Putting Autoresponders to Work for You

Jonathan Murray —  February 3, 2015

This topic recently came up in Matt Landau’s Inner Circle forum, and these two posts are based on information I shared there. If you aren’t already participating, check out the Inner Circle forum or connect with Matt Landau’s Vacation Rental Marketing blog.

In my last post, I called autoresponders “the secret weapon most vacation rental owners ignore,” explaining that adding them can save time, improve professionalism, and increase conversion rates.

As an owner, I like to know that every inquiry gets a response — even those that aren’t likely to convert because they fall outside my renter criteria. You can spend a lot of time responding individually to people who aren’t a good fit for your property, or you can use autoresponders to free up that energy so you can focus on your actual guests.

Autoresponders work exactly as the name implies — they’re automatically sent out, and the message is determined by triggers within the inquiry email, like whether guests indicate that they’re travelling with pets or the number of adults in their party.

To get the most from autoresponders, however, you need to use them effectively: Use rules to send tailored messages for different types of inquiries, and adjust your message until you get the results you’re looking for.

It’s taken years of testing and tweaking the way I use them in my own vacation rental business, Sonoma Square Cottage, to get them right. What works for me may not work for you — but you need to start somewhere.

Here are the templates I’ve developed for six common situations, as well as the most important things I’ve learned about autoresponders from my experience. The rules consider specific information from the booking form I use on my website, and send whichever template is more appropriate.

Rules 1: The stay is too short

At one point, I applied a seven-day minimum to rentals. However, I’m currently looking for longer stays of 30 days or more.

Subject: Thanks for your inquiry to SonomaSquareCottage.com
Hi (first name) -

Thanks for inquiring about the SonomaSquareCottage.com. We’d love to host you, but unfortunately can not do short stays. Good luck with your search, and please keep us in mind in the future!

Thanks,
Jonathan
www.SonomaSquareCottage.com

p.s. check out our website anyway for tips, coupons, and a free local guide to Sonoma!

Follow us on Facebook for future deals and updates: https://www.facebook.com/SonomaSquareCottage

Ideally, my autoresponder would also explain what my minimum stay is. However, there is some regulatory stuff going on, and I prefer to keep my correspondence vague.

Rule 2: The group is too big

I limit reservations to groups of eight people or less, but still get requests to host larger parties.

Subject: Thanks for your inquiry to SonomaSquareCottage.com
Hi (first name) -

Thanks for inquiring about the SonomaSquareCottage.com. I’d love to be able to host your party, but unfortunately our small home and sleeping arrangements just can’t fit that many people! Good luck with your search, and please keep us in mind in the future!

Thanks,
Jonathan
www.SonomaSquareCottage.com

p.s. check out our website for tips, coupons, and a free local guide to Sonoma!

Follow us on Facebook for future deals and updates: https://www.facebook.com/SonomaSquareCottage

Rule 3: The group is too big (adults)

Sometimes I receive inquiries from groups of adults who look at the stats for my property — three bedrooms, three bathrooms — and decide to try their luck any way. As you can see from the message below, however, one room is set up just for kids.

Subject: Thanks for your inquiry to SonomaSquareCottage.com
Hi (first name) -

Thanks for inquiring about the SonomaSquareCottage.com. I’d love to be able to host your party, but unfortunately we just can’t fit that many people! Our third bedroom contains a children’s bunk which isn’t suitable for adults. Good luck with your search, and please keep us in mind in the future!

Thanks,
Jonathan
www.SonomaSquareCottage.com

p.s. check out our website anyway for tips, coupons, and a free local guide to Sonoma!

Follow us on Facebook for future deals and updates: https://www.facebook.com/SonomaSquareCottage

Rule 4: Their group includes a smoker

The booking form on my website asks whether anyone in the party smokes, which helps me screen for my non-smoking rental.

Subject: Thanks for your inquiry to Sonoma Square Cottage
Hi (first name) -

Thanks for inquiring at the Sonoma Square Cottage. Unfortunately, our home is a non-smoking property. We’re sorry we can’t accommodate smoking. Best of luck in your search, and enjoy your upcoming trip to Sonoma!

