write one. If they don’t, follow up with a friendly reminder a week later and a day or two before the check-in window closes.
Different aspects of communications
Let’s look at the different aspects of communication:
This may sound like a no-brainer. The information you provide to your guests should be accurate. With regard to factual information, such as the Wi-Fi password, this is obvious.
But what about walking distance? You may consider a ten-minute walk short, but your guests may not. Also, people walk at different paces.
Another example. The first apartment I rented on Airbnb was on the first floor. To me, the staircase was comfortable and easy to ascend. And so I provided this information: “Staircase to access.”
Unfortunately, the elderly couple that stayed with me once didn’t agree. A three-star rating and a negative review was the result.
“Host said stairs were easy to access, but they weren’t.” A difference in perspective.
To avoid this in the future, I added a photo of the staircase to my Airbnb photo gallery. I added in the caption that to some people, the staircase might be tricky to ascend.
To avoid bad guest experiences, hosts should provide information as accurately as possible.
Let’s take the walking distance as an example. My preferred way to measure this metric is to use Google Maps. Most people have an idea of how their walking pace compared to Google Maps standards. Also, the app displays the distance.
To use this method, follow these steps:
Step four is important for privacy concerns. Also, it’s against the terms of platforms like Airbnb to display this information.
Timeliness refers to when to communicate. The timing of communication is important. Always respond as fast as you can. Airbnb displays your average response time on your listing!
After you receive a booking confirmation, you should respond instantly. Provide a comprehensive overview of everything your guests need to know to ensure a great stay.
Resend crucial bits of info at appropriate times. Your address and how to gain access to the property, for example. This information is best sent out again a few days before check-in and a few hours before arrival.
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It might seem a bit too much. But trust me you’ll be surprised how often guests miss information or forget where to find it.
I used to get messages all the time on the day of check-in. “Hi, can you send me the address?.” Even though I display this info prominently in my welcome message. The reality is that guests oftentimes don’t consume the information until they need it.
Your communications have zero effect if the guest doesn’t digest the information.
In order to increase the chance of the information being absorbed, you should offer your communications in an easily digestible form. Here are a few tips.
- Compose your messages in the Hemmingway app, it will point out grammatical errors and gives you feedback on the structure of your sentences
- Use short paragraphs of two to four sentences, no-one likes to read large amounts of text
- Use bullet points and numbered indexes when you sum up more than two items
Create a well-designed guidebook pdf or use a digital guidebook service
You don’t want to bombard your guests with messages, but you do want to stay on their radar and keep the communication channels open. There’s no optimal way, you kind of have to make an assessment of how much your guests want to communicate. If a guest responds with short messages, I tend to leave them alone. If they seem more eager to communicate, I’ll contact them more often.
At a minimum, I contact them according to this flow:
This is probably more frequent than most hosts. I prefer to err on the side of more communication than the guest would find ideal than on the side of less communication. The reason is that even if the guest doesn’t require the communications, I think they still appreciate the fact that I’m taking the effort to touch base with them. It creates an image of a host who cares. Erring, on the other side, could come across as someone who doesn’t care or doesn’t bother to make an effort.
It’s good practice to be very comprehensive in your communications. Guests often want to know all the little details about their stay. It makes them feel comfortable, knowing exactly what to expect.
In addition, half of the fun of going on a trip is looking forward to it. By providing a lot of information, you enable the guest to have more “pre-fun.” You also save yourself time as you won’t get as many questions if you cover everything upfront.
The Airbnb messaging platform is the only channel you have until the booking is confirmed. Post booking confirm, you have a lot more options. Email is one of them, although Airbnb doesn’t provide the guests’ actual email address, but a temporary one that redirects to the guests’ email address.
Airbnb also provides you with a telephone number. I always let me guests know I’m happy to jump on the phone with them, but never call them out of the blue. They usually don’t take me up on this offer, but the ones that do really appreciate it.
Speaking on the phone is a great way to connect with the guest and a much more personal way to communicate than a written message, so I want to at least provide it as an option.
My favorite way to communicate outside of the Airbnb platform is by WhatsApp. It’s free to use, and the majority of my guests already have the app installed. You can easily send messages, photos, videos, and share locations. But what’s most useful is that you can create groups.
That way, I can add the guests, myself, and members of my team, the check-in person, for example. This allows me to monitor the communication between my team and the guests, and I can jump in when necessary and provide feedback to my team members.
Communication channels outside the Airbnb messaging system can add to the guest experience. Any communication relating to concerns that you have with your guests should be on the Airbnb platform, though. This improves your chances if Airbnb has to mediate through the Airbnb Resolution Center.
Guest communication is a crucial part of creating an outstanding guest experience. It’s half the battle won towards a five-star rating and a stellar review. And we all know how important those are.
Now that you know who to communicate well with your guests, it’s time to put everything into action.
- Review your messages according to the five communication aspects. Can you improve the accuracy, digestibility, timeliness, comprehensiveness, or frequency?
- What communication channels do use? Can you add channels to build a stronger relationship with your guests and improve the guest experience?
Jasper Ribbers is the founder of Get Paid For Your Pad, an online resource that empowers small-scale hosts to achieve financial freedom by educating them on the best practices for using their own homes as a short-term rental business. It features a book, podcast and blog. Jasper also co-founded STR Legends, a quarterly mastermind for established short-term rental operators.
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