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The best advice I ever received – Go to the Vacation Rental workface

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Way back in 1991 I received my best work advice applying to vacation rentals.

A visiting Japanese quality guru called Masaaki Imai, author of the book ‘Kaizen’ that changed the world was in town.  He said you should always go to Gemba.  He meant engineers and managers must get out of the office and go to where the work was actually taking place, and see it and feel it for themselves, not rely on reports passed up the line.

He was right, we often leave the work to others without understanding what really happens in our own business.

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I went back to work at the time and looked far more carefully at what was being done, and encouraged other managers to do the same and think about how their front line work could be improved.  Little by little it worked.

Later at Shell several of us encouraged management staff to get out of the office and work shifts at the service stations until they got a feel for the business.   It was very uncomfortable, but managers learned how their improvements had to fit into the stressful role of site staff.

Soon afterwards at Shell we needed to train a small band of new franchisees who would each run many service stations in a new billion dollar operation.  One of the most dramatic exercises I dreamed up was for them to go out and stress test businesses in the marketplace and see what happened.  For example get fuel but say they had lost their wallet, or order some hamburgers and say they had changed their mind.

They saw how the front line staff in various organisations were trained to handle tough service situations.  In one afternoon they learned more about real service than two weeks in the classroom.  They formed clear views of service standards that day that they applied for years afterwards in their own successful businesses.

So what does this mean for the vacation rental business? 

We owners need to understand and really feel what it is like in all steps in our own business.

When staying at other vacation rentals, I’ve had many good experiences – and a surprising number of bad experiences.  Like confusing booking arrangements.  Like smelly bottles that made the house reek.  Like the uncomfortable beds.  Like the freezing rooms. Like the incomprehensible TV instructions.

What were the owners thinking in renting their VRs in such a state?  In most cases I don’t think they ever knew what it was like for their guests.

Your 4 part challenge

How well do you know your own business?  Here is a challenge you can take to intimately understand your own VR business. Carry out each of the following 4 tests.

The booking. Ask a guest you trust to tell you how the booking process went, starting from their first search and continuing with each of the touchpoints with you.  What was missing?

The OTA.  Book your own VR via your OTA listing – and pay the commission, you can cancel later.  Exactly what communication does the guest get  from the OTA and when? How are payments made? What do the emails look like? What is missing? What are the opportunities?

The stay.  Stay overnight in your own VR and use all your own facilities.  How comfortable is the bed? What is missing in the kitchen? Are the towels adequate? How easy is the coffee machine to use? Is the bathroom clean? And so on.

The clean.  Clean your own VR a few times.  What is hard to do? How long does it take? What gets missed?  What special challenges does your cleaner face?

I can guarantee you will learn something new about your business, and probably quite a lot that you can improve.

It is hard, but it will put you ahead of your competitors.  Enjoy the challenge!

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My name is Rex Brown. I live in Australia, on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. I run two of my holiday rentals here on the coast, and another in inner Melbourne . They are all quite different, but they all run at high occupancy. They are the sandpit that I play in, running constant experiments about what works and what doesn’t.

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