Communicate when nature threatens

Last week I said “Allowing perceptions to percolate in our guests’ minds without updates is dangerous not only for this year’s success, but for future years as well.

Part of your job is to set guests’ minds at ease by giving them the advice they need to make considered decisions during situations they’re unaccustomed to.

They want to protect their investment, their vacation and their families. It’s safe to say that your local, regional and/or state tourism groups, media and attractions will put effort into this. What isn’t safe to assume is that your guests will see their message and understand it as you do.

You might be the only one in the area with their name and contact info. You might be the only one who develops a relationship with them. Your business is the one that will pay the price if they get off a plane in Minneapolis and see an airport gate “if it bleeds, it leads” style news video with an uninformed announcer from 2500 miles away saying “Glacier Park is on fire“.

They don’t know what you know. You’ve seen all of this before.

Make sure they understand that and that you are giving them time-tested advice based on your knowledge of their visit and their family. YOU need to contact them and make sure they have accurate information, otherwise, their next flight might be toward home.

Details protect your business

Last time, I added a lot to your plate:

Segmenting guests into groups. Collecting emails. Collecting cell numbers. Writing emails. Sending emails. Documenting the various communication processes so anyone can do it, even if you’re tending to a sick parent. Producing templates for the emails you might need to send. Producing templates for the text messages you might need to send. Producing a fill-in-the-blanks script that a staffer can read when calling guests who are in transit or in the area. Documenting the process so that anyone on site knows who is responsible for starting the process, which one to start, who to notify and what to say.

This isn’t about creating more work for the owner/manager. This is about putting a trust-building, by the numbers, automated where necessary system in place so that it can be handled by employees who never dealt with it before.

You won’t have time to do any of this when a fire blows up in the park. You won’t have time to manually send 300 emails or make 100 phone calls while deciding what to say on the fly.

This is about creating time to deal with critical high-season work when you least want to be “messing around with emails”, even if your place isn’t directly threatened. These tasks need to be organized, tested and ready to implement before the season starts.

Fine tuning the message

When you sit down to build this system, you’ll have a lot to think about. For example, the urgency and means of contacting them is as different as the message for each group and situation.

What conditions that merit separate communications and (most likely) separate messages? What groups should be split out of “the entire list of guests”?

A number of situations will expose themselves as you think it through. Go back over prior years and think about the times you handled this well and not so well. What did you learn after the fact that you didn’t consider when things were unfolding? Your own experiences count too – How was this done when you were on vacation and unexpected problems occurred?

Two examples:

  • If evacuations or cancellations are necessary, will evacuated / cancelled guests get priority booking for a substitute stay at your property?
  • As the situation unfolds, it will become more clear what to say to your guests with reservations a month or more out – but you need to communicate the plan now so they know what to expect. What will you say?

Your business may not be affected by fire season but nature threatens your business somehow and when it does, “fire season lessons” apply. Your area might be subject to drought, low (or high) water in rivers/lakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or a damaged bridge instead of a forest fire.

No matter what happens, send the right message to the right guests in a timely manner in the right way. Build trust. Practice, automate, document, delegate.

 

Forest fire communication can burn you

Now that the Reynolds Creek fire is 65% contained, there are two myths to squash:

The fire is almost out.

Not true. Ask anyone close to the fire teams and they’ll likely tell you that only a season-ending snow will likely knock it out completely. Even so, if you let this cancel your 2015 Glacier National Park visit, you’re probably making a mistake.

There’s not much to see with the fire burning.

Not true. As I noted online numerous times over the last several weeks, the park’s still open, the Going-to-the-Sun road is mostly open, 99.97% of the park is not burning and it remains more than capable of wowing (and challenging) your mind and body. Thankfully, news organizations, Inciweb, GNP, various tourism groups and others are communicating this message so that visitors don’t cancel their plans.

Allowing these two perceptions to percolate in our guests’ minds without updates is dangerous not only for this year’s success, but for future years as well.

What else gets burned in a forest fire?

Forests aren’t the only thing that are burned by forest fires. Profitability, traffic, cash flow and our well-laid plans can also go up in smoke.

When we have a fire, it’s all but certain to hurt tourism – particularly if you depend on someone else to set your visitors at ease.

