Do you invite clients to check out or check in?

by Mistina Picciano on April 23, 2010

My husband and I are vacationing in Charleston, S.C., next month. We’re renting a charming house across the street from Folly Beach, which looks perfect: a good-sized kitchen for culinary experiments, easy access to the beach, close proximity to historic downtown Charleston.

Yesterday the homeowner emailed instructions on picking up the key. I perked up when the message came through my iPhone, reminding me of the upcoming break. And that cheery feeling fizzled as soon as I read the attached document.

Chilly Reception

The one-page sheet does, indeed, offer instructions on checking in. But only after itemizing the rules for checking out. In fact, the first line reads:

“To prevent additional cleaning charges, we ask that you please attend to the following basic items.”

What follows is a list of nine rules that must be obeyed to ensure a full refund of the security deposit (half of the weekly rental fee). Then, the sheet informs me that check-out time is 10:00 a.m. and thanks me for cooperating.

Brrr… I haven’t even picked up the keys, and the owners want to make sure I know how to let myself out.

By the Way…

Only after finishing the “business part” of the message does my future host let me know that they’re looking forward to our stay, having done their best to prepare for our comfort and convenience. (Except for the fact that we have to travel with our own sheets, towels and toilet paper. This notable exception is reinforced in the post script.) We have contact numbers for general and mechanical problems, followed by “HAVE A GREAT TIME!”

And now we get details on actually picking up the keys – after I’ve gotten the clear message that this is a business transaction, period.

So What?

We didn’t rent this house hoping to make a new friend, and I’m sure we’ll have a fantastic time. But the homeowner has done nothing to win my loyalty. If we decide to return, or if friends ask us for a recommendation, we’ll probably consider this property – but we’ll definitely consider other options. Especially if they offer:

  • A lower price
  • Greater value
  • A better experience

In this case, the homeowner could have done a number of things to improve the guest experience:

  • Use a warm, friendly tone. Dry and boring might be fine for an accountant, but a dose of personality is almost always a good thing. (It doesn’t even have to be a pleasant personality. Have you ever been to Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side?)
  • Start with the positive. We’re planning a trip to the beach; presumably we’re looking for a fun vacation. Play to that feeling of anticipation.
  • Do a little more. Small gestures are appreciated. Many rentals in this area don’t include linens and paper products; doing so, even with a price increase, would set the property apart and make life more convenient for renters. Recommending local activities or restaurants would also be a nice touch.

The same principles apply to any business transaction, including print and electronic communications. If you don’t create an extraordinary service experience at every step, you won’t engage clients and earn fans. Instead, you’ll create an opportunity for the competition.

Do your corporate communications invite people to check out or to check in? How could you reorganize or recast the information to turn your audience into stark-raving fans?

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