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|Knowing Your Customer|
by Sharon B. Drechsler-Scott, RRP
SharonINK PR and Marketing
|One of my previous employers and a great mentor to me and many others in this business is Woody Cary, president of Tricom Management, Inc. I have often heard Woody say that timeshare sales people are the best in the world. Typically, they will start out with a couple who already have a resistant mindset and, during the course of a few hours, they are able to convince them to make often a $15,000-to-20,000 or higher purchase. Without understanding their customers’ needs, wants and objections, these sales peoples’ skills would be wasted. And likewise, without the information gleaned through consumer research, developers would not be able to tailor winning products.|
Timeshare Industry Consumer Studies
InnSeason Resorts CFO Scott MacGregor says, “Our company finds the research generated by ARDA and the exchange companies to be very useful. As a matter of fact, that’s one of the reasons why I chose to participate on the ARDA International Foundation (AIF) research committee.”
Interval International Director of Market Research & Analysis Howard Bendell, RRP discusses AIF’s contribution to the industry in a sidebar appearing in this issue entitled, “Howard Bendell, RRP: On Market Research.” He makes the interesting observation that AIF’s efforts have expanded exponentially over the past few years.
Alan Litwack, senior vice president, strategic development & capital planning, of Wyndham Vacation Ownership observes, “We rely heavily on research, not only on those surveys we conduct with our owners and through analysis of the prospective owner market, but on travel patterns, destination demand and the industry in general. In fact, we have created our own in-house research department because this information is so critical to our business. Among other things, this data is crucial in determining where our next resorts will be, what kind of amenities to include at our resorts and how we can best create a high quality vacation ownership product. When it comes to statistical data, ARDA is a tremendous asset as we look at the timeshare industry collectively and commission studies with research firms who provide analysis about vacation habits.”
Coupled with AIF’s resources, most timeshare professionals recognize the necessity of conducting their own, internal research. Bob Kobek of Mobius Vendor Partners, in Indianapolis, urges marketers and developers to develop their own independent research. Kobek adds that while demographic, psychographic and prospect profile information will help increase tour show rates and sales percentages, resort professionals must also continue to listen directly to their customers, on an ongoing basis.
In-house Research and Business Analytics
One company that has always relied on conducting their own, privately-funded research has been Bluegreen Corporation. Before even purchasing a tract of land or putting spade to earth, the company’s acquisition and development team turns to their own consumer research for a better understanding of what products and services their owners and prospects want. They use an outside firm that specializes in conducting focus groups and monthly surveys to benchmark owners’ and guests’ travel needs, expectations and satisfaction rates.
Lani Liber, Bluegreen’s senior vice president, member services, notes, “We devote a lot of time and effort to develop the business analytics necessary to understand the travel habits of our owners. It’s a critical element of our business, and it’s priceless.”
Lani’s team tells us that gauging the customer’s understanding of the industry’s products and services as revealed through research done by such organizations as ARDA and The National Travel Monitor directly helps them track trends within their marketplace and fine-tune and test their marketing efforts. For example, after this year’s research revealed that nearly one-in-five new timeshare buyers is single, Bluegreen marketers nimbly responded with a campaign to capture this segment.
InnSeason’s MacGregor says, “Our initial branding process included conducting interviews with our customers when we were developing the InnSeason Resorts concept. We found that “fun” and “great locations” were the most important product attributes – even before price, value, luxury, flexibility – a fact that might not have been realized as readily or as clearly without our having asked. We use exit interviews, non-buyer surveys and on-line survey tools (www.surveymonkey.com) to better understand what our customers want, like and dislike.”
Orange Lake Family of Resorts VP of Business Development Peter Menges says his company works to respond to research results as directly and interactively, as possible. During Orange Lake’s recent retooling, when the company radically overhauled its software system, Peter and his team had the opportunity to collect and include demographic and behavioral data about owners and guests. They now have the technology to help provide them with quantifiable, reliable marketing information for use in adjusting their offerings and approach. Menges adds that another important part of this effort was to structure a routine to systematically update their database.
Asking the Right People & Getting the Right Answers
What kind of detail are companies’ research professionals seeking? InnSeason Resorts, Bluegreen, Orange Lake and Wyndham have all been able to fine-tune their sales presentations and techniques by surveying both owners and non-buyers who toured. There have been some eye-openers.
For instance, Orange Lake used customer feed-back to modify their on-line messaging and infuse it with greater emotional appeal. As a result, they experienced a substantial increase in their email ‘open rates.’ In addition, research emphasized the weight owners place on being treated differently than non-owners during a sales presentation. As a result, Orange Lake built a separate sales center that is designated, “Owners Only.”
Bluegreen found that their monthly surveys and reports help them address owners’ issues on a personalized basis. Additionally, they came to find that owners needed clearer information about their ownership privileges and usage rights. This discovery led them to create various owner educational programs, including a dedicated owner web site. The web services site – www.bluegreenonline.com – enables owners to research trips, book bonus time, make online payments and maintain their accounts and points-tracking, rather than depending on telephone or regular mail. They are currently creating a series of online customer tutorials available on their web site to help promote different products, as well as explain Bluegreen’s maintenance fees and club dues for owners. Measurable results are showing this to be the right move: Since launching the site in 2005, over 83,000 owners – roughly 50 percent of their owner base – have logged onto the web site over one million times.
Wyndham’s Litwack adds, “What we know about timeshare owners is that they attend two-to-three timeshare presentations before purchasing and the reasons for purchasing are the value, consistency and convenience owning a timeshare provides. We also know that one or more factors, such as having a comfortable amount of knowledge about timeshare, a good sense of the price and the correct timing in regards to owners’ financial needs and commitments, occur before a purchase is made.”
Every developer utilizing consumer research mentions a direct benefit they have derived.
Recently, I spoke to one of my resort-clients’ timeshare owners who told me the primary reason he and his family bought a week at their resort was because they simply sleep better when they are ‘at home.’ Before speaking to him, I might have guessed at his motivation. I might have guessed he bought for the flexibility of exchange or to ensure that his family would always take an annual vacation. But, I would have guessed wrongly. Did my resort-client understand this fellow’s opinion? Did they ask? If my client is at all like InnSeason Resorts, Orange Lake, Bluegreen or Wyndham, you bet they did!