No so long ago in lodging business, a long meeting or day-off would mean returning to a stack of handwritten notes scribbled on pink message pads. Then came the age of voicemail, and the pink slips were replaced by flashing light indicators on our phones and a computer voice announcing “you have 19 messages.”

These days we find ourselves overwhelmed with digital messages coming at us 24/7 from multiple channels and devices. Yes, there’s still the occasional old-school message and now and then a voicemail, both of which are usually from someone who also emailed and texted about the same issue.

Too many lodging leaders and even frontline guest contact staff are now victims of their email inboxes, which is where notifications from app and “platforms” arrive. For example, most of us have cloud-based phone systems that forward voice messages to our email address, and web or app-based platforms (AirBnB, VRBO) send emails to notify us that in-app messages await replies.

As I make the rounds providing onsite sales and guest service training to VR management companies I often get to peek into how they are handling the flow of both internal and external emails. From what I see most are struggling and could benefit from reengineering their processes. The following are a few training tips and suggestions that will apply to a greater or lesser degree according to the size of your company in terms of staff and homeowners.

Have Multiple Email Addresses For Each Team and Executive

  • With so many messages streaming in, it is helpful to set-up multiple addresses for different purposes. For example, homeowner relations and reservations sales staff at large companies could benefit from having a dedicated email for their respective “customers,” and a separate one for internal communications.
  • Similarly, executives should have one for non-urgent correspondence. For example, I maintain a separate email address for my subscriptions, correspondence with non-urgent vendors, financial, legal, travel companies (airlines, rental car), and conference registrations.
  • Can you guess which email inbox I check first each morning?

Keep Your Inbox Clean

  • The most organized executives I know obsess on having a clean inbox, yet the majority of people use the inbox as a storage folder for all of their messages. They attempt to resolve each new message as soon as it is marked “read.” The challenge is most messages require multiple action steps, often involving other colleagues or departments.
  • Instead, put all required action steps on task lists and then move them to email folders. Or, create an email folder labeled “Action Needed” or “Unresolved.”
  • Having a clean email inbox is especially important as we read incoming emails on multiple devices, and an accidental swipe on the wrong message deletes an unresolved task.
  • This concept is especially important if multiple staff members are sharing a single in-box, for example, a shared inbox for booking inquiries and app notifications such as [email protected] I have found inquiries that were missed because one staffer marked it “opened” but did not respond.
  • Do not wait for that day which will never come when you will FINALLY have time to clean out the inbox. Instead, create a new folder labeled “old emails through today’s date,” move everything out and start fresh.

Create A Uniform, Logical Folder System

  • Most companies seem to leave it up to each staffer to create their own email folder system. It is better to agree on a logical filing system so that a) people can more easily search their own emails and b) colleagues can cover the work of others who have stepped out or left the company. Certainly, email servers have improved their attribute-based search options, but oftentimes searches return too many emails and one has to waste time scrolling.

Use A CRM To Manage Owners, Vendors, and Guests

  • Too many people seem to by trying to organize their business relationships through their email servers, by flagging emails, leaving them in the inbox until resolved, and using basic appointment/meeting scheduling options in systems such as Outlook and Gmail which were never designed to be CRM’s. Many VR companies recognize that email is a very effective distribution booking channel and have invested in lead tracking tools such as those provided by TravelNet (TRACKPulse), Navis (Narrowcast), and by some of PMS systems. However, in the VR space, we also have another set of customers which are of course the homeowners, as well as internal customers we relay heavily on which are key vendor-partners. These relationships should also be managed by using one of the many cloud-based CRM’s. Most readers will think of SalesForce, and a Google search will reveal dozens of options. Personally, I use ZoHo because it is very robust, affordable, and integrates with Gmail.

Here are some additional training tips:

  • When responding to rental inquiries, personalize replies by introducing yourself by name as an on-site specialist, then paraphrasing and restating what you observe from the “remarks/comments” received, after which it is fine to use a template.
  • Include headshots and direct contact numbers to personalize exchanges and humanize your company.
  • Change the subject line when the topic of the body of the email message changes. This will make it easier for your recipients to find email documentation too.
  • Discourage excessive internal emailing. Use restraint on “CC’s” and “reply to all.” If resolving an issue requires more than two or three exchanges, it should have been resolved via a phone call in the first place.
  • Rather than emailing colleagues, train staff to make a “talk to Chris about” list and then simply call him or her or even better pass by their desk and resolve all issues via a quick meeting.
  • The time saved from internal emailing can be used to send more personalized, proactive emails to guests and owners.

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By Doug Kennedy
[email protected]