J.D. Power and Associates has been performing its annual guest satisfaction survey for seven years and this year, scores are at an all time low. The survey of 61,700 guests who stayed in a North American hotel from June 2011 through May 2012 concludes that the decline may be an impact of staffing cuts due to the economic downturn. Whatever the reason, guests are clearly unhappy with the overall experience,  including the check-in and check-out services, food and beverage services, and charges for internet access.

This presents a huge opportunity for vacation rental owners to create an unbelievable guest experience. While you might not have access to the big corporate marketing budgets hoteliers do, there’s plenty you can do to provide superior customer service.

Respond promptly to inquiries

You’ve heard this over and over again, but HomeAway cites the number one thing travelers would like to see improved is the inquiry response time. If you can’t respond promptly, set up an auto-reply with frequently asked questions and inform the guest when you will get back to them.

Pick up the phone

If a guest provides a phone number with their inquiry, pick up the phone and call them back. According to Flipkey, the average guest will inquire with 7 different properties. And, according to the Harvard Business Review, companies who try to follow up with potential customers within 1 hour of the inquiry are 7 times as likely to have a meaningful conversation with the key decision maker. You can share valuable information about the local area and help paint the picture for their perfect visit. Follow up with an email outlining the rates, dates, and a link to your website for more information.

Act like a concierge

Since you know the area best, why not offer up your advice to make sure they have a great stay? To save time, add your favorite restaurants, activities, and attractions with a quick recommendation to your website. If you’re using MyVR, you can also add community recommendations, upcoming events, and local deals automatically.

Upgrade your check-in

A handwritten note welcoming the guest to your home is a simple, inexpensive way to make a great first impression. Personalization is your advantage over the big hotel chains and you should make sure to utilize it to the fullest extent. A custom welcome letter that recalls activities the guest was interested in during their stay is a great start.

For guests staying longer or repeat customers, include a welcome amenity with your note. This doesn’t have to be expensive – handcrafted soaps or a picture frame from a local artisan, a bottle of wine, or a bouquet of flowers from the farmer’s market all make the guest feel appreciated for their patronage.

Check in during the guest’s stay

A quick call to let the guest know you’re available if they have any questions during their visit will go a long way. Provide a day and evening phone number and email address. If you happen to have a local contact who is available in case of emergencies, let the guest know how to reach them as well. Don’t forget to tell them where your house manual is located. This book of instructions on how to use your household appliances, electronics, and access the internet will answer all of their frequently asked questions.

Follow up after check-out

Find out how their visit was and ask for feedback on what can be improved. If they had any issues, make sure to address them promptly and inform the guest when the issue has been resolved. Even if this won’t have an impact on their current stay, they’ll be more likely to book with you in the future or refer you to a friend if they know you’re a responsive and thoughtful owner.

Now that you’ve provided your guest with exceptional customer service, ask raving fans to leave a review on your website. This is also a great time to confirm next year’s booking or offer a repeat guest discount on their next reservation.

What have you done to improve customer service for your vacation rental? Share your tips in the comments.