Dial An Exchange: Combining Technology With Tradition

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In today’s evolving timeshare marketplace, we are all searching for new, effective and more efficient ways to communicate to our prospects and clients and sell more. In doing so, we tend to turn to technology for greater efficiency, speed, higher value and a “wow” factor.

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We see sales decks delivering virtual member packs on tablets or on flash drives. We see cool new ways to get our word out to the masses using viral videos. We are constantly repositioning ourselves and our message by using media and channels that were never before available to us.

While these technological advances can add so much, they are only as good as they are implemented, only as effective as they are accepted, and they only add value when the technology makes life easier or makes the products more relevant to the consumer.

So what do we do? We make tough decisions concerning which new technology we believe will help us grow costs or save money, and we implement. As we do so, however, are we educating and evolving? Are we adapting those technologies to a demographic that cares? Or, if we can now more effectively communicate with a new audience by leveraging these tools, has our message evolved enough to be relevant to that audience, or will we be giving the same old message in a shiny new box?

Let’s take social media as an example. The entire social network is virtually untapped by our industry. We play in the space, but are we properly utilizing this virtual community? If we in the industry put a message out on this network, we may get a few interested readers. As we are learning, though, the social media phenomenon seems more driven by peer-to-peer communication rather than messages pushed out to the masses by a company. This community is for “virtual friends” to discuss, complain, commend and refer, not a “consumer forum” to which we deliver the same message in the same way with a different wrapper on it, so to speak.

If we can crack the code on how to get them to talk about our products and services amongst themselves, then we have a win. It’s not just about leveraging the new technology; it’s about using a new tool in a new way. If I had a hammer, I could drive a nail. If I had a pneumatic hammer, I could drive it in less than a quarter of the time — unless I tried to drive it by slamming the handle into the nail over and over again! The tool is great, but I am using it … well, incorrectly.

image 2I saw a cool product at GNEX that enables timeshare owners to push their vacation pictures to other friends on the social network in a quick, easy and fun way, and it effectively presents those pictures in a video format that includes images from the resort with its branding intact. If we can get all of our members posting branded videos all over the Internet, then we have a real win. How will we use the technology? Will we OVER-brand? Will we under-brand? Or brand in a relevant, enticing manner that impacts referral business?

What about mobile applications? Is our industry or, more relevantly, our audience ready to embrace mobile applications to pay maintenance fees, bank weeks for exchange, rent weeks or even post weeks for sale? What will it take to convince existing clients and new prospects to use such applications, and what will they win — time, money or…?

How about increasing website transactions? Although we focus much of our attention on conducting exchange transactions online, we understand that until trust is established with the timeshare owner, they would rather do their business by phone initially.

During phone conversations with members, our exchange consultants build personal relationships with them. Members get to know our exchange consultants by name and often ask to do business with that specific consultant for years, building trust and a rapport that hearkens back to a time when a person had one travel agent who helped them work through vacation plans. We give every consultant a direct phone number and email address, and we encourage direct relationships with our members to increase the quality of service and overall accountability for customer satisfaction. We couple this relationship with an educational “push” to our online platform at www.daelive.com and voila — we have an online user. As a result, we have grown our online transactions to represent almost half of our total business. While I know we cannot attribute all of our e-transactions to the educational, personal approach we take on the phone, this method does address the needs of a specific group of members.

We also have a whole new generation of owners who want nothing to do with the telephone anymore (such an antiquated device in some circles). These members transact online exclusively without our “push,” but we still have to effectively attract them to our website with educational information, a relevant marketing message, and offers that get them exchanging and booking more vacations every year. This effort extends further than building a cutting-edge, easy-to-use, transaction- based website.

So, new technology is great. New tools with which we can do our jobs better, faster and more efficiently are good. But, like we used to say in the computer industry in 1985, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Emails don’t get read if the content isn’t interesting. Heck, they don’t even get opened if the subject line or brand isn’t recognized! For that matter, they don’t even get delivered if the receiving ISP thinks our email is garbage.

Geez, does anyone have a telephone and a notepad?