How Vacasa Thinks About Customer Experience: Selling Memories and Saving Vacations
In the hospitality industry, expectations run high for customer experience. Mishaps like a missing reservation or double booking could mean a ruined vacation—but a positive interaction could become part of a treasured memory. (No pressure for those front-line CX employees, right?)
We took a deep dive into the high-stakes world of hospitality customer experience at our most recent CX Obsession community event, hosted at the Portland headquarters of Vacasa, North America’s largest vacation rental management platform. Nate Tomlinson, Vacasa's Director of Customer Experience, was one of our expert panelists—and shared how his team supports over two million guests per year, staying in Vacasa's 23,000+ vacation homes around the globe.
We may be biased (Vacasa is an AskNicely customer as well as our Portland neighbor), but we found his insights relevant far beyond the world of vacation rental management.
Read on for our favorite takeaways from Nate's talk, or just watch the entire video below.
Keep your front-line team engaged with your core mission.
When Nate took over the customer support team at Vacasa, he focused on articulating what exactly he was asking his employees to do every day. “As a company, we sell memories. We provide clean homes that are well maintained in awesome places that people want to go visit, and create a memory with their family, with their friends, with their work colleagues. We sell memories. We sell experiences.”
Nate took that core mission and made it part of his team’s DNA, constantly reinforcing the concept of creating experiences with his staff. He even changed the team's name from Customer Service to Customer Experience.
“When my agents pick up the phone or respond to an email, the thing I want going through their head is, ‘I am about to be an indelible part of a memory that somebody is creating. An indelible part of an experience. And I now have to decide how I'm going to help shape that,'" Nate says.
Reframe problems as opportunities in disguise.
With online bookings and electronic locks, most Vacasa guests are entirely self-sufficient—they only call Customer Experience when they need help. “Our guests are not calling us when their vacation is going perfectly,” Nate says. “And most of our guests don't call us. High 90th percentile, vacations go perfectly.”
That means Vacasa’s CX employees usually interact with the small subset of guests that have encountered a problem. But on average, Nate says, guests who talk with CX agents or local field staff submit Net Promoter Scores that are 20% higher than those guests who never need to ask for help.
“Now think about that,” Nate says. “The guests that are calling us have something going wrong. All things being equal, we would think their NPS scores would be lower—but they're higher. A lot higher.”Nate believes that higher ranking is because his team is focused on helping shape those memories, even when a problem arises. They see problems as opportunities to deliver a truly memorable experience.
“[Those customers are] remembering things go wrong when you’re on vacation, and we know what Vacasa does when something goes wrong...we can get their vacation back on track.”
Don’t get complacent.
Nate credits Vacasa’s success to their unwavering commitment to improvement—even when things usually run like clockwork. “Our guests rent a home, get checked into their home, have a great stay, get checked out, leave us some feedback, and go on with their lives,” Nate says. “That's the experience of most of our guests. But where we do our hard work is in that little bit where something's going wrong.
”Vacasa doesn’t just address one-off problems and move on. They place an enormous value on solving recurring issues in the long-term. Nate says, “We love to work on those things. We focus on the 10%, the 5%, the 2% where we're not perfect. And we get that 10% down to 9%, or that 5% down to 4%. We're always working on improving wherever we're not perfect.”
Many thanks to Nate for sharing Vacasa’s Customer Experience philosophy with us!
Want more stories about amazing customer experiences? Check out our greatest hits from CX Obsession. And if you'd like a partner to support your own CX efforts, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am actually obsessed with customer experience. I think about it all day every day, I think about it at night, despite my wife trying to get me to stop thinking about it. I got her to come work for this company, so she'd give me a little more latitude on thinking about it.
So I started with Vacasa just under six years ago. We were pretty small then. We were actually in a four-bedroom house on the other side of the river and there were eight or ten of us that came into the office on a regular basis. And now flash forward to here, and this is this is where we're at. So it's been really amazing. And I came up through Field Operations,originally.
came from a different industry. I was in secondary education administration and so I learned this business through Field Ops. And about four years ago I was asked to take over our Customer Service department which was, at the time, broken. We had actually heard rumblings of our customer service being compared to Comcast. Now I will say that Comcast's customer service has gotten a lot better, but four years ago, that's not the comparison you wanted to hear.
So I took over to the department. And the first thing I did was figure out how to get us out of the hole we were in — that was short term — but then we really thought about, what do we want our customer service to be? And the first thing I thought about was, what do we actually do?
We service three different customers in our business model. We service our owners, that's one customer. We service our guests, that's a second customer. And then I firmly believe that we service our employees. And if any of those customers aren't happy, it's really difficult to make anything work well.But for tonight we're going to focus on the customers that are actually handing us their hard-earned money because that keeps the employees paid and it keeps the checks going to the owners. So that's what we started with.
We started thinking about our guests. And I thought about, what do we, what do we do as a company? And we as a company, we sell memories. We provide clean homes that are well maintained in awesome places that people want to go visit and create a memory with their family, with their friends, with their work colleagues.
We sell memories. We sell experiences. So the first thing we did is we changed “Customer Service” to ”Customer Experience.” In the core, even of the titling of all of our Customer Experience employees, experience is in the title. We think about experience all the time because that's what we do. We sell experiences. So that has been in the DNA of our Customer Experience department.
And so then, it's really, how do we make that experience better? How do we take the opportunities when we're engaged with our customers, our guests, to improve the experience?And here's what we know. Our guests are not calling us when their vacation is going perfectly. And most of our guests don't call us. High 90 percentile, vacations go perfectly. Our guests rent a home, get checked into their home, have a great stay, get checked out, leave us some feedback, and go on with their lives. That's the experience of most of our guests.
But where we do our hard work is in that little bit where something's going wrong. And we love to work on those things. That's why we're so successful as a company. We focus on the 10%, the 5%, the 2% where we're not perfect and we get that 10% down to 9%, or that 5% down to 4%. We're always working on improving wherever we're not perfect.
So we keep our customer service agents, our customer experience agents engaged by making sure that they understand how important every single touch point they have with our guests is. Our guests that have that great experience, the experience that we as a company seek to provide, chances are when they're booking again they maybe know they stayed with Vacasa, but they might not know who they stayed with.
We advertise all of our homes on Airbnb and people book our homes through Airbnb and they think they stayed with Airbnb. That's totally fine. And it's a perfectly acceptable guest experience. They didn't have any issues, they got checked out. The next time that guest goes to rent a home, more than likely they're going to find the place they want to go, they're going to see pictures of a home that really capture their imagination and start them thinking, I want to create an experience here and then they're going to say, yep that fits the budget, I'm booking it.
But when we work with one of our guests where something is going wrong, we call it Service Recovery, when we can get their vacation back on track that guest has a whole new frame of reference. They now know what Vacasa does when something is going wrong, and when they are booking again, hopefully they're remembering, things go wrong when you're on vacation, and we know what Vacasa does when something goes wrong. So that's our opportunity and it is not a small opportunity.
We know that when our guests come in contact with our Customer Experience department, and then if they have to come in contact with our Field Operations, their guest NPS scores are 20% higher than our guests that don't interface with us. Now think about that. The guests that are calling us have something going wrong. All things being equal we would think their NPS scores would be lower, but they're higher. A lot higher.
So that's the opportunity we see. That's the opportunity we work toward and that's how we keep our agents engaged. We’re always talking about how much of an opportunity that is. When my agents pick up the phone or respond to an email the thing I want going through their head is, I am about to be an indelible part of a memory that somebody is creating. An indelible part of an experience. And I now have to decide how I'm going to help shape that. So that's what we do. That's customer experience for us.