Rentvillas.com shows how to be a human
by Josh Bernoff
Rentvillas.com rents houses and apartments to Euroepan travelers, about 2,000 rentals every year. I interviewed Suzanne, the founder. Kevin, her son is the CEO and Web wizard.
I am a Rentvillas customer. Traveling to another country where everything is different -- the power outlets, the language, the time they eat lunch -- is scary and intimidating, especially if you vacation with your children. In this frame of mind, I found Rentvillas four years ago, when planning a trip to France. I used them again for my trip to Italy this September. And I have to say, this is a company that acts like a human, and treats me like a human, in ways that surprised and pleased me.
Can this be done electronically? Definitely. I've already written about their incredible marketing email. Here's an excerpt:
As I wander through the picturesque main street of tiny Castellina-in-Chianti, I find myself a bit dismayed. It's 2 PM, and I'm famished. In America this wouldn't be a problem, but here in Italy I'm faced with empty streets and closed doors. That's right: lunch is over, and everyone is fast asleep.
Where was I at noon? I was photographing Podere Cristina, the most family-friendly accommodation I've ever seen. Younger guests are welcome to play with the outdoor toys and splash in the pool, while adults will appreciate the window screens (rare in Italy) and terrace views. Everyone who visits raves, which is why I was assigned to bring back some better shots. Check out Earth, Air, Fire, and Water-- believe it or not, there's still some availability for this year.
Visit the Web site, enter your requirements, and sort through sites with photos that are hard to resist. There are plenty of quirks in these little cottages, and the extensive customer-generated reviews help you figure out just what inconveniences you can live with (more on the reviews later).
After you sign up, you're assigned a travel advisor (one of 13 employees at Rentvillas) who will answer anything. I asked mine where the local Internet cafes where, and got back a listing and a couple of links. A nice packet arrives in the mail with a booklet of practical advice on stuff like mobile phones and when things are closed, along with an actual Michelin map of the area you'll be inhabiting.
The reviews make the site work, so Suzanne and her team work hard at them. A week or so after you get back (enough time to get over the jet lag) you get the email asking you to submit a review. If you ignore it, they'll gently remind you again, and remind you that you could win a free rental. If you ignore that, you'll get a phone call from Suzanne. This is persistent, but not in an annoying way, since they're not selling you anything. Suzanne proudly informs me they get more than 80% of customers to complete a review survey (and 99% say they will use the company again).
But Rentvillas doesn't stop with reviews on its site. Once you fill out that review, you'll get a personal email from Suzanne. Here's the one she sent me:
I have just read your reviews of Ca’ Muraro and Il Canale Grande. I am delighted that you had such positive experiences, and that you took the time to share your comments. With regard to Ca’ Muraro, I will let the owner know about the refrigerator needing to be replaced – but that you loved the location and the wonderful garden. It sounds as though your Venice apartment needs some updating – and was a little far from the major sites. I’m glad that you found it quiet and a good place to “crash”, however!
Now that you've given us your reviews, might you be willing to take a few moments to share your experience with other travelers beyond Rentvillas.com? The Rick Steves web site is a good resource for travelers, and we'd love to see your review on their site. Just click on the following link (check the Posting Guidelines listed to the right) and enter your comments in the box. Here's the link:
Whether you decide to contribute a review to the Rick Steves web site or not, I want to thank you most sincerely for the review that you submitted to our site.
Reading property reviews like yours is the best part of my job. Thank you! You are now registered in our end-of-year drawing for a free vacation rental for 2009!
This knocked my socks off. Suzanne sends at least 5 of these notes a day, all with personal touches like mine. The result is a series of positive reviews on sites like Ricksteves and
Slowtravel.comSlowtrav.com. Yes, that takes work. Yes, it's inefficient. Yes, it's effective.
Those who read the Groundswell blog regularly know I concentrate on results. So I persuaded Suzanne and Kevin to share some results with me:
- 20% of Rentvillas customers rent again with three years (this is a big-ticket item, after all)
- 40-50% of customers come from referrals. I bet their net promoter score would be sky-high!
- Their email click-through rate is 3 to 4%.
I'll close with some final words from Suzanne. Remember, this woman writes 1700 personal emails a year, just to generate reviews. Here's what she says:
I still am having a good time. I love that I’ve made all these great friendships with people. We have such good relationships, it just makes such a difference.
Is that how you feel about your job? Why not? Being a human isn't just good business, it's a lot more enjoyable, too.