Lessons from The Overlook: Find the Right Partners

Note: Lessons from The Overlook is a monthly update on lessons learned from owning a vacation rental property in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. It's a hands-on opportunity to apply some of the techniques I advise my clients to use. You can find past updates here.

Chances are you rely on partners to help serve your customers.

It might be a vendor, a supplier, or a delivery company. Your organization may even outsource the customer service function to another firm.

Choosing the right partners is essential.

My wife, Sally, and I own a vacation rental property in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. Called The Overlook, our cabin is a two hour drive from our home in San Diego. 

Needless to say, we must rely on several partners to keep our guests happy.

We count on partners to book guest rentals, keep the cabin clean, make repairs, and keep the utilities running. 

Here's how we do it and how you can too.

Photo credit: Jeff Toister

Photo credit: Jeff Toister

But first, what's a partner?

I use the term partner to describe just about anyone who is not an employee that helps you deliver customer service. This could be a specific person or a company.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Delivery companies
  • Repair technicians
  • Suppliers
  • Contract or contingent labor
  • Marketing agencies
  • Business process outsources (ex: outsourced contact centers)
  • Cleaning and janitorial services
  • Technology providers (communications, software, etc.)

Great employees are essential to outstanding customer service, but your partners play an important role, too!

Now, here's how to find a partner that will treat your customers right.

 

Step 1: Identify Key Characteristics

It's helpful to decide what qualities make a great partner before you start searching.

Some people make one of these big mistakes when finding a partner:

  • Focusing solely on price
  • Exclusively choosing well-known companies
  • Picking partners because they are nice

There's nothing wrong with any of those qualities, but I recommend you dig a bit deeper. Look for partners who can align with your customer service vision.

The customer service vision for The Overlook is:

Welcome to your mountain community retreat.

So naturally we searched for partners who fit three criteria:

  • Are they welcoming?
  • Are they part of the Idyllwild mountain community?
  • Are they responsive?

That last part was key because we want our guests to feel like The Overlook is a retreat. To us, this implies relaxation. It's hard to relax when you need something and the owners are two hours away, so we need partners who can be responsive!

 

Step 2: Screen Potential Partners for Vision Alignment

The next step is to screen potential partners to see if they can truly align with your customer service vision.

For example, we contacted several companies to discuss managing our property. This is an essential role since the property manager oversees guest bookings, day-to-day customer service, cleaning, and maintenance.

One of the companies was a big-name property manager that had a centralized contact center and dedicated sales team. That's fine, but we wanted to know if this company was truly part of the local community, so we called the company's local office directly. The local manager never returned our call, which told us we'd probably get poor service from this person.

The property manager we did select, Idyllwild Vacation Cabins, was a different story. The owner, Martha Sanchez, agreed to meet us at the cabin to show us how she would manage the property and to give us tips to make it more appealing to renters. (Very welcoming!)

We also asked around the community and discovered she was well-known and had a good reputation.

And Martha is extremely responsive. She gave us her cell phone number and we soon found she is always quick to return a call or text.

 

Step 3: Develop a Partnership

Ditch the "customer is always right" mantra.

A true partnership is a two-way relationship. This means you need to invest in your partner's success just as much as they're investing in yours.

Go out of your way to be helpful. Make it easy for your partner to serve your customers. And be sure to live your customer service vision when it comes to working with your partner too.

That's why we try to be welcoming to our partners. We want them to accept us as part of the Idyllwild community, so we work hard to build positive relationships. And we're always responsive because we know our partners have a job to do too.

Jon Millhouse, our real estate agent at Town Real Estate, is another great example.

He went out of his way to give contractors access to the cabin so they could bid on a few upgrade projects without us having to drive all the way up from San Diego. And he did this even after the sale was final and he was no longer obligated to help us!

It turns out Jon is also an incredible photographer, and he let us use his photos for our website. You can find Jon's photography here.

 

Bonus Tip: Don't forget your neighbors

The Overlook is located in a quiet residential neighborhood. The people who live on both sides of our cabin live there full time.

This makes them essential partners!

Not long after buying the cabin, we went over to each neighbor's house to introduce ourselves. We brought some homemade fudge and a card with our contact information.

Lucky for us, our neighbors couldn't have been nicer! 

They immediately realized how we could help each other. Our neighbors offered to keep an eye on our place and let us know if anything seemed amiss. In return, we told them it was our intention to ensure our guests didn't cause any problems and asked them to let us know if there were any issues (noise, damage, etc.) so that we could address it immediately.

Many businesses have neighbors who share an office building, a retail center, or some other space. It's always a good idea to build good relationships with your neighbors so you can help each other.

Discussion Question: Who are the partners that are essential to serving your customers?