Montego Bay: a winning customer experience model for Airbnb

Customer experience

“I don’t think that’s a good idea”, she said. “If I pay for it, will you consider staying on a resort?” My mother is a master negotiator, but I had made my mind up. I was going to travel abroad, and I was going to do it the Millennial way. Instead of staying at a luscious, plush resort with my good friend, his soon-to-be bride and host of family and friends, I was going to stay in a private residence hosted by an Airbnb user, with outstanding reviews of course.

Back in the spring of 2016, I got my invite to the Montego Bay nuptial ceremonies, but the idea of another destination wedding gave me both feelings of joy and pain. I reminisced on a December 2015 trip to Playa Del Carmen to see another close friend off into a new life with his fiance. The resort was beautiful. The tropical weather was amazing, and that was one of the best vacations I had taken in some time. However, I really was not in the best fiscal position for such a luxurious escapade. Flash forward back to spring 2016, I had just relocated from DC to Richmond to start a new role. I was earning a little less in my new role and taking on the cost of rent after stepping out of my 1 BDR apartment in my mother’s basement. On top of that, I was still supporting my little one and doing my best to make those pesky student loans disappear. Needless to say, there was not much saving happening.

I wanted to be there. I wanted to celebrate this union. I asked myself, “How am I going to save enough to make this trip?” That’s when the strategist in me started to kick in. “Split the cost!”, I said. My cousin and friend decided to make the trip with me, but even with three people, we felt there were more costs to be saved. We looked at local hotels but weren’t sure of the quality we’d be getting in exchange for the lower prices. Then, I proposed Airbnb abroad. We looked around for private residences that could host 3 people and found a host by the name of Raquel and her 2 BDR condo with beach view. It was just minutes from the airport, beach and restaurants. In her description, she hinted at access to a driver and restaurants nearby. We were optimistic but skeptical. As great as it sounded, we were going to be in a different country without the safety net of a resort. There’d be no security gates. There was no customer service standard to expect in our interactions at restaurants and shops. We were responsible for our own food, travel and were pretty much on our own.

Many may read this and say, “That’s to be expected”, but for someone like me whose international experiences have pretty much all been associated with resorts in some way, this is was a bit of an adventure, but I reveled in the possibilities. All our skepticism was put to rest as soon as Raquel pulled up to the airport to pick us up and take us to our temporary home. Raquel, her friends and the local businesses made this trip everything I wanted and much more. This experience has made me an ambassador of sorts for all the great things an Airbnb stay could be abroad (or domestic) if hosts follow the model customer experience offered to us. No worries, I’ll share the wealth below.

Help your customers get “settled”

Our host could’ve easily met us to give access to her property and left. Instead, she picked us up from the airport. She made sure we got our first meal, stopped us by a local market for snacks, gave us a quick tour of the area and walked us through all of the amenities at her property.

Too often brands are encouraged to make the sale and immediately start working on the next one. Sure, you could make a sale, but do your customers know how to make the best of the product, service or experience they just bought? Do your customers understand the true value of the offer they just accepted? If the answer is, “No”, then you haven’t helped them get settled, and you may be exposing yourself to the risk of a frustrated customer which can be almost as bad as an unsatisfied one. Whether through product packaging, customer messaging or outstanding agent interactions, make sure you help your customers settle in before sending them on their way.

Call your customers first

Our host either called or texted us first thing in the morning to check and see if we had any questions or needs. If she didn’t call us first, she was very responsive when we reached out.

Being proactive can help you pre-empt negative customer experiences. Simply asking, “Is everything okay?” can either confirm satisfaction or keep your customers from making a call out of a frustration or dissatisfaction. Scope proactivity into your automation with event-triggered messages timed around customer actions or milestones associated with your product, service or experience. Sometimes, just checking in can solidify a long lasting relationship.

Teams make dreams come true

Even when our host was not available, there was someone around for us to look to for help and guidance. She’d built meaningful relationships with the folks who secured and serviced the property we were staying in. It was also evident that she trusted the businesses she recommended we visit. There was an implicit sense of teamwork and comradery present that made us comfortable and let us know we were in good hands.

It’s cliche, but every individual has a role to play. Everyone we interacted with per our host’s recommendations was personable and friendly, but most of all, they were stellar in their roles from manning the jerk grill, to describing unfamiliar dishes and getting us set up in our temporary umbrella hangout during a beach visit.

All of these interactions culminated to make our Airbnb stay abroad a dream vacation, and I would encourage anyone with a stake in customer facing experiences, products or services to look to this Montego Bay experience as a model for good customer service.

Oh, and if you’re thinking about making a trip to Montego Bay, book your Airbnb here.

There’s no difference between your brand and customer experience

Brand strategy, Customer experience

Merriam-Webster defines brand in a number of different ways. There’s the straightforward, farm application: a tool used to produce a brand. They also feature the more industrial use case: a mark made by burning with a hot iron to attest manufacture or to designate ownership. Finally, Merriam-Webster offers the more modern application of the term: a class of goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer. No where in Merriam-Webster’s definition is there mention of customer experience, and that means it’s time for an update.

In a 2011 Forbes op-ed, brand expert Jerry Malaughlin said brands exist only in the abstract:

Put simply, your “brand” is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name.  It’s everything the public thinks it knows about your name brand offering—both factual (e.g. It comes in a robin’s-egg-blue box), and emotional (e.g. It’s romantic).  Your brand name exists objectively; people can see it.  It’s fixed.  But your brand exists only in someone’s mind.

This is true to an extent, but there’s much more to be said about the customer experiences that drive brand eminence in the modern marketplace. The ease of navigating Chipotle’s line to order was a key component of the fast-casual restaurant’s initial rise to prominence. Amazon’s commitment to quality customer convenience has transformed the retail industry, and AirBnB’s end-to-end management of the bed and breakfast experience has forced legacy hospitality brands to orient their experience to better align with expectations set by the startup.

These brands exist in prominence because of their unique customer experiences and how we interact with them in the real world. To put it simply, your customer experience is your brand in today’s marketplace. That’s why it’s important to know what gap you’re filling for your customers. Chipotle sought to provide a quality dining experience to fast food consumers. Amazon wanted to improve the retail experience, and AirBnB hoped to evolve the hospitality industry. What is your intent? If you’re unsure, then you may have an opportunity to strengthen your brand by aligning with a meaningful customer experience.

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