Location matters and features are important. But when your vacation rental and the competition are on relatively equal footing, it’s your ability to respond and deliver great customer service that can win not just one particular booking, but future referrals as well.

“I believe the #1 reason travelers choose vacation rentals over traditional hotels is personality,” Matt Landau wrote on the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog — and other owners agree.

Competitive markets and five-star reviews

Robert Schaffhauser owns a vacation rental unit in The Whaler, an oceanfront condo building along Kaanapali Beach on the Hawaiian island of Maui — an area consistently listed as one of the top travel destinations in the U.S.

There’s no question that there’s a lot of competition, not just among vacation rentals but other types of accommodation, too.

The Whaler has an agent that looks after rental administration: arranging reservation details, collecting rent, overall property management and additional marketing. This makes it easier for Schaffhauser to focus on his own efforts.

Topping his own list of priorities: Customer Service. “Good customer service increases the probability that someone will return, and it makes it easy to get a five-star review,” he noted.

If you haven’t prioritized adding five-star reviews to your website and directory listings, it’s always a good time to start: a recent survey by marketing company BrightLocal shows that 79 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust reviews from people they know.

People also only read a few reviews — a majority of people read between two and six — before confirming their own opinion.

Take a moment to check in

Schaffhauser has found that touching base a few times with guests can be very helpful.

“I find it works really well if I call the day after someone checks in, just to ask whether everything is OK,” he said. “Usually everything is fine, but guests say they appreciate the call very much.”

Because there’s a management company on-site, he doesn’t check in during a guest’s visit; there’s someone available to handle day-to-day issues, and he’s notified promptly if something more important comes up.

Once his guests have returned home, however, he calls again within a day or two to ask about their trip. “People appreciate getting that follow-up call. If they have good things to say, I’ll ask whether they would be prepared to leave a positive review; if they are, I follow-up with a more formal invitation with instructions.”

Test ideas to turn inquiries into bookings

Schaffhauser is exploring different ways to follow-up with inquiries to see what works best: Some tactics haven’t worked well, but others — like investing in a professional photographer — have increased both his inquiries and his conversions.

“The number of inquiries I receive has gone up since I posted the new photos, and I’m booking a higher percentage of those inquiries than I was before,” he explained during a recent conversation about vacation rental budgeting.

Different strategies work for different owners, and a lot of different factors can influence your results; it’s important to test a variety ideas and measure the results so you can stick with what works and drop what doesn’t.

How do you add a personal touch to your customer service?