Regards,
Jonathan
www.SonomaSquareCottage.com

p.s. check out our website anyway for tips, coupons, and a free local guide to Sonoma!

Rule 5: The dates are already booked

Getting inquiries for dates that are already booked can be frustrating, especially when your calendar is up-to-date, but I believe each inquiry is still worth a follow up.

Subject: Thanks for your inquiry to SonomaSquareCottage.com
Dear (first name) -

Thanks for inquiring at the Sonoma Square Cottage. Unfortunately, our home is booked during the period you requested. Are your dates flexible by any chance? I keep an up-to-date calendar on my website if you want to consider other dates: www.SonomaSquareCottage.com/rates-and-calendar. If you’re flexible, please let me know – or feel free to resubmit your request on my website.

Regards,
Jonathan
www.SonomaSquareCottage.com

p.s. while you’re on our website, also check out our travel tips, local coupons, and our free local insider’s guide to Sonoma!

Follow us on Facebook for future deals and updates: https://www.facebook.com/SonomaSquareCottage

Rule 6: General response for all other inquiries

If none of the above templates is triggered, the following email is sent.

Subject: Thanks for your inquiry to SonomaSquareCottage.com
Dear (first name) -

Thanks for inquiring about my rental, Sonoma Square Cottage. This is quick (automated) reply to let you know that I’m excited to talk and I’ll be in touch ASAP! In the meantime, check out my property website atwww.SonomaSquareCottage.com for a lot of really helpful info for your upcoming trip.

On the website, you can:

  • learn about all our family-friendly amenities (like our 3-D plasma screen TV, mini air hockey, Nintendo Wii, and classic arcade table)
  • view large photos of the home (to really get a sense of what it’s like)
  • insert your dates and generate a quote in real-time
  • review local tips, events, and coupons

Talk to you soon!

Jonathan
www.SonomaSquareCottage.com

p.s. don’t miss our FREE downloadable “Insider’s Guide to Sonoma” on our website!

Follow us on Facebook for future deals and updates: https://www.facebook.com/SonomaSquareCottage

Tracking my results

I’m a big fan of A/B tests, and I’ve tested all of these templates — especially the final “default” template — learning a few things along the way.

1) Keep it short and simple. Don’t cram your email with information and advice — put it on your website, then take one sentence to tell them that it’s there. The shorter I keep my autoresponder messages, the more quality responses I receive.

2) Help, don’t sell. This is something Matt says all the time — because it’s true. This is obviously a sales transaction, but if the only thing a potential guest hears from you is BOOK NOW it won’t seem very inviting. Put yourself in their shoes: what sort of customer service would stand out to you? How can you help them book a trip that includes your rental as home base? Point them to the free and helpful information you’ve (hopefully) added to your website, like a page of local recommendations or a thoughtful insider’s guide.

3) Personalize your message as much as you can. The nature of templates is that they’re standardized — mine certainly are. But many people still reply and thank me for responding so quickly, even when I’m turning them down! The #1 complaint about autoresponders is that they’re impersonal, but it doesn’t take much to make your message a bit warmer, like having slightly different messages for different types of inquiries and including the renter’s first name in the response.

A lot of owners and property managers — A LOT of them! — don’t respond to inquiries at all, and renters usually appreciate any response, whether you’re confirming their reservation or not.

Autoresponders are an easy way to elevate your vacation rental business and step up in a way that your competition may be missing.

What do you think about autoresponders — love them? Hate them? Tell me about it in the comments below.

photo by Jo Naylor (CC BY 2.0)

Jonathan Murray

Jonathan Murray

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Before starting MyVR, he co-founded Lift Media (acquired), a lead generation company that worked with clients like American Express, Netflix, and Fandango. He started MyVR after being frustrated with setting up his own Sonoma cottage as a vacation rental. He studied engineering at Bucknell University and received his MBA from Stanford University.
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