Introducing The Overlook, a New Customer Service Venture

In October, I started a new customer service venture with my wife, Sally.

We purchased a vacation rental cabin called The Overlook. It's a four bedroom, three bath home located in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. There are huge sunset views overlooking the valley below, a nice fireplace to keep the cabin warm in the winter, and a hot tub on a private deck that's perfect for relaxing.

The Overlook is part vacation home (we love the mountains) and part investment since we're hoping the rental income will cover our expenses. Running a vacation rental also provides us the opportunity to try out some of the same customer service techniques that I advise my clients to use.

Each month, I'll report back on our progress and share a few things I've learned. This month's focus is customer service vision.

Photo courtesy of  Jonie Photo .

Photo courtesy of Jonie Photo.

What is a customer service vision?

A customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding customer service.

It's something I advise all my clients to have. When properly implemented, the vision guides strategic decisions, tactical choices, and even our daily activities. (Here's a handy explainer.)

Our vision for The Overlook is Welcome to your mountain community retreat.

Each word was carefully chosen:

  • Welcome: we want our guests to feel welcome throughout their stay.
  • Your: we want our guests to feel like the place is their own, so they'll treat it well while they're there and return on a regular basis.
  • Mountain: Guests come here for the mountains, so we'll emphasize that experience.
  • Community: We want our guests to experience that charming small-town friendliness that comes with being part of a rural community. 
  • Retreat: A mountain cabin like The Overlook is a place to get away from it all, so we want to help our guests relax.

We think this vision fits The Overlook nicely, but we'll be listening closely to our guests to make sure. (More on that in a future post.)

For now, we believe it fits the bill because town of Idyllwild is a popular weekend destination for people living in Southern California. It provides a perfect base for hiking, mountain biking, or just enjoying the fresh mountain air and scenery. It's also a great place to visit for local art, with an impressive array of artists, music, and entertainment for a small town of 3,500 people.

Many people I know tell me, "I love Idyllwild! My family has been spending weekends there for many years."


How a Vision Points the Way

Our customer service vision serves as a guide for every decision we make.

For example, we needed to hire a property manager to handle marketing, reservations, guest service, maintenance, and cleaning. The success or failure of the property rides on this decision, so it's important to get it right.

We hired Idyllwild Vacation Cabins to manage The Overlook because the owner, Martha Sanchez, embodies our Welcome to your mountain community retreat vision.

She goes out of her way to make guests feel welcome and has established a strong reputation for outstanding service. Martha is an integral part of the mountain community and seems to know everyone in town. And, she has a keen eye for what can make our guests' stay even better.

Here's another small example of how the vision guides the way.

When we hired Idyllwild Vacation Cabins, Martha walked us through a short questionnaire to spell out our rental policies. For example:

  • Would we allow pets? (Yes)
  • What was the maximum number of guests? (Eight)
  • How would we handle snow removal?

This last one was tricky. Snow is a special treat for most Southern Californians, but many don't realize how much work it takes to clear snow out of the way after a just a little accumulation.

Most cabins in Idyllwild charge an extra fee for snow plowing and shoveling. We decided not to pass this expense along to our guests because we thought it would make them feel less welcome. 

Not charging for snow removal raises our costs in the short-term, but we think it will pay-off in the long-run in the form of repeat business.

Snow came Thanksgiving weekend, and our guests needed some help clearing the snow so they could leave the cabin. Including this in our service for no extra fee undoubtedly made our guests feel more welcome. 

Best of all, they've pledged to return again next year!

Stay tuned for more customer service lessons from The Overlook. Next month's focus is the absolute need to prioritize.