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For many vacation property owners, the 2012 booking season will already be underway; the phone may be ringing more often; email inquiries are beginning to pop up in your inbox, and hopefully your calendar is starting to fill up. Whether you are new to renting out, or a seasoned veteran, it’s exciting to see signs of a busy rental season and it’s also a great opportunity to kick off a more structured approach to managing inquiries.
If your property attracts a lot of inquiries, it’s easy to get bogged down with them and once a period has been booked, to just delete the emails. This is not a good idea – it’s a bit like a car salesman ignoring the people showing interest in a new model because there isn’t one available to sell them immediately. These are ‘hot’ leads – they have made an inquiry because they are interested in your property and just because you cannot sell them the dates they want, doesn’t mean they may not be interested in another date or could be persuaded to subscribe to your blog (if you have one). Every inquiry is a potential sale, perhaps not immediately but at some time in the future, so never miss an opportunity to capture them for your mailing list.
To ensure you maximize the opportunities offered by the inquiries you receive, here’s some tips to help you out.
Quicker responses get better results
In a culture where people prefer an instant response to a question or inquiry rather than having to wait hours or even days, the quicker you can get back to a potential guest, the more your likelihood of converting it to a booking. If you promptly respond to an inquiry to regret that the period required is already booked but asking if they would like to go on your mailing list for cancellations, you may find you have a future booking in the bag. Aim to answer emails within at least four hours, or first thing in the morning if one comes in overnight. The same goes for responding to voice mail.
Create a contact database
Collect information on all inquiries in a contact database. This could be in Outlook, Excel or another database system, or a simple paper based organizer. The most important thing is to collect names and email addresses, and details of the inquiry and questions asked. Don’t use this to blast your data base with weekly emails – you do need to ask permission before you start sending additional information – but if they do subscribe to your blog or request that you send them your newsletter, you’ll have data that will allow you to tailor your material to suit. It also means you maintain the data for people who may have shown an interest in a booked period that gets cancelled.
Create signatures and short cuts
There’s lots of ways to save time when you respond to inquiries. Use the signature feature in Outlook to create a set of signature blocks. These could feature your special offers, a link to a FAQ page or a download you may be offering. You can create as many of these as you want and they are useful for targeting specific prospective client groups. Make up a set of shortcuts for frequently used phrases and paragraphs so a couple of quick keystrokes can be used to answer an inquiry. I use them for simple greetings such as ‘Thank you for your interest in our vacation home’ as well as links to our FAQ page and a final paragraph with information on the booking process.
Frequently Asked Questions page
You may have received bulk emails that include a long list of questions which is frustrating because most of the information requested is included in your listing. Prospective guests will send out the same message to every listing they are interested in rather than tailor them to suit each one. It can be tempting to hit the delete button but that could be self-defeating as the inquiry is probably quite genuine. If you don’t have the time or inclination to answer every question in a return email, but you do have all the information readily available in a FAQ list, just write a polite reply and send a link to your FAQs. I find those lists of questions quite helpful as they occasionally ask about something that is not on my listing or FAQ page, so are then added. They always give an insight into guest expectations and requirements.
Heather Bayer is Director of Owner Community at VacationHomeRentals.com. She has been renting her vacation homes for over 20 years and is author of the book ‘Renting Your Recreational Property for Profit’