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Just wondering what others here think their average response time is for responding to inquiries. I'm fortunate in that I work from home about 12 hours a day, so I usually see inquiries come in and can write back within 30 minutes to an hour. But sometimes on weekends if I'm busy, it may be the next day when I can write back.
Also, do any of you use a dedicated email address to handle your inquiries and use an auto-responder? I've considered doing this so that no matter what my situation, the inquiries get an immediate reply that I've received it and I'll be writing them back shortly with a full quote and an answer to any questions. Any thoughts on this?
I try to answer as quickly as possible, generally within a few hours. I get SMS notifications from homeaway.com and that helps, but in general I check my email pretty frequently. I really try to not let an inquiry go unanswered for more than 24 hours. As a traveler, it's a pet peeve of mine to not get a response.
I don't use an autoresponder because that feels impersonal. Then again, I am only dealing with one property and I could see it being useful if you were trying to manage muiltiple properties.
I have also considered setting filters so that inquiries get forwarded into my work email account, but I haven't taken that step yet.
We like using an auto-responder so that inquirers know that their email has actually reached someone. I don't know how many times I have sent an email to a renter with a "read receipt" request and do not get a reply. (as we do most of our reservations, etc. by email, this is very frustrating).
I'm kind of an e-mail addict and work mostly from home, so usually answer within a few hours. People have often said they appreciated that and when I'm looking for a place, I know that I sure do. However, if I'm really uncertain whether I want the group (see my post today about "screening",) then I don't answer and sometimes forget to go back to it; that probably leaves a bad feeling on the other end, but I'm still working on getting this "customer service"-thing right because it's hard for me at times.
Since there are three owners of our property, I set up an online ticketing system (OSTicket) which is really intended for support/help desk purposes. However, it works great for us in this situation because it allows the three of us to see every inquiry (we get e-mail notifications when someone makes an inquiry). Additionally, the history of the conversation is kept in this system. And finally, any one of us can respond to an inquiry at any time. The other thing I like about it is that I set up an auto-responder that provides answers to a lot of frequently asked questions such as links to our policies, calendars, photos, etc. Often, this will answer the customer's question.
I set this up because the three of us all have "day" jobs so we can't really leave it up to one person to answer an inquiry.
I generally target answering an inquiry within 2 - 3 hours.
svegliando, I'm impressed by your use of technology to manage your VR. I'm totally clueless about online ticketing systems but it sounds fascinating nonetheless. Also, how did you create an auto-responder for customer's FAQs? Is this within your OSTicket or something that non-techies like me could create? It sounds like a huge time-saver.
Thanks! The process for creating an auto-responder will depend on the e-mail service you are using. I missed part of your original question where you asked about using a separate e-mail for inquiries. We definitely do that since we're using a ticketing system but also do so because I would not want to send auto-responses to unrelated e-mails.
Although our auto-responder is generated by the ticketing system, you can set this up via your e-mail (server) configuration. For instance, if you are using a service such as gmail, yahoo, hotmail, etc., you would need to log in to your account and set it there. Similarly, if you manage your own web domain (e.g. .com, .net, etc.), you can log in to your web host and set it there as well. I know this doesn't give you specific steps as it varies depending on what e-mail service you are using. Generally speaking, auto response set up consists of a text box where you simply enter the text of your auto response. And this text can be updated at any time.
One thing I made a point of doing in the auto-responder is to provide as much helpful information to the inquirer as possible. Before getting into this business (and when we used to do more travelling), I found that most auto-responders didn't really give me much helpful information. Most of my travel plans were made during the evening (after work, after dinner, etc.) so I would not expect a human response until the next day. But it was extremely helpful if the auto response gave me more information. While you can't anticipate every question, you'll find that there are some common ones that can be answered in an auto-responder.
So instead of just an auto-response acknowledging receipt of the inquiry, I provide links to additional information about our VR. For instance, we have our own website where they can find things like directions, floor plans, additional photos, our policies, depoist information, our calendar (not managed by HA), sign up for newsletters, etc. Probably the most useful of all of that are links to photos and the calendar.
Hope that helps.
So, I'm a huge proponent of email marketing. An auto-responder is a must for me, but I'm having crazy issues right now. I use Google Apps to handle email on my web server, and this is what I've done.
I went into settings, create filter and tell gmail to send a "canned message" based on specific criteria on incoming messages (i.e. message from vrbo containing vrbo # in subject line).
Everything seemed to work like a charm until I realized that the autoresponder was being sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and not the inquiry's email address (which is actually the "reply-to" email address).
This is a conundrum that's been racking my brain for hours. Any tips from anyone?
You might want to check out our "free inquiry reply tool". It does exactly what
your looking for along with including availability and quote based on the
renters requested dates.
Simplify the management of your rental!
Right now, the only thing we say is that we are having some communication difficulties with internet, land-line phones, and cell service due to the current weather conditions. We ask them to please be patient and we will get back to them in one form or another as quickly as we can.
Usually, we do not have any kind of auto-reply on. We do, however, indicate on our VRBO listing that an email will get the fastest response (since we can access it more often while at work.)
We try to respond as quickly as possible. I usually can sneak a peek at the email account dedicated to our rental while I am at work and can respond within 30 minutes or so.
We do use the auto-reply feature on the email account simply because we are in a rural area and this winter's weather has been wreaking havoc with our power, cell phone, land-line phone, and internet access! We are asking people to be patient with us and that we will respond as soon as we are able. Most visitors seem to understand that we are private owners (and do not use a booking agency) and are renting the cabin in our non-work hours!