I know you’re busy. It’s peak season, or should be. Even so, the Reynolds Creek fire should have you thinking about a few things:

  • How does your business react when red flag conditions are present?
  • How does your business react when that first fire of the season hits the news?
  • How does your business react when the first wave of cancellations comes in?
  • Are those reactions planned? Have they been rehearsed / tested?
  • If you’re away from the property (perhaps your parent is sick), will these plans be executed as you wish with the type of messages you want delivered?
  • Do you have all of the steps in place to communicate with your visitors in order to minimize the damage to your business?

Yes, this is all about communication.

The first thing you might ask is “Which visitors do we communicate with?“, but don’t forget that what you say is as important as who you say it to.

Which guest needs which information?

My suggestion would be “All of them“, but that’s an incomplete answer.

When a fire (or similar event) happens, there are several groups of guests impacted – and their decisions will affect you and your business. The better prepared you are to keep them up to date with calm, consumable information, the better they will be able to make well-considered decisions. The last thing you want to do is (intentionally or otherwise) convince them to continue their trip only to have them deal with circumstances that cause them to never return to your area.

Sidebar: You are doing your best to get them back on a recurring basis, right? Sorry, I digress.

These groups of guests include:

  • Guests currently at your property
  • Guests in transit to your property
  • Guests with reservations in the next couple of weeks
  • Guests with reservations a month out or longer
  • Guests pondering making reservations for next year
  • Guests whose reservations must be cancelled because of an evacuation order
  • Guests wondering if they can get into your place due to cancellations

I’ll bet you can think of a few other groups of tourists, guests, visitors – whatever you call them.

Each group to make a decision about their visit, but the message each group requires is not the same. If you’re communicating with all guests with the same information, it’s likely that you are not helping them make the best decision for them and in turn, it’s costing you business.

Rules of the road

I suspect you have the ability to communicate with these groups easily using email. Please don’t send one generic email to 746 visitors. Many of them will not receive it and the “tech savvy” ones will find it aggravating.

You should also have their cell number so you can catch them in-transit or in the area.

You should be able to get a personal message to each person in each of these groups without a lot of hassle.

By now, you may be wondering why I left a lot unsaid. That’s why we have next time.

Tourist season is coming – Are you ready?

Before you know it, the long winter will be a forgotten memory – except for the powder days. As it finally warms up for good (whatever that means this year), school will be out and tourists will be inbound for another summer.

It’s almost tourist season. Are you ready?

Is your facility ready? I’m sure you have a checklist for that, so I won’t go there.

Instead, let’s discuss some steps to help you make tourist season better than expected:

  • Do you have an easy way to prompt your visitors to leave a review? Will they be encouraged by your facility to take pictures at your place and post them to social media? Is there an easy way for them to suggest that their friends should visit?
  • Can they find your place on Google Local, Google+ Local and Google+ Business?
  • Are they on your email list?

Encouraging reviews and photos

Most people like sending an occasional “Having fun, wish you were here” photo to friends, family and co-workers, if nothing else, just to rub it in a little.

You can make this easier with suggestions for the best places to take photos to send their friends, family and co-workers, but also by asking to take their picture. This gets everyone in their group into the photo and gets your staff engaged as well.

Ask your visitors to text their photos to you so you can print a copy for them. With their permission, post the photos in your facility and on your website to provide social proof of the great time your visitors have. Print postcards from the photos for a special touch they can send to friends and family.

Don’t be invisible to tourists

If your business doesn’t have at least a minimal profile (name, address, phone, hours, photos), you’ll be invisible to smartphone maps and the tourists who use them (lots).  That’s the last place you want to be invisible.

Be sure you’ve updated (or added) your profile on the major profile sites, such as Google Local, Google+ Local, Google+ for Business. Restaurants should do the same with Yelp and UrbanSpoon. If you have more time, take the same steps with Bing, your local chamber of commerce and local directory sites. Don’t forget a Facebook fan page.

These days, “Google, local, social” is the smartphone equivalent of “location, location, location”.

Create a special email list

If they’ll be staying with you (ie: you run a campground, RV park, hotel, motel, hostel, cabins, resort, etc), consider building a special email list for your visitors.

To make it most effective, it should be timed to their visit. An email series that gives them a countdown to their visit would be useful, particularly if it prepares them at the right time in advance of their visit. All of this can be automated to make it easy for you while making it super useful for your visitors.

For example, an email might let them know about popular events during certain days, or that a special dinner location requires reservations three weeks in advance during prime season.  If they receive the latter email three to six weeks in advance, they can take advantage of it. If they don’t find out until they get there….too late.

