Pelland Blog

Who Is Answering Your Phone?

December 24th, 2017

For campgrounds in Canada and the northern states, winter is the off-season. Whether or not the owners are fortunate enough to spend their winters in Florida or other Southern climes, their parks are usually operating with skeleton staffs or are totally vacant, with hopes that off-season income will cover their utility bills and mortgages. Either way, the off-season is the prime time for campers to make reservations for the upcoming season, and it is also the time when you, as a campground owner or manager, are likely to have the least number of interruptions competing for your attention.

We all tend to think that technology makes life easier, believing that it can simplify the task of generating a new stream of business. While there is some truth to that idea, the fact is that the most effective technologies require a commitment of both time and old-school business practices. If you are a small business owner, the time that must be invested is quite likely to be your own.

The Internet is often seen as a technological panacea with respect to the harvest of a new base of customers. For campgrounds, the entire online process is typically funneled toward online reservations, the outdoor hospitality industry’s equivalent of e-commerce on Amazon. Unfortunately, many people still buy into the “if you build it, they will come” concept that was the mantra of the 1989 fantasy-drama film, Field of Dreams. Things are not that simple in real life, and the reservation process rarely flies on autopilot.

In many instances, prospective online customers have pre-purchase questions that must be answered prior to making their decisions. These inquiries are almost always going to involve either email or a phone call, with the customer expecting a prompt response (in the case of email) or an immediate response (in the case of a phone call).

If somebody is determined to camp exclusively at your park, they may be more patient in awaiting a response to an immediate question; however, a camper who is seeking a park in your local area may very well be contacting you and several of your competitors. Being the first to respond is the equivalent of getting your business to appear at the top of the Google or Bing search results.

If you are away from the office, either make arrangements to access and respond to your emails or delegate that responsibility to a trusted employee. Never use an auto-responder, which simply encourages the recipient to look elsewhere. Try to use personalized templates that will streamline the response process and that will minimize the number of back-and-forth emails that must be exchanged. Next, check to ensure that the sender name on your emails is clear and intuitive to the recipient. It should include the name of your business. I am amazed at how many emails arrive in my inbox identified solely by vague sender names such as ‘info’, ‘reservations’, ‘office’, or some other generic term. If a customer has contacted several parks, ensure that he or she will immediately identify the source of your response. Finally, your emails should always include a “signature” that includes the full range of alternate contact information, including your mailing address, phone number(s), and social media addresses.

Beyond listing alternate contact information in your email signature, consider offering your online visitors one or more truly alternate means of contact. Online chat is great, as long as you have somebody available to respond at any given time; however, the single most important alternative is a telephone number. In 2018, there is no question that well over 50% of your online traffic will be coming from users of mobile devices, and according to a Google AdWords report, 70% of users of mobile devices are likely to “click to call” either prior to or rather than completing an online purchase. This statistic equally applies to online reservations at campgrounds.

A smartphone user may be ready to make a reservation but would prefer to do so over the phone rather than fumbling through an online process. Are the phone numbers listed on your website properly linked to allow smartphone users to simply click the number to call you? It is otherwise awkward to try to read a number and then call it from the same device. Make the process easy!

It is essential for the business phone number to forward directly to either the owner or manager of a campground and that the call be either immediately answered or returned within minutes. Do not include an alternate phone number “for a faster response” in your outgoing message. If another number will reach you more directly, forward the call to that number, rather than expecting the caller to be able to immediately transcribe that number and then place a second call. Nobody likes to needlessly jump through hoops, and that second call is highly unlikely to be made.

What happens when someone calls your campground in the off-season? Do they get a message telling them that you are out of the office and will reopen in May? If so, you can almost be certain that you have lost a sale every time your phone rings. Of course, callers might expect to reach your voicemail during off-hours and on weekends; however, if you are available to take a call during those times, do so. Big companies that have the poorest ratings for customer service are almost always the companies that are notorious for putting callers on hold, forcing them to navigate through complex phone menus, or make it extremely difficult to get through to a live operator.