We have seen an increase in people who seem to want an answer within moments (as if they were booking online with a major hotel chain) and have already booked with someone else even if we managed to respond within 15-30 minutes! We have also noticed an increase in people who do not seem to be seriously interested and who never respond to us no matter how many questions they have asked or how thoroughly and carefully we have answered those questions. (We've also noticed a higher percentage of people who are not reading the information on our VRBO site and ask us for information right near the top of the listing, as well as people who's only question is about discounts to the posted pricing -- even discounts on seasonal/holiday specials!)
I reply instantly with my Droid Phone and i find that people really appreciate it. I try to give them more than they asked for and be engaged with them as much as possible.
I upgraded to a Blackberry so that I can respond quickly to inquiries. I have 2 dedicated emails for different marketing sites that are forward immediately to my phone. If a phone number was included I usually call. If not I email immediately. People often comment on how quicly I have gotten back to them.
A Blackberry would be great but -- we are in a rural area with only one cell carrier and they have us over a barrell! Their rates are definitely not the best and we simply cannot afford the cost. We only rent one small unit and it's just not financially feasible for us. So -- we do what we can by sneaking in peeks at our email account while at work as often as we can!
Why not automate the inquiry reply process instead of being forced to check
email and possibly miss out on a rental?
We offer a free auto-reply service. Check out www.myrms.com
Check out our condo on the slopes of Northstar;
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I checked your website and programming application. I do web development and think that it's a great tool. Parsing the email and then sending an auto reply with all the information.
Sorry if I'm being curious, it's the web developer in me.
Question, would I need to have a MyVRMs email account that renters would send emails to? Or can I still use my same personal email account? Also, what if I don't update my calender that often or at least every week. Is there a way to prevent them from actually booking since those dates might be booked. After they go to book the rental, they have an option on the site to add addtional nights. Does the software check the VRBO calendar again to see if it's booked. I have to check if VRBO has an API. It would be great if it did.
I saw that you put your email on the website. I would encrypt or put a contact form so email harvest won't spam that account.
Ditto w/my iPhone...we find that quick responses get results. We recommend using a smartphone to handle inquiries
Sent from my iPhone
I find that the auto-reply feature is a HUGE plus! As a renter, I love getting answers to my questions fast. Are you available and how much is it? If these two questions are answered within minutes, and I like the answer, they would get my business. I created an online management system to help owners do just this. You can setup the auto-responder to reply to all inquiries received from all your advertising sites. The reply includes availability, total cost, my property restrictions/rules and can even include an url to book online and pay. Not everyone wants an online booking solution so we have tailored service levels to this. Our auto-responder without online payment processing is free to vacation rental owners. Check us out at www.myvrms.com
I find that a partially personal response is a deal maker. I have a template that's loaded with property information, and I add a personal portion in the first paragraph that responds to the sender's message.
We completely book up every season, and I attribute some of that to giving some personalized attention to the guests at inquiry time....
YES, we do the same as jvan and oceanbreeze.
First, I write back with something personal that pertains to them. At the very least, I look up their area code on their phone number and make some conversational comment about what I guess to be their geographic location (e.g., "Will you be visiting from Maine? I bet you're enjoying some nice spring weather!"). Or if they say they are grandparents coming to visit family, I'll mention that our guest apartment has been popular with the grandparents of our neighbors. Or if they mention they're bringing kids, I'll mention that we are a very kid-friendly apartment, with more details below.
If they asked questions, of course I answer those right off the bat.
Then I provide the rate information.
Then ... I just do a copy and paste of my "canned response."
I love the "reply as available" feature in HomeAway, because it allows me to just keep this "canned response" info in there ... and it allows me to simply add the personalized stuff to the top. Now that they have the "quotes" built in, that makes it even MORE convenient for me. HomeAway's "Reply as Booked" and "Reply Available" feature are awesome. The problem is, at least half of my inquiries are NOT from HomeAway ... so I need an easy way to copy and paste the canned information and respond easily in gmail, from my android phone. So far I have not found an easy way to do that. Does anybody have any tips?
The canned response provides a detailed description of the apartment's location and amenities, as well as the payment options, installment plan, how to proceed with the booking (next steps if they are interested), etc. As some people have alluded to here, the "canned response" is an FAQ ... "frequently asked questions"! Yes, all of the information is already answered in our VRBO and HomeAway ads, so we shouldn't have to say it again. But ... as we all know, many people don't read what's on the listing.
So far it seems that people really do read our "canned reponse" e-mail. I think it's because it's a direct reply, and there's this personalized part at the top. There's no clear boundary between where the personalized part ends and the "canned response" begins. Also the "canned response" is written in a little more personalized, "from me to you" style, as compared to the "advertising" style on our listing.
To learn more about the inquiry and quoting tools included in ReservationManager on HomeAway.com, here's a short video overview which explains the features: http://www.reservationmanager.com/howitworks?v=1
Director, Product Marketing
My experience has been that's its important to respond as quickly as possible. At the end of every HomeAway/VRBO inquiry you get it says: "Responding to inquiries within 3 hours increases bookings by 57%". I've found that to be the case. I often times reply within minutes since I'm typically on my laptop or have my iPhone/iPad handy. HomeAway's ReservationManager is a great tool to make responding to inquiries easier. Even if you don't use the payment part, its worth it just for the inquiry response assistance. It's worth checking out and I've seen it get better and better over time.
In addition to ReservationManager, there are lots of great third party services available for managing vacation rentals. Most of these require a monthly fee. I'm a software developer and created an iPhone and iPad application called Vacation Props in order to quickly respond to inquiries. The app allows you to create email templates and will automatically create a quote from configured seasonal rates. I can respond to most inquiries in well under a minute using the app. There's a group on the site called Web, Software & Technology if you want to find out lots of great information about using technology to simplify vacation rental management:
Creator of Vacation Props, an innovative iPhone/iPad app to manage vacation properties and quickly respond to inquiries