Gone are the days of traveling to a dream destination where the only option for your stay is a hotel room. The rise of homesharing has transformed travel to allow visitors to get a truly local experience while taking advantage of a home away from home.
Homesharing is a boon for property owners, too. It’s an easy way to create revenue from a property. Instead of maintaining a vacant apartment, room in a house, or vacation home, homeowners can just list it, rent it, and move on to the next guest.
That process is simple in theory, but in reality, a lot more goes into homesharing.
Houst founder James Jenkins-Yates encountered some time-consuming challenges when he was renting his own property in 2015. He quickly realized that cleaning, arranging the keys, communicating back and forth with guests, and dealing with problems and inquiries that might arise were issues he needed to address constantly. He looked for a service that would solve these problems, but there wasn’t anything on the market. Jenkins-Yates realized he wasn’t the only one with these challenges, and Houst was born. Houst provides professional management services to homeowners who put their properties to let.
“We wanted to take all of these tasks off hosts’ hands and make the experience of short-term lets as easy and hassle-free as possible. Now we’re the largest company offering this type of property management in the world.”
It takes a superior, professional service to build trust with both owners and guests. And Houst has made this trust — along with a fantastic customer experience — its primary goal from the beginning. That means taking care of every detail — starting with how the company communicates with guests.
Adding SMS and voice
For any particular property, Houst lists the rental across multiple homesharing platforms. Once a booking is made, Houst establishes a relationship with the guest.
At first, Houst relied on emails and messages on the individual homesharing platforms, but they quickly learned that guests don’t always check their email, especially if they’re in a new country or don’t have access to Wi-Fi. SMS and voice communication became an important addition to email. Since mobile phones are so ubiquitous, Houst can use messaging to make communication with guests more effective and seamless.
“We can always send the messages from the same phone number for each property, which keeps a great consistency and user experience.” says Piotr Matuszkiewicz, engineering manager at Houst.
Houst has increased its use of SMS exponentially — and the numbers keep growing. Recently, the company had 4,420 virtual numbers in seven countries, having sent 427,078 automated messages and received 120,747 SMS messages from customers. They’ve also sent 160,628 SMS messages as responses.
Creating a better calling experience for guests
For each of the properties, Houst assigns a fixed virtual number rented from Plivo, and that virtual number stays with the property as long as the host is a customer. The number is provided to the guest as a contact number for Houst’s support and property management teams. All automated text messages use the number. If a guest decides to call or text about the property — whether it’s to report a flight delay or an issue about the property — Houst can identify the caller not just by the caller’s own number, but also by the number associated with the property they’re calling about. To date, Houst has received around 100,000 calls on numbers from Plivo.
Plivo makes this type of customer identification possible, and directs each call to Houst’s call center solution of Natterbox in Salesforce. A Houst guest experience representative can see the caller ID, and can bring up all the details regarding the property and guest within a couple of seconds.
“Instead of having this regular, heartless call center experience and asking, ‘Please give your details or the booking number,’ the guest experience representative can address them by name and know exactly which property they are renting,” Matuszkiewicz says.
While a personalized customer experience is of utmost importance, Houst is also building trust and confidence with the guest at the same time.
“We’ve created a seamless experience for the guest, and it builds confidence that they will get the help they need,” Matuszkiewicz says. “It has a measurable impact on the review after their stay, too. If they’re provided with great support — even if the problem seems to be on our end or there was something wrong with the property — and are helped in an effective way, that has an impact on the review. It’s more likely to be positive than negative.”
The identified numbers make a difference in Houst’s bottom line as well. Guest experience representatives can serve more inquiries because they don’t need to spend time obtaining auxiliary information from the guests and looking them up in the system. They can immediately assist the guest with whatever they need and move on to other calls faster. According to Matuszkiewicz, this makes Houst stand out.
“Companies usually try to either identify the caller or sender by their phone number — not by the phone that they are reaching,” Matuszkiewicz says. “It works great and without much maintenance because, from day one, we had Plivo’s applications and very clear documentation that made it very easy to set up. The core of our workflow is Plivo’s webhook on incoming calls, adding some metadata on our end, and then redirecting. It was just so easy to implement, and made Plivo a clear winner over any other competition.”