Road problems? Let them know. Don’t expect that they have had time to find your area’s road conditions page – or that it is up to date. Let them know so that your guests are prepared for anything.

Don’t let this list end with the before visit email sequence. Keep in touch during their visit about how you can help with things they’ve forgotten and with local advice. Quality advice will be appreciated if it’s pertinent to their time with you.

Finally, keep a notebook and a camera handy at the front desk for notes and photos when the opportunity presents itself. A casual photo of your guests included in an email – or better, a postcard waiting for them when they return home, is a great personal touch to remind them to return and refer their friends, family and co-workers.

Don’t have their email address? Try a text message sequence. As with email, be sure you get permission first.

Take advantage of the time remaining before tourist season to turn a good visit into a memorable experience that has them ready to return – and talk about you in the meantime.

Groping for opportunity – a gift from the #TSA

Russet
Creative Commons License photo credit: Nicholas_T

Much noise has been made of the mess that has become airport security.

The recent introduction of TSA’s high resolution body scanners and the “pat downs” (formerly known as “getting to second base”) have stirred up a hornet’s nest of grass roots discontent.

As you might expect, there has been much hand-wringing in political circles over the issue.

Attempts have been made to position the changes as part of the political agenda of both parties, but anyone with a brain has watched these changes develop during the recent domain of each.

Flathead Beacon editor Kellyn Brown noted earlier this week that a recent New Yorker blog post revealing editorial cartoons dating back to the 1930’s predicted exactly what we’re seeing today.

You’ll find people on both sides of the aisle that aren’t too happy about the situation…but today’s post isn’t about politics.

It’s about opportunity.

Opportunity? What opportunity?

It’s a chance to say “look at me!” for the thousands of communities that you can visit and have a great time in with your family and/or friends – without getting groped by someone who has worn the same pair of gloves to check the last 42 people through the line.

I’m talking about every town whose hub airport doesn’t have the full body scanners and therefore doesn’t (currently) have the “pat down”.

It’s a silly little thing in some ways, but it’s at the top of the news these days – which is why I bring it up as a tool for your use.

Whether we’re talking about parents with young kids and/or teenagers, or those who aren’t so sure about the conflicting claims of doctors and Federal agencies regarding the radiation the scanners utilize, it’s a sticking point for a lot of folks.

If you want your beds filled, your restaurant tables turning twice as often, or your attraction filled to the gills, how you feel about the scanners and pat downs isn’t nearly as important as how your potential customers feel about them.

Yes, that goes for most things, but in this case, it’s an angle that big city tourism cannot use.

Getting started

So…open a map and a browser and a few airline and train schedules and make a list of the communities that can get to and from your place without encountering the latex glove – and without umpteen changes of planes and airlines.

Just because they can get there with planes, trains and automobiles doesn’t mean they want that kind of hassle.

Next, and this is the part a lot of folks will skip, look at your existing visitor history. I hope you already know this, but if you don’t, you should still have the data.

What are the top three, five, ten (whatever) most-visitors-from cities in your visitor history that are *also* on the list of “no-scan, no-grope” communities?

Do unto others

It’s becoming obvious now: Some cooperative advertising is in the cards.

Can your small town (or not) Chamber and/or tourism board contact theirs? You could do it on your own.

Trade out some tit-for-tat advertising.

For example, their chamber can send an email blast to their members and include an insert in their print newsletter about the fun stuff that you can do in your beautiful area. Your chamber can return the favor.

I hear the objections already. But they won’t cooperate. Or they have fewer members than we do so it isn’t fair.

Horse biscuits.

Chase down those dozen communities, even if you have to approach similar competition in those areas. Each of you have something to gain from adventures such as these.

Who knows, you might even find some synergy that outlasts the TSA ridiculousness and allows you to create an annual program for cross promotion.

It isn’t about egos. It’s about visitors.

Money loves speed

It’s also about speed. You can’t wait 90 days to make this happen.

TSA is top of the news now and on peoples’ minds now, so you must grab the train as it goes by and climb aboard.

Next month or next week, there might be something else you can latch onto. Perhaps what you learn from this exercise will make that effort even more successful.

Finally, you don’t need to wait for someone to make news. You can create your own, but it still requires lots of coordination and low egos to benefit.

Making nothing but customers

sunday morning

One of the reasons that I see businesses struggling (or not doing as well as they could) is that they appear to work as if the profit from a sale to a new customer is more important than getting a new customer itself.

