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It’s hard to believe 2016 is coming to an end already, and it’s even harder to believe it’s been 6 years since we founded MyVR!

A LOOK BACK… WE GOT A FEW THINGS RIGHT
Mike, Markus and I were recently reflecting on why we started MyVR and were pleased to see how many of the hypotheses we had about the vacation rental (VR) industry back in 2010 were finally ringing true. We believed:

  • VR’s were poised to ‘go mainstream’ and see increased adoption and usage
  • marketing VR’s would expand from one channel (VRBO) to many (Airbnb, OTA’s, etc)
  • channels would place a greater emphasis on inventory ‘quality’ (e.g. responsiveness, availability accuracy, conversion rate, stay experience)
  • bookings and payments would move from almost entirely offline, manual, and laborious to online, automated, and even instant
  • VR managers would need software to thrive survive in this new world

Sure, there were already more than a few property management software solutions on the market, but they appeared outdated, hard to use, and not designed to handle the challenges that lay ahead given the trends we saw. So, we set out to build modern management software with a focus on design, usability, and connectivity. We also aimed to make software more accessible for smaller property managers and owners – both of whom appeared neglected by the legacy software providers.

… AND A FEW THINGS… NOT SO MUCH!
If it sounds like we’re patting ourselves on the back too much, let us also share some things we got wrong! We’ve definitely learned a lot in working with thousands of owners and property managers. Most notably, we underestimated:

  • the number of features we’d have to build for customers to run their businesses on our software
  • the challenges involved with getting smaller users, often technologically unsophisticated, up and running successfully on our software quickly and efficiently
  • the support expectations of these smaller users (thoroughness, response time, availability) and the challenge with solving those in a scalable and cost-effective way
  • the price sensitivity of many users, even with what we thought were clear benefits of bookings growth, time-savings, increased professionalism, and error-reduction

This isn’t our first startup, so we knew coming in that nothing ever comes without a lot of hard work and determination. While we thought early on that delivering the sheer number of features that customers wanted would be the biggest challenge we faced, we now believe that effectively onboarding, training, and supporting customers is an even bigger challenge, and potentially even more important to the success of MyVR and our customers.

It’s clear, given the current industry trends outlined above, that our solution is needed now more than ever, and we’re excited to have achieved so much towards these product and support goals throughout 2016.

MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS IN 2016
2016 was a solid year for MyVR. We completed numerous platform improvements aimed at helping our users achieve greater success, including:

  • More channel integrations: Airbnb and Booking.com
  • Better tools for maintaining your website
  • Automation enhancements
  • Other software enhancements: inquiry routing, reporting, and more
  • Expanded support infrastructure
  • Product redesign and new plans
  • New pricing approach

More channel integrations: Airbnb and Booking.com
Our integrations this year with Airbnb and Booking.com have rounded out our channel management offering, which already includes HomeAway/VRBO and TripAdvisor/Flipkey. These critical partnerships have been years in the making, and allow for a much deeper connection than the periodic calendar-only sync available via iCal.

We’re also proud to connected you with these channels directly – meaning we connect you to the channels without a third party channel manager. This keeps the complexity of integrating, as well as the costs, to a minimum.

Better tools for maintaining your website
This past year also saw a significant revamp of our website builder. In addition to launching a dozen new templates, we launched a new ‘simple content editor’ (to complement our more advanced drag and drop page layout editor) to make it quicker and easier to make simpler content changes. We’ve also made it easier to integrate with existing third party websites, or to build entirely new custom websites that are integrated with your MyVR software.

Automation enhancements
Our automation tools benefited from several targeted improvements, including increased visibility into emails we send for you, time-of-day scheduling of ‘Stay Emails’, and the ability to choose whether to queue automated emails for manual review/sending or automatic sending on their due date.

Other software enhancements: inquiry routing, reporting, and more
MyVR’s inquiry assignment, routing, and notification options were vastly improved in 2016 – particularly helpful for users with more than one rep, or those who have various notifications they need sent to third parties throughout the rental lifecycle. Other improvements were made throughout the product to areas such as booking policy setup and reservation processing, and we launched our first Reporting & Analytics module (please send feedback!).

Expanded support infrastructure
Our support infrastructure was probably the area of our platform that saw the largest improvement in 2016. We want our customers to be up-and-running as soon as possible, and we’ve learned that a bigger product means a bigger need for support.

