In my 17 years of marketing, within many industries, customer experience mapping is still one of my all-time favorite exercises to work through with my clients. Every single touch point in which your potential guests, guests, and former guests interact with your brand has the opportunity to either build or crumble your brand image.

During these trying times, your short term rental business may have completely dried up as nearly every person on the planet shelters in place. If you’re near a hospital or virus hot spot, you may be able to utilize some of the response efforts we mentioned last week to utilize your STR in a different way. But if you’re in more of a vacation destination or more remote, you may have found yourself with an empty unit and a lot of extra time on your hands.

If that’s the case, and you have the capacity for a project like this, it seems like a really good time to do this exercise yourself. And if you’re not able to utilize this time in this way, because you’re trying to learn how to home school your kids or take care of an aging parent or grand parent, or the weight of living through a global pandemic is too much on your nervous system – I just want to take this opportunity to say that’s okay too. We’re each dealing with this pandemic in our ways. I personally find I’m on a roller coaster of emotions – some days I’m hopeful and encouraged by the lengths so many people are taking to protect each other. And other days I’m in complete despair, feeling completely trapped in my home, worried that we’ll never see normalcy again, and I can find little to no motivation to get off my sofa.

As I write this, I’m in a more hopeful mood. A mood where I can see the potential for us to weather this storm, together but separately, and come out on the other side so much wiser, and kinder, and stronger. So, with that outlook, I’m excited to share with you my customer mapping process, in hopes that you may find it helpful on a day when you have (or are trying to cultivate!) hope for the future!

To get started, you just need a pen and paper. If you find joy in using colorful markers, DO THAT! Start from the very first potential touch point your customer may have with your short term rental. Think beyond your listing – of course that’s probably the most common first touch point. But what about word of mouth? What if another guest’s recommendation is what leads a new customer to your listing? That recommendation was their first touch point. Social media, earned media or paid advertising are also other touch points before your listing.

From there, write down every potential point of contact: from an inquiry email to a booking confirmation; from a pre-arrival welcome communication, to the first impression upon arrival; from all the little details that create comfort during a stay, to the check-out process and follow-up.

If it’s hard for you to imagine all these little details, it would be a fantastic time to do a pretend vacation in your own STR. Start with the booking process and move through every step of staying at your property. Really do it (maybe without officially booking, no need to pay for it). Pack your bags, follow your own instructions step by step for gaining entry, try to clear your mind and imagine staying in your house if you had no idea where everything was or how to use the many amenities. Write everything down and imagine someone doing all of these things for the very first time.

Now your map will look something like this, but with more detail specific to your operations, so it’s time to take it into a spreadsheet. You’ll need 4 columns: Touch Points, Description of Interactions, Remove Obstacles, Add Benefits. List every touch point you identified in the first part of the exercise in the first column. In the next column describe each of those touch points – with as much detail as you can. 

(You can download this template here.)

The next two columns are my favorite! With each of your touch points, you’ll ask yourself: “Are there any obstacles in this touch point that would diminish the experience of your guest?” If so, use this column to brainstorm ways to remove this obstacle. The next question is “Can I add a benefit to this touch point, to add greater value to the guests experience?” Here’s where you get to think about those “little details” that Elizabeth and I love so much. This is the sugar on top that makes a stay in your STR oh so sweet!

Here’s an example of one of these touch points:

In a sweet bungalow near a downtown city center, the guests receive an email before arrival indicating that there will be a lock box attached to the back side of the railing on the front porch, and they are provided a code. However, when an guest in her late 60’s arrives, she finds the lock box, but it’s nothing like she’s ever seen before and the numbers are challenging to align with aging fingers. She gets frustrated and starts out her stay on a sour note.

How do we remove this obstacle? We have a few ideas: 1) include a photograph of the lock box in the pre-arrival email, so she can see it (and ask questions) before she arrives. Perhaps even include some arrows in the image indicating which direction to turn numbers. 2) Use a little WD-40 on the numbers if they’re old and sticking so that they’re easier to turn and align for quicker access to the key.

Now, can we add any benefits to this guest touch point? One option would be to ditch the lock box all together and install an electronic key pad entry system on the home. Depending on the model you buy, you may be able to reset the code remotely with every guest for added sense of security, and with this option, your guest doesn’t have to keep up with any keys. It’s nice when anyone in the party can gain entry to the home by knowing the code to the door.

Ya see how it works? Now go through every single touch point the same way. We absolutely love working through this process with our clients, but it’s something you can do on your own as well. If you find yourself stuck in the process, please reach out to us! We can see how far along you’ve gotten, and how much further you need to go, and offer you a custom package to get you over the finish line! We do this as part of our Short Term Rental Booster package, but during these COVID-19 times, we can be flexible in how that looks. Obviously we can’t come stay in your rental unit, but we could do a video tour of your processes and still make great suggestions for you. We just want to be of service if we can, so that we all launch back after this is all over, with more clarity and hope for success!

Later this week we’ll be introducing our Operations Planning process as well. This guest experiencing mapping process ties in nicely with updating your operations plan to make sure you’re serving your guests the most delightful experience possible (and reasonable!).