Recognizing the difference is critical to turning one-time visitors into long-time devotees.

Devotees. Not just customers.

What’s a devotee?

A devotee will bring their family to your place when they come from out of town. Not just once, but as many times as they can.

A devotee will suggest your place both to visitors and those new to the area and make the place seem like the only place worth choosing.

A devotee considers your place the (not “a”) dependable solution to fill their wants and needs – and when recommended to others, your work secures their reputation among their circle of influence.

Testing 1-2-3

One of the little things my wife and I do to “test” a new restaurant is stop in (often late in the day) for coffee and a dessert. Sometimes we’ll do this just to get out of the house for a little while after a home-cooked meal or a long day. We get to experience a dessert we probably wouldn’t make at home and escape a little.

When we do this, we’re often asked if it’s our first time to visit their place.

What varies widely (both here and elsewhere) is how the experience goes from that point forward.

Think about how you welcome new guests and how the locals and tourists might be helped differently. Don’t leave this up to chance. TRAIN your employees in the proper ways to pull this off, things to avoid, things to always include and how to add just a little personal touch of their own.

What really gets my attention on these late evening visits is how we are treated – especially the first time – when all we order is a cup of coffee and a slice of pie to share.

What happens next?

Consider the specific differences in your customers’ experience when visiting your place for the first time, when visiting it thereafter, and when visiting it at the point where several employees know your name because you visit so often. It’s important no matter what kind of business you run.

Why is it so important?

Because that first sale – especially that dinky little cuppa joe and slice of pie – is a critical first step to creating a devotee.

You might not feel like those coffee and pie customers are worth fawning over like everyone else (assuming you fawn). The thing is, when they walk out to the parking lot (or leave the drive up) for the first time, the impression in that first-time-customer’s mind usually determines whether or not they will return.

Perhaps with tourists, you don’t care, but you should.

With social review services like Yelp, UrbanSpoon and TripAdvisor (among others) to help *future* customers make purchase decisions, one-time visits by someone with a smartphone can pay big dividends or cost you visitors. Imagine the unseen revenue loss from a few poor (and deservedly so) online reviews. You’ll never know how many people didn’t visit because of a series of unfavorable reviews.

Even if you have no desire to carry the internet in your pocket, consider that as of June 2010, 45 MILLION people in the U.S. currently carry a smartphone. Every one of them is a little review machine just waiting to create (or destroy) your business’ karma. Collectively, those reviews can transform your business.

Keep in mind that’s roughly 1 of every 4 people you see.

Doing the math

A little “What 1 new customer means” math…

  • For your cafe: One visit every other month. Average ticket size: $50 (you already know your average lunch and/or dinner ticket size – if you don’t, you better find out).  That’s $300 a year. Over 20 years, that cup of coffee and pie eventually brings you $6000 worth of business.
  • For your small engine repair shop: 3 visits per year at between $75 and $150 per visit (or whatever your per ticket average is). Call it $100 to make the math easy. That’s $300 per year or $6000 over 20 years.
  • For your oil change shop: 4 visits a year. $40 per visit. Only $160 per year, or maybe twice that if you upsell *wisely* and don’t sell stuff just because you can get away with it.

Those numbers seem almost too small for you to care about, especially over 20 years…until you realize how many first-time customers drop in each day.

Now, with that number (for this month) floating in your head, let’s look at the math again.

How many first impressions do you get to make each day?

Don’t just make the sale. Make a new lifelong customer.

iPads important to Montana tourism? HaHaHaHa, RIGHT.

Wild Goose Island and Saint Mary Lake
Creative Commons License photo credit: RTPeat

After reading yesterday’s comments about iPads and your business, if you own a business in Montana, you might have shrugged, rolled your eyes and thought “Yeah, but this is Montana”.

Long-time readers know that comment sends me to the stratosphere in a hurry.

So what made you think that?

It might be that “only” 600 were connected to the internet (for the first time) in Montana in the first week.

It might be that we don’t have decent GSM service, despite what the postcard-tossing guy on TV says. You’re right, we dont…yet.

That seems pretty wimpy compared to other states. It’s almost not worth bothering with, ya think?

Think about this instead

Around 3.5 million people visited Yellowstone last year.

Around 2.3 million people visited Glacier Park last year.

I don’t have to tell you which states they come from. You already know.

Can you afford to be invisible (or less visible than your competitor) to the “mobile, connected affluent” among that population?