We’ve added dozens of product tutorial videos, with more on the way. We created our first downloadable user manual to help walk you through the setup process. We launched a Community Forum to make standard Q&As easier to find, and to get you answers faster, with access not just to the MyVR team but to other users as well.

Through our new services offering, you can now get referrals to professionals who can offer assistance such as data importation, 1:1 training, SEO help, as well as website design and development—whatever you need to get the most from technology and optimize your business.

Many of our plans also now come with some setup and training services included, and additional options can be purchased a la carte via our new services offering!

Product redesign and new plans
After focusing the last 4+ years on developing features, including the many additions mentioned above from 2016, it became necessary to package and sell our now (extremely) robust set of features differently. You may have noticed that our marketing website reflects that MyVR now offers three products: Software, an App Marketplace, and a Services Marketplace.

We moved all third party integrations (like HomeAway, Stripe, Mailchimp, etc) and optional add-ons (like websites) to this new App Marketplace. We’ve also created this new Services Marketplace to organize the many services that we now offer, and we expect both of these marketplaces to see many great additions in 2017. Lastly, we organized the software itself into major functional modules, and have redesigned our product navigation around these.

Given the evolution of the product, we also needed to create a set of new plans (three property manager plans, and two owner plans) to better customize our offering to different clients with differing needs and budgets, and help them understand what they get with each plan level. We released these new plans to new customers a few weeks ago (and stopped offering the prior ones when we did that).

New pricing
Because the product has evolved so much over these past 4 years of feature build-out, we raised subscription prices for new users signing up for these new plans. We’ve also changed the way we charge for certain add-ons, e.g. channel management, which now incorporates a 1.49% booking fee (vs the 3% to 7% typically charged by third party channel managers). Lastly, we’ve also moved to a new fee structure for credit card processing that utilizes volume tiers (rates start at ~2.99% in for the US, and decreases with increasing client volume).

We were overdue for these changes – most of our customers were on a pricing plan that was designed in early 2013, when we had a very small fraction of the platform capabilities what we have now, and we hadn’t been adjusting prices upward all that time as we made the product better. We’re continuing to honor the legacy plan you signed up for, so if you’ve been satisfied with the product, this recent price adjustment need not have any impact on you.

(NOTE: Some users on legacy plans have inquired about converting to one of our newer plans. Sit tight… we have a separate email coming on that within a few days.)

A LOOK AHEAD TO 2017
We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished to date – but it’s clear our job is far from over! Through our recent customer survey, we gained an updated view of what’s currently most important to you and how we should prioritize our efforts going forward.

One key investment we made in 2016 that we didn’t mention above (and haven’t talked about much) was the release of a Developer Portal with a robust set of APIs – something that will allow for greater connectivity with our software. We realize that’s pretty technical for most users, and the sound of “APIs” might not get you super excited, but you’ll appreciate what APIs will let you do!

In the short term, the APIs give larger customers better access to their data and allow them to build custom technology on top of MyVR’s software. Longer term, APIs add functionality for our users by letting third party software developers integrate their products and services with MyVR’s software. For example, our APIs are already being used for things like building custom websites and enabling yield management companies to optimize rental rates for our clients. Going forward, APIs will enable MyVR to bring greater choice in features and services to our clients via third party apps and services, and these will be made available to users via our App and Services Marketplaces.

We’re excited to close out 2016 with a bang and have an exciting roadmap developing for 2017!

Thanks for your continued support,
Jonathan and the MyVR Team

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.

Continue Reading…

I posted about this recently in Matt Landau’s Inner Circle forum. It’s been a while since I blogged about autoresponders, a tool many owners still aren’t taking advantage of, so I wanted to share the information with you here. If you aren’t already participating, check out the Inner Circle forum or connect with Matt Landau’s Vacation Rental Marketing blog.

"welcome" written with magnets, photo by Christian Schnettelker (CC BY 2.0)Done well, with some fine-tuning, using autoresponders in my vacation rental business have helped me capture more bookings, cut demands on my time, and build better relationships with my guests.

Inquiry autoresponders are messages that send automatically and immediately when someone sends a new rental inquiry. Some owners choose not to use autoresponders, but many don’t realize they’re even an option.

Here are seven reasons why I think every owner should include autoresponders in their booking process.

Continue Reading…

Want to save money, save time, be more organized and look more professional when it comes to managing your vacation rental property? The MyVR team has been busy building great new features — it’s like spring cleaning for your property management to do list.

