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Never Burn Bridges

August 20th, 2016

There were two e-mails over the last week that got me shaking my head in wonderment. The first was forwarded to me by one of my clients. She had recently left a well-known website hosting services provider in favor of an extensive list of more personalized hosting services that my company provides. After the other company threw down as many roadblocks as possible, as well as making several attempts at trying to scare the client into cancelling her plans to move, the migration was finalized. When my client formally cancelled her services with the other company, they could not accept the loss of the account without one last word.

The e-mail that she forwarded to me included a sentence that started with the words, “When you are ready to come back to us ….” Apparently the sender either thought that she had nothing to lose or preferred not to use the phrases “When you come to your senses”, “When you realize you made a mistake”, or “When you realize that you made a stupid decision”, but her words had the same effect in insulting my client and ensuring that she would never reverse her decision.

The second e-mail arrived this afternoon. It was sent to me by a highly presumptive young salesperson for a startup Internet company that is trying to capitalize upon the consolidation of online campground reservations. I had previously written about this and similar companies after another of my clients had related his nightmare stories about trying to get his campground de-listed from one of these sites. As I wrote at the time, Campground reservations are accurately perceived as a multi-billion dollar business, and companies that would like a piece of the action are suddenly coming out of the woodwork. Funded with infusions of venture capital, the focus is on generating income from the collection of processing fees on those reservations, either in real-time (with campgrounds that get on board) or with the type of delayed booking that initially caught my client’s attention.”

These online reservation consolidators tend to compete with your own official website and your own chosen online reservation engine, a situation that can only serve to confuse consumers and dilute the effectiveness of how you run your business. In the instance this afternoon, one of our clients (with a new website that was less than a week old) was being asked to funnel traffic from his website to the startup company’s booking engine. The salesperson could not understand why I explained that it was not in my client’s interest to accept her offer and why we would not be installing her company’s “Book Now” button on the new website. Not only could she not understand why I would not matter-of-factly follow her instructions, she actually sent me two additional e-mails where she attempted to educate me in marketing basics.

What do these two e-mail stories have in common? They demonstrate the importance of never burning your bridges. As a campground owner, if a guest has a less than perfect experience and expresses his or her dissatisfaction on a review or social media website, take a deep breath before posting a thoughtful and empathetic response. There is no logical reason for the last word from you to be along the lines of “I hope that the door didn’t hit you on the way out!” or “Don’t even think of ever trying to come back here again!”

If you want your business to grow and prosper, every camper who enters your gate is your most important customer ever. To alienate only one represents not just the loss of any potential future business from that person and his family, it also likely means the exponential loss of business from every friend of that individual, as well as the friends of those friends. I am a frequent contributor to the TripAdvisor website, where statistics tell me that my reviews have influenced over 90,000 readers, many with recommendations of businesses but others with warnings to stay away. Since I have written 136 reviews, this means that my average review has been read by over 660 fellow travelers.

That is a demonstration of the power of exponential influence. Think about it the next time you might be too tired to thank a guest one more time for choosing to stay at your park … or the next time that a guest gets under your skin and you really want to serve him a piece of your mind. Always remember that bridges are for connecting, not for burning.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Listen to Your Customers

February 28th, 2016

I thought it would be useful to read through random reviews of campgrounds on the TripAdvisor website in order to determine whether there were some common complaints that savvy park operators might need to address. On TripAdvisor, we are generally dealing with that all-important market of first-time campers – precisely the people who are needed to grow the industry’s markets. We all know the old adage about first impressions being lasting impressions, and an experience that fails to live up to expectations could not only ensure that a first-time guest will not return to your park; you could very well sour that first-time camper on the entire camping experience, rather than turning him into the next lifetime camper.

I randomly chose campgrounds in four regions of the country and read through reviews. In the instance of one park, I found that every recent 5-star review was followed up with a management response, thanking the reviewer for taking the time to write the review; however, there was not a management response for even a single recent review that rated the campground as anything less than outstanding. The management of this campground is totally missing the point in its failure to address legitimate concerns or even to acknowledge those somewhat less-than-happy campers. Ironically, those unaddressed reviews are consistently flagged as “helpful” by fellow TripAdvisor users. In other words, these unaddressed complaints are being read by other potential guests who are thanking the reviewers for saving them from making the mistake of vacationing at the same park.

The most common complaints fell into 6 categories:

  1. Extra fees. People who have customarily stayed in hotels or conventional resorts are not accustomed to paying excessive add-on fees or for paying to take a shower. I frequently encountered the term “nickeled and dimed”, and that is not good. Reviewers complained about excessive fees for everything from arts and crafts sessions to the rental of recreational equipment, but the single biggest complaint was with any park that used metered showers. One reviewer wrote, “You have to pay for your shower, and the first three minutes are cold.”
  2. Indifference on the part of staff or management. Some of the specific complaints a bad attitude when staff members visited campsites, or security staff members who turned a blind eye away from issues that needed to be addressed. There were many complaints about rude employees (bad enough), but the people who referenced rude owners are really raising red flags. One reviewer documented about requesting a credit (not a refund) due to a medical emergency, and how the park owner insultingly demanded a note from her doctor! Another wrote, “The gate guards are not that friendly – actually they are aggressive and rude – and are easily annoyed.” That surly gate guard is the first person encountered upon arrival and can set the tone for the entire camping experience.
  3. Small sites that are not big rig friendly. Unless camping in a group, campers generally do not want to feel like they are on top of the adjoining sites. If they are camping in a big rig, they want to be able to get into and out of their site easily and without risk of damage to their investment. In the short term, this may mean carefully assigning sites to the camping equipment; in the long term, this may mean re-engineering smaller adjoining sites into larger single sites.
  4. Dirty, inadequately or infrequently cleaned restrooms. There are simply no excuses here. If it is a busy weekend, your cleaning staff may need to be cleaning your restrooms on a continuous rotation throughout the day. If you are short-staffed, hire people. The photo that I am showing below is one of eight that was included in an actual review, documenting a lack of bathroom cleaning – both short-term and long-term – at one particular park. Additional photos attached to the review show fecal matter in front of toilets, dirty floors, empty paper towel dispensers, and stained shower stalls.
  5. Lack of maintenance in rentals. Be careful about overselling you’re amenities. It is probably a mistake to market aging park models as “luxury cottages”, particularly if their amenities are inconsistent with what you advertise. If a furnished park model is designed to sleep 6 people, the kitchen utensils should not be limited to 3 forks, 2 glasses and 4 chipped plates (as mentioned in one actual review). There should be a printed inventory of furnishings (that are checked and replenished by housekeeping between rentals) that will allow guests to know exactly what they should expect to find in the unit.
  6. Lax enforcement of rules. Yes, we all know that rules are a double-edged sword where some people are always going to be unhappy; however, the guests who really count are the ones who expect quiet, not those who are creating a nuisance. Within this category of complaints, the biggest issues involved unattended dogs being allowed to bark, and quiet hours that were not consistently and politely enforced.

Restroom Trash Bin

All in all, the people who are addressing these concerns are far from being unreasonable. If you were on a vacation – perhaps a cruise or a trip to a vacation resort – would you find these shortcomings acceptable? Of course not! Treat your guests with respect, meet their expectations, and your business will grow and prosper.

This post was written by Peter Pelland