What callers do not want to sense from you is a lack of response, whether that is an unanswered phone, a non-reassuring outgoing message, or a phone that is answered in an unprofessional manner. When was the last time that you called your own number to listen to your outgoing message? Does it clearly identify your park, is the sound clear and friendly, and is the message current? I am amazed at how many businesses use a default outgoing message that only references the phone number. I will not leave a message in that instance because there has been no confirmation that I have even reached the correct number. In other instances, the recorded message might include long pauses or background noise. Use a written script, record it in a quiet space, play it back, and do it again if it is less than perfect. I have even called parks with outgoing messages that say that they will reopen at a certain date that was two months in the past, not to mention parks where it is impossible to leave a message because the mailbox is either full or not set up properly.


This post was written by Peter Pelland

Making a Positive First Impression on the Telephone

September 13th, 2014

Several recent experiences have brought home the importance of telephone etiquette and its impact upon business. Particularly when a phone call might be the first point of contact with a business prospect, that first impression could create a lasting impression. With a little advance thought, you can help to ensure that the impression is positive. Let me share a few of my observations and suggestions.

Call Waiting

With call waiting, you are notified when a new call is coming in while you are on an existing call. The best advice I can offer about call waiting is not to use it. More than anything else, call waiting interrupts your existing conversation and gives the person on the other end the distinct impression that his or her call is unimportant. It gives you the choice of terminating the first call or rushing the first call to its conclusion. Either way, you are likely to put both callers at least briefly on hold. Who likes being put on hold? Nobody.

If you choose to ignore an incoming call when using call waiting, you are at minimum being distracted from the first call. If you do accept the call, the caller is given the impression that nobody is in your office, and that is not a good perception. You are far better off having a caller encounter an occasional busy signal. This, by definition, suggests that your office is busy, and that can be a good perception!

Answering the Call


Speaking of being put on hold, never answer a call using the words, “May I put you on hold?” More often than not, the person asking that question does not wait for a reply. This rude habit is notoriously abused by doctors’ offices, isn’t it? If you can’t handle the volume of incoming calls, it is time to add another person to answer your phones. If too many people are waiting in the checkout lines at a supermarket, smart management will call clerks up front to open new registers.

Last week, I had to place a series of calls to a prominent organization within the industry, and it was apparent that they were experiencing some phone problems. On one of my calls, the receptionist apparently could not hear my voice at her end. When this happens in my office, the policy is to presume that the caller on the other end can hear our voices, explaining that we cannot hear the caller’s voice before gently disconnecting. In my call last week, there was no such courtesy. The receptionist simply slammed the phone down onto its base, treating me like I was some sort of crank caller. Once again, was this a positive impression? No.

Never Say “No”

On another recent call, I asked the person at the other end if an exception could be made to a policy. The person at the other end was not authorized to make that decision, and simply said, “Nothing we can do about that.” Say what? If an employee, either on the phone or off the phone, is not authorized to make an exception to a policy or procedure, that employee should cheerfully pass the request along to a superior who can make the decision.

As a case in point (and a tip to my readers!), I have learned that every checkout clerk at Home Depot stores is given the discretion to authorize up to a 10% discount to a customer, upon request. I have made that request at each of my last four purchases, and I have been given that discount every time. Does that make me happy with Home Depot? Of course it does. ‘Yes’ is such a nice word.

Return Your Calls!

It utterly amazes me how often I will call people who really need to hear from me, repeatedly leave messages, only to have them not return my calls. As a case in point, my company had a long-time client who recently sold her campground and provided me with the name and phone number of the new owner. I called twice and left messages, as a simple courtesy and means of introduction. He never returned my calls.

About two weeks later, it came to my attention that the campground’s reservation requests were bouncing back to our server because the new owner had apparently terminated the Comcast e-mail account to which the requests were being e-mailed. I called and left two more messages with this specific information. My calls have still not been returned, and I am done making calls to someone who does not want to help himself. As of the time of this posting, there have been over 40 campers who have attempted to make reservations and who have been ignored, some looking for multiple sites or week long stays. Averaging two night stays at $35.00 per night, this translates into well over $2,750.00 in lost income.

If nothing else, my point in sharing these examples is to try to get people to understand that, in these days when everything is digital, the good old telephone is still a crucial tool when it comes to running your business smarter. Try seeing yourself as the caller at the other end of the line, and you are certain to benefit. Courtesy is profitable, and rudeness is costly.

This post was written by Peter Pelland