Continue Reading…

Skift || Here’s a First Look at the Expedia-HomeAway Vacation Rental Experiment

Expedia

After announcing a partnership late last year, Expedia and HomeAway have just launched a beta version of their combined vacation rental search.

The user experience is a little rough, explained Skift’s Dennis Schaal, saying that it “functions more like an advertising relationship would than a tightly integrated booking process.” He also notes, however, that these are only first steps; much will likely change as they gain information and feedback.

Poster for the United States Travel Bureau promoting tourism, showing two cowboys on horseback by stream near desert rock formation. Created for the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project, by Frank S. Nicholson, between 1936 and 1939. [PD] This picture is in the public domain.

Travel Daily News || Vacation rentals even more popular with U.S. travelers in 2014

A recent survey by TripAdvisor found that 52 percent of American travelers plan to stay at a vacation rental in 2014—up from 44 percent last year.

Where are they planning to go, what are they willing to spend, and what amenities are they looking for? Reporter Theodore Koumelis covers the survey’s highlights. Continue Reading…

"Ice storm" on flickr, by Amanda B (CC BY 2.0)From a drought in California to snow in Texas, transportation blocked by ice storms and blackouts—not to mention the introduction of “polar vortex” into everyday vocabulary—it’s been an unpredictable season for traveling.

What do you do when your guests’ vacation is derailed by extreme weather—or worse, they can’t even make the journey to start their trip?

How you respond to any particular situation depends a lot on you and the relationship you have with your guests; there are no clear-cut answers, and it’s unlikely you’ll hit the same unexpected situation twice. But here are some ideas and best practices from other vacation rental owners. Continue Reading…

Sydney Morning Herald || The hottest travel trend of 2014? We know everything about you

We’ve talked about different ways to connect with your guests and provide truly personal service, something vacation rental owners are in a great position to provide. But hotels are upping their game, too. In this article from Australia, industry executives say they’re focused on detailsfrom remembering a guest’s preferred room temperature to buying personalized gifts inspired by their social media posts.

Vacation Rental Marketing Blog || 4 vacation rental guru predictions for 2014

Will 2014 bring more competition or more opportunity for vacation rental owners? Likely a good dose of both, according to the four vacation rental pros interviewed for this predictions post. From new initiatives by big brands to the need for better systems and more comprehensive marketing, our industry is poised for significant growth and change over the next couple of years. Continue Reading…

Once they decide where they want to go, travelers want to know what they can do when they get there, relying on the Internet and a sense of exploration to serve their needs.

However, new and emerging websites and smartphone applications are popping up all the time, many of them delivering information that’s local, socially curated and—in some cases—highly personalized. And they require little if any extra work from you!

Pointing your guest towards resources like these can help make their travel research much easier. Continue Reading…

"Question mark" on flickr by the Italian voice (CC BY 2.0)When it comes to guest surveys, the old “K.I.S.S.” motto works best—”Keep It Simple” and you just might get a few insightful comments in response. Make it complicated and, like this 20 question survey deconstructed by Rafat Ali of Skift, you’ll risk irritating anybody who stops to consider responding.

Sandy Bayes, owner of Sandy’s Cabin in Flagstaff, AZ, opened her vacation rental last March and has been surveying her guests since Day One.

“Especially as a new owner, I’ve tried to think of the places I’ve stayed and consider what would have been nicer,” she explained. “But you can’t think of everything, and everybody is different. It’s been a real learning experience for me.” Continue Reading…

Skift || HomeAway Sues Airbnb Over Use of Birdhouse Mark

Having long argued that Airbnb isn’t a competitor and operates in a different market, HomeAway is suing Airbnb over their use of a birdhouse in their latest national marketing campaign—something HomeAway says infringes on their trademark.  The battle between the two companies has seemed inevitable to many, and has certainly just increased a notch (or 10) with the news of the lawsuit.

Skift || Why Hotel Brands Should Care About Airbnb’s Disruption

"hotel" by Daniel Zedda on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Airbnb has made a significant dent in the hotel market, building on strengths that every vacation rental has—whether they use the rental site or not.

Vikram Singh of Skift says brand loyalty has lost its power; people care most about location, value and good reviews.

He also notes that transparency helps build trust and community: “The host is the brand, and you have access to him at every stage of your travel experience.” Continue Reading…